So, it seems to be the right time of year to explore the availability of 1984 in China:
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four is just the kind of book that you would expect to be banned in China, all that talk of Big Brother, Newspeak and the rewriting of history is far too close to the bone, surely. So I was amazed to come across it on open sale in a state-run bookshop, in Yanji 延吉 on the North Korean border in fact.
Nineteen Eighty-four is all over the place in China, it turns out. A Chinese website lists no fewer than 13 translations published in the PRC between 1985 and 2012, and it’s easy to find at least three or four downloadable or online translations on a quick internet search.
It was originally published in China in the late seventies as restricted circulation "reference material" for officials as part of a trilogy also including Zamyatin's We and Brave New World, before going on open sale a few years later. And yes, you can also buy Animal Farm.
As to why 1984 is so freely available, perhaps its because our conception of the book as a kind of universal textbook of totalitarianism is just wrong, or at least obsolete. At any rate it doesn't map on to China in any way suggestive enough to alarm the censors.
In fact, you can not only buy 1984 in China, you can buy it at the 1984 bookshop in Shanghai.
Named after Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, the shop offers a wide selection of Chinese-language anthologies of philosophy essay, novels, art and design books and other quirky stationery and accessories. Check out the vinyl collection (RMB28 per record) and environmentally friendly hand-drawn canvas bags (RMB38-45) while sipping on a delicious milkshake in the beautiful backyard.
Beats Victory Gin any day. There is something Orwellian in the idea of latte slurping urban hipster irony under dictatorship, but not as Orwell would have recognised. Maybe there's such a thing as post-Orwellian dictatorship.