Hong Kong Book Fair

Flashy, vacuous - and that's just the books

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2011, 12:00am


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It's like a romantic comedy: A brassy, buxom woman crashes a high-society party, much to the embarrassment of the tweedy host. He throws her out, but she won't take no for an answer, and, as the two spar, a powerful mutual attraction develops.

In other words, the Hong Kong Book Fair and the city's 'pseudo-models' should drop the charade and proclaim their love.

Over the past few years, book fair organisers have tangled with beauty queens who want access to the fair to peddle cheap-looking, privately printed photo albums of themselves, usually in risque poses. Organisers claim the women are a tacky distraction, and the fair's policy has fluctuated from approving their presence to banning them to approving some of the better-behaved ones - rather like the flustered actions of a bashful romantic comedy hero.

The models and the fair are perfect for each other. They're all hustling poseurs. The lang mo's pretensions are obvious. While one or two may be a student by day and a corporate spokesbody by night, most are probably not voracious readers. Their interests in the book world are limited to what money and fame they can wring from the relationship.

The book fair is phoney as well. The sophisticated patina can't obscure the commercial nature of the show. The exhibition floors are dominated by the large chains and publishers, selling the same products available in brick-and-mortar stores and online. And, while traditional shops and markets let you in for free, the book fair charges you admission for the privilege of being marketed to.

On examination, the literary credentials of the fair seem, well, paper-thin. The number of English-language independent publishers, for example, was tiny. One of this year's book launches was yet another history of the Opium War, suitable for stocking souvenir stands. The Cambridge and Oxford presses devoted their stalls to secondary school workbooks, leaving the sale of scholarly monographs to the local universities and a stray reseller.

Nor is Hong Kong a high-end trade fair where editors sign risky contracts with freshly discovered authors who could become the next Nadine Gordimer or Dario Fo. Hong Kong is about making money by selling a sure thing to the masses.

Bikini-clad, autograph-signing, V-sign-flashing pseudo-models are not at odds with the values of the book fair - they embody the values of this book fair. From veterans like Theresa Fu Wing to eye-catching young models like Jumbo Tsang, the fair's most glamorous attendees are about looks and packaging - exactly like the mall retailers hawking Chinese translations of popular Western novels and self-help guides.

The models and the fair are an item, and they should get used to living together.

Paul Karl Lukacs writes about law and media. pkl@nomadlaw.com