Leaders using Hong Kong Book Fair to get youth on same page a win-win situation

No loss when officials make a proactive move to connect with public, and when young Hongkongers are actively engaged in reading and learning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 3:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 2:13am

There was something worth reading into over the past week while the Hong Kong Legislative Council was beset by chaos as the pan-democrats continued to give the government a hard time, despite calls for reconciliation by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The city’s new leader and some of her principal officials seemed to have discovered a better “soft power” channel to connect with the public – the Hong Kong Book Fair.

They all made a beeline for the book fair – Lam first, followed by her cabinet members such as commerce and economic development minister Edward Yau Tang-wah, constitutional and mainland affairs chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen and education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung.

Each had his or her own reading preferences: Lam revealed that she enjoyed cookbooks as well as romance novels by a famous Taiwanese author and local writers; Yau bought a book on backpacking and another on China’s trade strategy, the “Belt and Road Initiative”; and Nip shared his reflections on a book about the recent conquest of Mount Everest by local physiotherapist Elton Ng Chun-ting.

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Nip said he was not just a workaholic but someone who would spare time for physical exercise, and that he was even planning to run a marathon next year. He also bought a belt and road book, reflecting the importance the local government is placing on China’s grand plan to open up international trade along a new Silk Road.

Yeung, as the man in charge of education, went for something a bit more official – he joined a reading event with 1,000 youngsters from both Hong Kong and the mainland.

They were not at the fair as regular book lovers, and all their sharing sessions targeted one audience – young people. Another important, though subtle, takeaway was they were fulfilling their duty as principal officials to promote the trade initiative and make it relevant to Hong Kong, particularly to the younger generation, who are the city’s future.

Without a doubt, the city’s youth issue is one of the biggest headaches and a top priority for the government, so reaching out to youngsters through the book fair can make sense.

Since 1990, this event, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, has become one of the largest in Asia and is a significant draw card of the city. A longstanding theme has been to promote a reading culture in a highly commercialised metropolis that doesn’t have much time for books and has been dubbed a “cultural desert” in the past.

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The book fair is also a perfect platform to showcase the city’s pluralism, especially after 1997 – books and comics featuring political satire on Hong Kong and the mainland are among the attractions, and visitors from across the border are regularly drawn to the event.

Of course, the book fair is not, and should not be, all about politics. Practically speaking, it’s an important branding and promotion venue for publishers and writers. So, if the government this time decided to use it as a platform to “soft sell” its image and message by reaching out to perhaps the most disgruntled demographic in our city, it was worth a try at least, if not mission accomplished.

Some critics said this year’s book fair was less political, with the theme being “travel”. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, what the city needs at this time is more peace and less political bickering, though politics will always be there.

In this internet age, as long as our officials proactively reach out to the public, as long as our youth can be actively engaged in reading and learning, it should be win-win for everyone.