Introduction of the Book Publishing Market on Both Sides of the Strait – Impact Analysis of the 31 Policy Measures to Benefit Taiwan

Angela Wu
Joyce Wen (mainland China)


According to statistics, Taiwan had 4,979 publishing houses in total in 2016 with a total of 38,807 kinds of new books[1] published and an estimated overall revenue of NT$42.5 billion from book sales by upstream and downstream operators.  Although the publishing market[2] in Taiwan has its own inherent development constraints, still the development of the entire industry has been quite mature with respectable achievements in terms of planning, editing, book selection and market, binding and design.  In comparison, with the prosperous economic development of mainland China, the publication volume, printing volume and turnover of the publishing market in mainland China has achieved new highs year over year.  Statistics released by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of mainland China[3] shows that as of 2016, 120 publishing houses and 127,000 private enterprises published 262,400 types of new books with a book publication sales revenue of around RMB83.23.  In addition, in light of heated interactions between the publishing market across the Strait, they are also major import and export market to each other in book import/export business and publication copyright trade, and their development is worthy of attention.

However, publishing is politically, socially and culturally sensitive in its own right. Whether it will be deregulated and the extent of its deregulation often trigger heated debates.  This essay attempts to introduce the current development status of the publishing industry in Taiwan and in mainland China and analyze the impact and foreseeable changes of the portion concerning publishing under the 31 Policy Measures to Benefit Taiwan promulgated by mainland China in 2018.

I.Publishing laws and regulations and current status in Taiwan

(1)Publishing laws and regulations

1.The Taiwan competent authority does not impose any mechanism to review the contents of publications


Taiwan used to have a review system for publications and require that the contents of a publication shall not have any element that offends or instigates others or constitutes an offense of sedition, treason, obstruction of the discharge of public duties or obscenity.[4] An offender would be subject to administrative penalties such as warnings, fines, prohibition against sales, distribution or import, seizure or confiscation, suspension of publication for a fixed period of time or revocation of registration.[5] However, thanks to gradual deregulation after the martial law was lifted and the abolishment of the Publishing Law in 1999, there is no longer any censorship requirement for the contents of any publication.

2.Taiwan’s publishing industry (including the publishing, wholesale and retail business) and printing industry are not open to mainland Chinese investors


Although mainland Chinese investors were allowed to participate in the wholesale or retail of books in Taiwan in 2009, still Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture has not granted any approval to any relevant application since the deregulation.[6]

Currently, the publishing and printing industries in Taiwan are still off limits to mainland Chinese investors.[7] Therefore, publishing organizations in mainland China still cannot conduct editing, publishing and printing business in Taiwan.

(2)Current status and trend analysis

1.Three months before a book in Taiwan is published, an application shall be filed with the National Central Library for an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Usually, this process can be completed in seven working days after the Book Number Center receives the application, providing all application materials are in order.[8] After obtaining the book umber, the publishing house can then arrange for printing and publication. The process is simple and fast.

2.Statistics about copyright licensing for books[9] show that during 2014 through 2016, publishing organizations in Taiwan purchased licenses mostly from the US (23.6%) and mainland China (22.5%), followed by Japan (21.7%). As for overseas licensing of books, mainland China was the major trading country with a percentage greatly increased to 92.8% in 2016 from 61.0% in 2015, whereas in Korea, the percentage dropped from 14.6% in 2015 to 5.2% in 2016, followed by Japan and other countries with percentages below 1%.

3.The total export value of books in Taiwan was NT$3.56 billion in 2016. In terms of export amount, Hong Kong accounted for the largest share (31.4%). Mainland China’s share of the world export amount of books in Taiwan increased from 3.8% in 2008 to 17.9% in 2016.[10]

II.Publishing laws and regulations and current status in mainland China

(1)Publishing laws and regulations in mainland China

1.Definition of scope of publishing activities under current laws and regulations in mainland China and the review of publications


Publishing activities in mainland China are primarily regulated under relevant laws and regulations such as the Regulations on the Administration of Publication and the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market. Pursuant to Article 2 of the Regulations on the Administration of Publication, “the publishing activities set forth in these Regulations shall include the publication, print/reproduction, import and distribution of publications,” and “publications mentioned in these Regulations shall mean the newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video products and electronic publications, etc.” In addition, pursuant to the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market,” the publishing authority under the State Council of mainland China still has the right to review the contents of books to be published. Publications must not contain any content which is opposed to the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution, undermines national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, discloses state secrets, jeopardizes national security or impairs the glory and interest of the state, incites ethnic hatred, discriminates against ethnic groups, undermines national solidarity or impairs ethnic mores or conventions, etc.[11] In case of any violation or contravention of criminal law, the criminal liabilities shall be pursued pursuant to law. If criminal punishment is still insufficient, the publishing authority will order a suspension for business rectification within a stated period, confiscate publications and illegal gains and impose a corresponding fine. In case of material violation, the original issuing authority will revoke the permit.[12]

2.Aspects concerning permitted foreign investment in the publishing industry

In reference to the Catalogue Guiding Foreign Investment in Industries promulgated in 2017, currently mainland China allows foreign investors to participate in the publications printing business controlled by Chinese investor. However, they still cannot operate the editing and publishing business concerning books, newspapers and periodicals, or the editing, publishing, and production business and online publishing business of audiovisual products and electronic publications.

Pursuant to the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market (current version amended in 2016), the publishing of publications refers to activities such as wholesaling, retailing, leasing, exhibiting and selling. A comparison with relevant requirements under the 2011 version of the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market and the current version of the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market shows that foreign participation in the publishing industry has been deregulated in mainland China, and the restrictions that foreign investors and investors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan seeking to set up a chain business unit to publish publications shall be subject to a shareholding cap, that foreign investors can only distribute audiovisual products through Sino-foreign joint venture, and that foreign investors shall not hold controlling shares of an enterprise with over 30 chain stores under the 2011 version of the Provisions on the Administration of the Publications Market were canceled.

(2)Current status and trend analysis

1.Publishing practices

Basically, only a state-run publishing unit can apply for book numbers, which are controlled and issued centrally by the government. Therefore, private publishing units currently publish books through cooperation with state-run publishing houses.   If a publishing house seeks to apply for a book number, an Annual Topic Selection Report Form shall be submitted one year in advance, and publishing shall not be engaged without an approval from the administrative authority and recordation with the administrative authority for publishing under the State Council.[13]

With respect to copyright licensing for books in 2016, as many as 9,811 types of copyrighted publications were exported and 17,174 types of copyrighted publications were imported in mainland China in 2016.[14

III.Details about benefits to Taiwan and other concrete measures

The Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council and the National Development and Reform Commission of mainland China promulgated the Specific Measures for Promoting Cross-Strait Economic and Cultural Exchanges and Cooperation (hereinafter, the “31 Policy Measures to Benefit Taiwan”), of which Point 21 provides: “a green channel shall be set up for the business of importing books from Taiwan to streamline the import review procedure; and books from Taiwan which are imported at the same time period may be processed with relevant formalities on a prioritized basis.” 」

According to news reports, the so-called “green channel” means that if books exported from Taiwan to mainland China have been reviewed, they do not need to be reviewed again. This is expected to reduce the work flow by three weeks to one month and is beneficial to the export of books from Taiwan for sale in mainland China and is also quite helpful to hot-selling books in the mainland China market concurrently.

In addition to the above measures, Xiamen also promulgated the Specific Measures for Further Deepening the Economic, Social and Cultural Exchanges and Cooperation between Xiamen and Taiwan, which consist of 60 articles, on April 10, 2018. In particular, Article 33 also reiterates the speedy review policy concerning the above-mentioned green channel by stipulated: “Import of books from Taiwan to Xiamen shall be encouraged, and a green channel shall be established to streamline the import review procedure and handle relevant formalities on a prioritized basis.” Therefore, if books from Taiwan are imported in Xiamen, the review procedure should be more streamlined than before.

Although various provinces and cities in mainland China have successively accommodated the 31 Policy Measures to Benefit Taiwan by releasing concrete measures, still there are no other specific or further measures for the publishing industry yet. The previous restrictions on the publishing industry in mainland China such as excessively long review periods for books, unclear review criteria and insufficient protection of intellectual property rights remain to be improved.

IV.Brief conclusions

In view of the dilemma facing the publishing industry in Taiwan, such as a lack of marketing platforms, cross-strait co-competition concerning Chinese-language publishing, price competition in book distribution channels, immature negotiation patterns for digital publishers and changes of reading habits,[15] etc., not only should the publishing environment in Taiwan be enhanced with solid cultivation of talents and cross-border match-making, efforts should also be made to expand overseas markets to rejuvenate the publishing industry in Taiwan in the face of tremendous business opportunities in the mainland China market.


[1] Taiwan National Library, “Current Status and Trend Analysis of Book Publication in Taiwan 2016”

[2] The publication mentioned in this essay merely pertains to books (including e-books), magazines and comic books in a narrow sense and does not involve any publishing act involving the filming, television or gaming industries in a broad sense

[3] State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China, “Analytical Report on the News and Publishing Industries in 2016”

[4] Article 32 of the Publishing Law of Taiwan

[5] Article 36 of the Publishing Law of Taiwan

[6] The newsletter of April 20, 2014 from the Ministry of Culture was referenced, and a verification telephone call was made on May 23, 2018 to an official in Section One of the Investment Commission who is in charge of reviewing investment from mainland China.

[7] The Comparative Table for Standard Classification of Industries and Business Item Codes for Companies and Firms Corresponding to the “Industry Items for Investment by Mainland China Citizens – Manufacturing Industry,” July 2015

[8] Taiwan National Library, the ISBN/CIP application procedures

[9] Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, “2016 Survey on the Publishing Industry in Taiwan and 2017 Analysis of Reading and Consumption Trends”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Article 25 of the Regulations on the Administration of mainland China

[12] Article 62 of the Regulations on the Administration of mainland China

[13] Article 20 of the Regulations on the Administration of mainland China

[14] Same as Footnote 3

[15] Same as Footnote 1