HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s annual book fair kicked off Wednesday, with several publishers of political books prevented from taking part in the fair and others saying they had to be cautious about what they exhibited.
The fair’s main organizer, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said it did not screen the books for sale at the fair. After a strict national security law was implemented in 2020, Hong Kong authorities tightened their controls on freedom and arrested many pro-democracy activists. The council also stressed that exhibitors must adhere to the law.
Hillway Culture is an independent publisher which publishes books on Hong Kong politics and events. One of a Kind, another publisher, published books about the 2019 protests.
Publishers are having a tough time given the impact of the pandemic on the city’s economy and concerns over censorship and rejection of independent publishers, said Kaying Wong, a guest curator at The House of Hong Kong Literature, the city’s largest literary organization.
“It’s surely not an easy job for us to set up a booth in the book fair and be selected (to exhibit),” Wong said.
It is Asia’s largest book fair. In the past, it was well-known for its ability to exhibit a wide variety of books including those considered politically sensitive.
The pandemic caused several delays to the fair in 2020. After a one-year absence, the fair was finally held in person last June. This year’s book fair runs from Wednesday until Tuesday, July 26.
Gabriel Tsang, a novelist who works for Spicy Fish Cultural Production Limited said that writers should consider whether they are able to get published in today’s environment.
“I guess many writers have their own intentions â¦ and they have to think a lot about whether they can have work published. They may use some allegory or use many rhetoric skills, rather than directly expressing what they wanted to express originally,” he said.
Hillway Culture was one of the rejected publishers last year for publishing politically sensitive books that could have been interpreted as violating the National Security Law.
“Last year, we had (exhibited) political books in the book fair and this was also the case for another publisher that was banned,” said Raymond Yeung, Hillway Culture’s founder. He was one of the few publishers allowed to exhibit political books about Hong Kong at last year’s book fair.
Yeung had attempted to organize an independent book fair in lieu of the main fair at the beginning of this month, but the landlord accused Hillway of violating the venue’s tenancy agreement by subletting its space out to other publishers. Yeung was forced to cancel the plan.
Hui Ching, research director at the Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute, stated that authorities should be more clear and transparent about which types of activities are permitted.
“If there’s no transparency, it’s reasonable for citizen to suspect their rights being deprived,” Hui said.
The fair is still valued by visitors as a chance to browse and buy a wide variety of books.
“I read as a habit and today I’ve come to look for some Chinese novels and short stories that I’m interested in,” said Grace Ng, a 22-year-old university student who visited the fair with her boyfriend.
Ng usually attends the annual fair and said this year’s appeared somewhat subdued. “It’s not as crowded now as before the pandemic,” she said.