Sunday, February 28, 2010

Short note on Formosa Betrayed's post-publication fate

One story that is circulated about Formosa Betrayed is that the KMT (or Chiang Kai-shek himself) bought the copyright to the book and suppressed it (here for Chinese Wikipedia link). My problems with that story are (1) I've never seen anyone cite actual published evidence for it (although I realize I shouldn't expect that such an act would be widely publicized), and (2) it doesn't account for the fact that Da Capo Press published a reprint edition of Formosa Betrayed in 1976. On top of that, in a biographical article on Kerr published in The Ryukyuanist (pdf) in 2001, A. P. Jenkins wrote that Kerr himself at least partly blamed John King Fairbank for the Da Capo Press edition that was too expensive for most people to buy.

Kerr jokes with Linda Glick of Houghton Mifflin in late 1965, responding to word that the publication of the book would have to be delayed until early 1966:
I note the publication delay with regret, but by now rather never expect to see it published! Soon enough the KMT Chinese will be buying up the whole edition, as they did the Macmillan Co's China Lobby book some years ago! Put a big one and make them pay!
Despite that joke, an undated cover sheet for the folder containing some of Kerr's correspondence with Houghton Mifflin includes Kerr's comments that he strongly believed Fairbank was involved in the company's decision to sell the copyright to Da Capo. He writes, "I have no documentary proof that Fairbank had a hand in the HMCO decision, but friends close to the Boston-Harvard connection tend to agree with this interpretation. Hence I withdrew FORMOSA BETRAYED fro[m] HMCO and recovered the copyright."

I did find one letter to Kerr from March 1970 that asked about Kerr's opinion regarding a rumor that the copyright to Formosa Betrayed had been bought by "Madwoman Chiang" (in the letter-writer's words), but I couldn't find Kerr's response to this letter. (Because of Japanese copyright law, some of the Kerr collection at the archives, including quite a bit of correspondence, is closed to researchers until fifty years after Kerr's death. Guess I'd better keep taking my vitamins...) But judging from Kerr's comments on the cover sheet (quoted above) and from his comments in a draft of a 1987(?) letter to Seng-bi Shaw (which Jenkins cites), Kerr was convinced that Fairbank had a hand in HM's deal with Da Capo Press because the pro-PRC Fairbank, according to Kerr, wanted Americans to view Taiwan as "merely another province of China, though by chance surrounded by water."

[Update: Title changed--I forgot most people nowadays think "FB"="Facebook"...]

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