A recent article from the LA Times reports that expats leaving China are being increasingly subjected to having their belongings (or shipments) searched, and subsequently seized, should any perceivably offensive material be found. Up for grabs: politically incorrect maps, banned books or satirical illustrations (for instance, Mao Zedong depicted with pigtails on the cover of fiction anthology Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused).
Although the article includes interviews with several people who have first-hand experience of having their objectionable possessions confiscated, it's worth noting that they are all reporters. "If they see your journalist visa" in your paperwork, notes a moving company employee, "they will check your boxes."
Regardless, Chinese regulations state that the country reserves the right to stop the export of any goods that “harm national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; endanger national security or harm national honor and interests; attack the Communist Party of China; undermine national unity; promote cults and superstition; disrupt social order or undermine social stability." More importantly, the people who enforce these broadly defined rules can interpret them however they see fit. In other words, they're not going to risk losing their job so that you can keep hold of a map that fails to demarcate the Diaoyu Islands as Chinese territory.
At this point, it is hard to tell if the same scrutiny faced by foreign correspondents exiting China will be applied to regular expats on their way out. But in the meantime, when you pack your bags, make sure you leave your ceramic “Chairman Meow” cat behind.
[This article orginally appeared in That's]
[Photo via Bill Emory]