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‘Call of Cthulhu’ Campaign Books Destroyed by Chinese Government

  • All physical copies of the books have been destroyed.
  • Chinese government complained of “sensitive issue.”
  • Developers will reprint books and complete their delivery. 

Printing books in China is a fairly common practice among publishers looking to save on costs, though not without its trade-offs, the most obvious of which is delayed delivery to Western markets. Another potential drawback to these cheaper printing costs is that the Chinese government might decide to completely destroy your product.

Such was the case recently for Sons of the Singularity, the creators of the tabletop RPG, Call of Cthulhu. In September of 2018, they launched a Kickstarter for a book, The Sassoon Files, described as “a set of scenarios and campaign resources for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and GUMSHOE role-playing games set in historical 1920s Shanghai; an international city of intrigue, espionage, style and violence.” The project managed to raise $24,183 from 511 backers and was scheduled to be released this month.

But on March 20th, their printer, China Seven Color Group, contacted the developers to inform them there was a “sensitive issue” with the content of the books, and that government officials had ordered all copies to be destroyed before the following day. The specifics of this “sensitive issue” were not divulged at that time.

In a statement to backers of the project, Jesse Covner expressed his disbelief at this decision. The Sassoon Files, he said, “contains no content that is contrary to any narrative to the People’s Republic of China, nor does it contain anything that is disrespectful to China’s history, culture, or government.” He explained that, given the time frame, there was no way the government official could have read the material in the books thoroughly enough to understand them. “They acted out of fear, and with disregard for the right to self expression–a right that I have, that the creative team at Sons of the Singularity has, and that our Kickstarter backers have.”

This would mean that the primary cause for censorship would have come from the book’s pictures. In a later Reddit post, Covner explained that the book contained images of Cthulhu Mythos monsters, including an incarnation of a god with exposed nipples. There were also photographic images of Chinese historic figures, and a fake historical poster of the People’s Liberation Army doing battle with Cthulhu. Being a story set in the Cthulhu Mythos, there were also elements of “time travel, reincarnation, interactions with Christian cultists (or Christians who think they are Christian but are worshiping something else), possession, alien serial murderers, and world-ending plagues (that originate in China).” You know, run of the mill Lovecraft stuff.

Anything printed for China’s market requires government approval. That includes tabletop RPGs and video games, for which China has one of the strictest approval policies in the world. There are sometimes lengthy shutdowns of the government approval process, effectively freezing these products in the Chinese market. What makes the destruction of The Sassoon Files unique in this scenario is that it was never intended for the Chinese market. The campaign books were an export-only product, solely intended for the Western market. “This is what China’s government does today,” said Covner, “It will burn books meant for foreign markets if said books contain words that are sensitive or narratives that they don’t like or don’t understand.”

“This sends a message to all people who make entertainment and narrative products in China and for international markets,” he continued. “Mindless censorship will forever be an impediment to creating great books, movies, art, and music.” Covner assured his backers that fulfillment of their arrangement will be completed, despite the delay, and that he is in the process of sourcing a printer that is not part of mainland China, which should be acquired by the end of this week. Fortunately, they were at least able to get their deposit returned.

“I’m very sorry about the setback, but on the other hand, I’m really proud to have printed a book that got burned. That’s gonna go on my webpage: Buy the RPG banned by the Chinese government.”

Sons of the Singularity has a somewhat limited online presence, but you can follow them through their YouTube channel, as well as their official website. Considering that the reprint will be taking place in roughly a week’s time, it is unclear what the Chinese government hoped to achieve by destroying books meant for foreign markets, except perhaps to establish the absolutely official narrative that their armies have never in fact done battle with Cthulhu.

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