‘Climate of fear’: Hong Kong publisher claims printers rejected book on Occupy protests
Company founder voices alarm for freedom of speech and says missing bookseller saga is weighing heavily on city
The chilling effect of the missing bookseller saga has crept into local printing companies, the publisher of a book about the Occupy movement has revealed.
Jason Ng, a lawyer and author, compiled the first English-language account of the 79-day civil unrest in 2014, but his publisher had a hard time finding a printer for the 300-page book.
“Two printing companies turned it down because of the subject matter, and the third agreed to do it on condition that it would stay anonymous,” said Pete Spurrier, the publisher of Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered, at the launch last week – more than three months later than he planned.
This is the first time the Briton has been turned down by a local printer. He has published some 60 titles through his company, Blacksmith Books, which he founded in 2003.
“I’m worried about the whole climate of fear that is imposed on publishers and media. It’s no good to have freedom of speech on paper when people are too scared to exercise it, and that would become an issue of self-censorship,” he said.
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The latest book is the final leg of a trilogy that Ng kicked off with Hong Kong State of Mind in 2010, followed by No City for Slow Men in 2013.
“The Hong Kong I started the trilogy with was less polarised and less angry, and its sequel turned sombre with tension on the rise and social and cultural frustration beginning to bubble to the surface. The finale is the summation of all the events that led up to one big event in 2014, which was unplanned,” Ng said.
“If you read the three books in sequence, you will definitely feel the increasing pessimism, anger and in some way hopelessness in the city.”
But the Hong Kong-born author remained optimistic about his home city and held on to the belief that “the night is the darkest before dawn”.
Chip Tsao, a celebrated columnist and radio host, said he was not worried about writing the foreword for a book “impartially written on a pivotal moment of Hong Kong’s history”.
“For a city with no memory and little sense of history, it’s [vital] for Hong Kong to uphold its freedom of speech that books like Jason’s will continue to be published,” Tsao said.
Spurrier, a casual sub-editor at the South China Morning Post, regarded the latest opus as serving a cause that was worth the risk that friends and family had warned him about.
“I think it’s important to go ahead to publish books like this to show that we still can,” he said.