Forget the Ping-Pong players we used to send them. Forget the pandas they sent us back. A "major cultural achievement," announced here in a press conference yesterday, should stabilize relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China once and for all: the Encyclopaedia Britannica is going Chinese.
Conference, Press: Journalistic ritual in which corporations pack reporters tightly together in a hotel suite (pressing them; therefore the expression); offering them coffee and pastry; simultaneously telling them everything they do not want to know. First gained credibility in the late '40s, when it was discovered how much reporters like Danish. Central to concept: repetition of the words "major event."
ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA PRESS CONFERENCE; see also
The art of self service, to serve onself:
Britannica President Charles E. Swanson joins five members of The Greater Encyclopedia of China Publishing House at Madison Hotel to announce Chinese language version of Encyclopaedia Britannica. List price: about 150 Chinese dollars (about $100 U.S.). First run: 50,000. Publication date: about four years. Swanson declines to say how much Britannica will make on deal, but says it is the first time the Chinese have respected copyrights and paid royalties, which he says is a "good sign."
This means, he is asked privately, the Chinese were not paying royalties before. "Oh, yes," he says, "sotto voce, they'll pirate anything. That's what they were doing with Scientific American. Copying it and translating it without paying anything for a year."
CONTROVERSIAL MATTER; see also
Hot Copy; Flash: That's what the reporters at the press conference sought. Info on whether sections of the Britannica, particularly those on politics, would be censored. The dirt on who would decide what was in and what was out. Details on whether any of the encyclopedic reportage of China had angered, amused or irritated the Chinese.
Alas, the sum of information offered in response to these questions was scant.
The Britannica sections on China, said Chinese chief Jiang Chunfang, while "very complete," were "not so complete as might be." Any "so-called revisions would not be one-sided;" they would be made by a Chinese and American board. As for any inacuracies on China in American encyclopedias, well, sometimes there were problems because of language. He remembers once when an encyclopedia got the name of Sun Yat-sen's wife wrong, giving her the name of the wife of Chiang Kai-shek.
"But that was not the Encyclopaedia Britannica," put in an associate hurriedly.
Which is called:
Diplomacy. Also, see Tact.