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Apple bans Chinese bookstore app over 'illegal content'

The company has pulled a bookstore app in China that featured titles deemed "illegal" by the Chinese government.

An iOS bookstore app banned in China because of content deemed "illegal" by the Chinese government.
An iOS bookstore app banned in China because of content deemed "illegal" by the Chinese government.
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Apple's iTunes Store in China has kicked out an iOS app that offered electronic versions of books banned by the Chinese government.

Hao Peiqiang, the developer of the bookstore app, yesterday posted a letter that he received from Apple informing him that the app would be removed, because "it includes content that is illegal in China."

Apple's letter explained that while the app is no longer available in China, it can still be downloaded from the iTunes store in other countries.

Apple's form e-mail didn't specify which content was illegal. Known as "Jingdian Shucheng" (loosely translated as Classic Bookstore), the app offers 10 different book titles.

The app's description itself stresses that people must be 17 years or older to download it and indicates that it contains profanity or crude humor; sexual content or nudity; fear themes; realistic violence; and cartoon or fantasy violence.

Despite the app's seemingly objectionable themes, Hao speculated that the "illegal" items were actually three books from Chinese writer Wang Lixiong. Wang has written about Tibet's struggle to assert its independence from China, prompting the Chinese government to ban his books.

Wang's entry on Wikipedia describes him as "a well-known Tibetologist, specialist, and critic of Chinese-Tibetan relations" and "regarded as one of the most outspoken dissidents, democracy activists, and reformers in China."

The decision to remove the app comes soon after Apple CEO Tim Cook tried to mend fences in China by issuing an apology over Apple's warranty policies in the country.

"Friends of mine tell me that Apple has had a censorship policy in place for at least two years so I'm not sure if my app's removal has anything to do with Apple's recent trouble," Hao told the Financial Times (subscription required). "But the app has been operating normally for the last two months until now without any problems."

If Apple did ban the app based on China's objections to Wang's books, a certain irony arises. One of Apple's famous late '90s "Think Different" posters celebrated the Dalai Lama, though the poster itself was never used in the actual ad campaign. The Dalai Lama himself has earned the wrath of the Chinese government for his strong pro-Tibet stance.

CNET contacted Apple for comment on the app's removal and will update the story if the company responds.