The Standing Invitation

Posts Tagged ‘Orwell

Orwell’s Preface

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At 6.30am I began writing this blog post from a hotel room in Beijing. Usually when I write something here I have an idea of an argument and I have a rough idea of where I might find evidence that would support it, either in the books of my large and unwieldy collection, or just online. Here in China, however, finding things online is somewhat more difficult.

Facebook has been censored. When I enter the address the page fails to load. The same happens for YouTube. Reading blogs is tricky: Blogspot and Livejournal are blocked, although WordPress is not. Curiously, a collection of Christopher Hitchens’s essays is blocked, but George Monbiot’s blog is not, and thankfully my usual gamut of webcomics and timewaster sites are untouched.

I can use Google quite merrily and look up words like ‘censorship’ and ‘democracy’. But if I search for the word ‘twitter’, the page fails to load ­– as do all subsequent searches, even for innocent words ‘potato’, until I reopen the browser. This happens only with Google: Bing, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves will all let me look up ‘twitter’, but when I try to access it, the page fails to load. ‘Freedom’ and ‘liberalism’ have the same effect.

Wikipedia initially seemed fine, but there were problems. ‘Censorship’ can be looked up, but ‘internet censorship’ cannot. ‘Tibet’ was a no-go area. After I had my first blocked Wikipedia site, others failed to load until I deleted my browsing history.

All this inevitably makes me think of Orwell. If you have a copy of Animal Farm in your house (and seriously, if you don’t you’d better have a good reason), go fetch it and have a look at it. This classic work of political satire examines Soviet Russia, and highlights aspects of that country’s censorship of the press. This book is generally upheld as an important blow struck for freedom in Western nations.

But does your copy of the book include Orwell’s preface about censorship?

In 1945 Orwell intended to open the book with a discussion of freedom of the press in the UK. In it he says, sure, Animal Farm is set in Russia, where the means of control are obvious; but he says the same thing happens in Britain too, only more subtly. In the UK, everyone in publishing knows that there are some things that are simply not said ­– and if someone tries to say them, their writings will be quietly sidelined.

Nicely, this essay about censorship in the UK was itself censored in the UK. It was not printed with copies of Animal Farm until 1972.


Orwell’s preface (uncensored) can be found here.

Written by The S I

September 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Politics

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