Dovid Zaklikowski, a Hasidic book publisher, was eager to get his latest publication, a memoir of a Jewish woman who immigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, produced and dispatched to clients.
Everything appeared to be going as planned.
In mid-August, a Chinese printing company with which he frequently collaborated informed Zaklikowski that local government censors had accepted the material of “The Queen of Cleveland” and that the task would be completed in less than a month.
However, a few days later, a Hong Kong-based 1010 Printing representative informed Zaklikowski that the book had been forwarded to China’s national censorship body for further evaluation, citing the Ukrainian conflict.
“Because of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine, the book must be upgraded for further approval, which will take 15 days,” a representative from 1010 Printing told Zaklikowski via email.
Almost a month later, China’s General Administration of Press and Publication issued its final verdict on “The Queen of Cleveland,” a memoir of the difficulties of living as a Jew under Soviet communist rule authored by Shula Kazen, who died in 2019 at the age of 96.
“Unfortunately, this book is not permitted for printing in China due to anti-communist material,” a 1010 Printing employee told Zaklikowski via email. “The only alternative now is to print outside of China.”
The denial provides a rare glimpse into the convergence of Western book production, Chinese free speech restrictions, and geopolitics.
Even if the book is in English and designed for international distribution, every content produced or published in China must be approved by the Chinese Community Party-controlled government.
Russia’s assault on Ukraine appears to have had a cascading effect on a book designed for American Jewish readers, with China serving as one of Russia’s only significant backers around the globe.
The rejection surprised Zaklikowski, but he said it seemed to strengthen the reality behind “The Queen of Cleveland’s” narrative.
“It seems that even after [Kazen’s] death in 2019, the communists are still fighting her message, and the censor refuses to print her triumphant message,” Zaklikowski said.
“The Queen of Cleveland,” tells the story of Kazen’s father, who was arrested for assisting with ritual circumcisions and died in custody.
The book also describes how Kazen achieved religious freedom and material well-being after fleeing the Soviet Union and relocating to Ohio, allowing her to assist others.
Her good actions earned her a prominent status in the town and the book’s title.
Two photographs of Shula Kazen, one in her youth and one in her old age.
Shula Kazen, with her grandma in the Soviet Union, left. (Image courtesy of Hasidic Archives.) Shula Kazen, right, shortly before her death in 2019 (Izzy Goldman/Hasidic Archives).
Perseverance in the face of Soviet persecution is an issue that Zaklikowski’s publishing firm, Hasidic Archives, has frequently addressed because it is relevant to his target audience in the Chabad movement and the larger Jewish world.
“My Gulag Life: Stories of a Soviet Prisoner” will be available in 2021. Zaklikowski published “In the Trenches: Stories from the Front Lines of Jewish Life in Russia” earlier this year.
Printing books in China makes sense, according to Zaklikowski, because the local printing sector provides high-quality paper and binding at reasonable pricing.
And he’s never had any issues with government censors in the past.