Apple has banned from its China App store a game from my novel, Beijing Smog, and won’t explain why.

There’s a scene in the book where Wang Chu, my Chinese blogger, creates an app called Whack an Alien. It’s a game in which aliens emerge onto Tiananmen Square at an ever greater speed from under the portrait of Mao, and the aim is to squish them with a giant fly swatter.

I made the same app as a way of promoting the book, and sent it to Apple for inclusion in its store. 

After a month of waiting,  Apple messaged asking me to ring its west coast US "resolution centre", which told me that while my app is technically sound, it will be “hidden” from the China app store because its content is not appropriate and breaks local laws.

The call was so surreal, it was like a scene out of Beijing Smog.

It was a bit like talking to a Communist party apparatchik:

What content was not appropriate?

“I do not have that information”.

Why was it not appropriate? 

“I do not have that information”.

What local laws?

“I do not have that information”.

Apple then sent me an email, which is opaque and patronising ("We know this stuff is complicated"). I have since replied twice by email asking for clarification, but have had no response. I also launched a formal appeal against the ban, receiving a short note saying the appeal is being "escalated".

The full email exchange is available here.

Sure, the book’s a fairly biting satire of Chinese corruption and repression, and I never expected Xinhua to be banging on my door asking for the Mandarin language rights. But the app is quite innocuous. It's a game! For anybody interested in viewing this terribly subversive material, it's available in other Apple app stores outside China, and can be accessed here.

Apple appears to be colluding with Chinese censorship and repression.

In written testimony to US senators last month, Apple admitted to removing 674 VPN apps from its China app store in 2017 alone. These are the apps for evading censorship. It gave no details of the many other apps it is censoring, which include Skype and the New York Times. And now, of course, a bunch of little aliens running around on Tiananmen Square. It would be laughable if the implications were not so chilling.

Ian Williams

Latest reviews

Click above to read the full review from the South China Morning Post

Click above to read the full review from the South China Morning Post

Click on image above to read the full review from Engineering and Technology

Click on image above to read the full review from Engineering and Technology

Book launch


Many thanks for all who were able to attend the Beijing Smog book launch at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on September 20. Apologies that we ran out of books. More on the way!


The Book

Fake News. Truthiness. Alternative facts. You thought this was something new.

Think again.

Welcome to the world beneath the Beijing smog.


A novel of cyber spies, hackers and corruption.

An internet image on the loose.

Because when you're online, the truth is as clear as the Beijing smog.

The novel

Published by Matador, an imprint of Troubadour Publishing.


The author

A debut novel by Ian Williams, former foreign correspondent for Channel 4 and NBC News.

Beijing Smog is a gripping, character-led novel that takes a satirical look at the topsy-turvy world of modern China.

Edgy and original, the novel captures the mad and menacing world beneath the smog, where corrupt politicians and businessmen struggle for power, spies stalk cyberspace, a bubble economy is about to burst - and nothing is ever quite as it seems.