By Julia Fitzpatrick
The annual Hong Kong Book Fair was held between 20–26 July. With hundreds of publishers and booksellers involved, the fair is one of the largest of its kind in Asia. The fair has previously been notable for championing politically sensitive and controversial books, including those banned in mainland China. This year, however, rather than browsing through the subversive works of pro-democracy activists, visitors were greeted at the fair’s entrance by glossy copies of Xi Jinping’s Governance of China.
At least three publishers who had displayed books about the pro-democracy protests of 2019 at last year’s fair were excluded from the event this year without any explanation. Hillway Culture, Humming Publishing, and Kind of Culture all had their applications to participate in the fair rejected. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organised the fair, denied censorship.
Raymond Yeung, the founder of Hillway Culture said in response that “publishers like ourselves, who put out political and so-called ‘sensitive’ books, are starting to be censored.” Yeung, who gained prominence in Hong Kong after being partially blinded by an injury suffered at a protest in 2019, added that some printing companies have refused to print Hillway Culture publications since the implementation of the national security law in June 2020.
Hillway Culture attempted to organise an uncensored Hongkongers’ Book Fair with other indie publishers. The venue’s landlord terminated their lease, saying that Hillway Culture had broken venue rules by subletting to other vendors. In Yeung’s opinion, the landlord was afraid of political pressure. He said that censorship was not simply “a matter of law … there are hidden forces stopping these events and books from seeing the light of day.”
The issue of the book fair is just one manifestation of a wider cultural crackdown in Hong Kong. In 2021, a pro-Beijing group filed police reports against publishers who sold books about the 2019 protests, declaring them in violation of security laws. Just last month, a group of Hong Kong unionists were tried for sedition over a series of children’s books, in which illustrated sheep and wolves were accused of being analogies for Hong Kong residents and Chinese people, intending to “incite hatred” against China.
This escalation has worried many in Hong Kong. Professor Fu King-wah, who teaches journalism and media studies at the University of Hong Kong, expressed his concern that the situation would continue to deteriorate, and spaces for the free exchange of ideas “would only continue to shrink.”