Melbourne publisher Hardie Grant thought editing was done on The Knowledge Book until it ran up against the Olympics, the Dalai Lama and Mao Zedong.
After the book had been sent off to the printer's office in Hong Kong, Hardie Grant's German publishing partners sent an email raising 11th-hour concerns the reference book would not be allowed to be printed in mainland China without changes to the entries on Tibetan Buddhism and Mao Zedong.
"We just got the news from our Chinese printer that since the Olympics are about to start soon, Chinese officials are extremely sensitive to all matters regarding the Dalai Lama, China's reputation and the like," the email read. "Another project at another Chinese printer was denied authorisation for print just this week and we are trying to find a solution."
The email suggested removing parts of the text, including:
The assertion that "millions lost their lives" during the Great Leap Forward, Mao's shift to heavy industrialisation between 1958 and 1960.
The statement that China's Communist Party rules "with power that tolerates few political opponents".
The sentence "Fanatic party cadres destroyed the Chinese cultural wealth; the educated elite were publicly humiliated", in reference to events during the purges of the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966.
The email also suggested changes to layout, which include removing a picture of the Dalai Lama and replacing it with an image of Tara, a female bodhisattva. The caption says Tara "embodies compassion, chastity, and protection against danger".
Hardie Grant publishing director Fran Berry called it "censorship at work" "We stuck our oar in and said no, no, no," Ms Berry said. "We're not having any changes made. We may have to print the affected pages here and have them rebound here. That's a pain, but we are not going to be dictated to."
Ms Berry said Hardie Grant had had problems distributing a book of photographs in China because it contained images of "the three Ts" - Tibet, Tiananmen and Taiwan.
The Knowledge Book, however, was part of an international print run and editions in question were not intended for sale in China.
Marizio Caprotti, general manager of the printer Media Landmark Printing in Hong Kong, said the company had been forced to "renounce" the printing of two books in the five years the company had been operating in Hong Kong because they had upset officials. Typical concerns were over images including maps of Taiwan and nude images. A book of works by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt had recently come under scrutiny because it contained nudes, but had finally been allowed to proceed.
Mr Caprotti confirmed that concerns over The Knowledge Book had been raised in his company, which contains a department dedicated to judging whether books were likely to pass Chinese censors. He said that, on hearing his client wanted no changes, proofs had been made of the original text.