The confiscation is an extreme example of China's obsession with denying publicity to the exiled Tibetan leader, vilified for decades by the Chinese government and the target a four-year-old campaign to break his influence among Tibet's fervently Buddhist people.
The book, "The Clinton Years," contains more than 200 black-and-white photographs shot by Robert McNeely, Clinton's official photographer from 1992 to 1998. Among the images, one showed the Dalai Lama and Clinton at the White House on April 28, 1994.
The book was printed in Hong Kong and sent across the border to Shenzhen in southern China for binding, said a spokesman for Palace Press International, which arranged for the printing for the New York-based publisher Callaway Editions.
Although 8,000 copies of the book had already been bound and shipped out of China, the second shipment of 16,000 was seized in early August, said the spokesman, who declined to give his name because of the sensitivities of the company's business in China.
"They said the problem was the photograph of the Dalai Lama, then told us to wait for word on how the case will be handled," the spokesman said. "We feel that it is logical that the picture be there since it is a book about Bill Clinton and the people he met with."
China has regarded the Dalai Lama as a potential enemy to its hold on Tibet ever since he fled to India in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. China's communist leaders routinely pressure foreign governments to shun the Dalai Lama. In deference to Beijing, he was not invited to the Millennium World Peace Summit this week, a gathering of religious leaders in New York.
Even Clinton's meeting with the Tibetan monk was held outside the Oval Office, as a nod toward China's sensitivities, a fact the spokesman said was noted in the caption.
An official from the State Press and Publications Administration, who did not give his name, confirmed that copies of the book had been seized but said it was because the book had not been submitted for approval in advance as required.
Customs officials did not return requests for comment.
Books that contain religious content, maps, or works of journalism need approval in advance, the Palace Press spokesman said. But the printers did not think a single photo of the Dalai Lama buried in a 200-page book of pictures made vetting necessary, he said.
Palace Press International plans to reprint the 16,000 copies in Hong Kong and have them bound there, he said.
While Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule three years ago, its laws are separate and meant to maintain the territory's capitalist structure.