Controversy, cooking and cats: Hong Kong Book Fair opens doors to eager crowds
Parents feeling academic pressure and readers on the hunt for tomes unwanted on the mainland give local flavour to annual publishing event
The “winning at the starting line” mentality has become so ingrained in local parents’ minds that many were spotted snapping up workbooks for children as young as kindergarten age at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which opened on Wednesday.
Dozens of publishers at the fair targeted parents with children so young they do not even know how to use chopsticks and pens.
The annual book fair, which runs until Tuesday, is one of the largest in the world, featuring local and international publishers.
While children’s story and assessment books have been popular in recent years, exhibitors noted a rise in interest in books for those aged as young as three.
Lee Wing-lam, the manager of children’s book publisher KEA Learning International’s booth, pointed out that the sales of kindergarten workbooks had “greatly increased” in the past year or two.
Lee said such books’ rise in popularity was related to more parents wanting their children to “win at the starting line”, which involved having them attend classes and begin drilling younger than ever.
Parents at the show told the Post they disagreed in principle with that mentality.
But Yoko Wong, a housewife in her late 30s, had her hands full with such books.
“He’s used to doing lots of workbook exercises. No work, no playtime for him,” Wong said of her five-year-old son, Isaac, who was about to enter Primary One.
Asked if he enjoyed doing that many exercises, Isaac managed a silent nod.
Another housewife, Mandy Leung, 42, was looking for storybooks for her daughter.
She said she recognised the mindset was not good for her child, but said she could not help but follow it.
“As a parent, you are under a lot of pressure from your child’s teacher and classmates. Many of them are already attending extra classes,” she said.
Besides children’s books, politically sensitive books, such as those on self-determination for Hong Kong and critical of the Chinese government, were arousing interest among both locals and mainlanders.
A 46-year-old Shanghai resident, who wished to be known as Mr Shu, said he had travelled to Hong Kong just for the fair. He said one book on Hong Kong self-determination caught his eye.
“I will not buy these books and bring them back to China,” Shu said. “I intend to just browse through some copies.”
He also said he thought there were fewer political books than last year, adding that he would visit a store selling books banned on the mainland later.
A Hongkonger who wished to remain anonymous said he went to the fair to look for banned books, which he became interested in after the disappearances of five staff members of Causeway Bay Books, which specialised in banned books. One of the sellers has since claimed he was detained on the mainland for eight months.
Among books the man planned to buy were one critical of Chinese leaders and one claiming to tell the inside story of 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.