Activist fined HK$3,000 for binning Hong Kong public library books in ‘fight against cultural invasion’ from mainland China
Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, 29, convicted of theft over dumping of books printed in simplified Chinese characters
A radical Hong Kong activist was on Tuesday fined HK$3,000 for dumping library books in a bin in what he said was an attempt to protect children from the “cultural invasion” of simplified Chinese characters.
Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, 29, had told the court during trial that he had become angry after learning from newspapers that the Hong Kong government had “wasted public funds” to stock the city’s libraries with 600,000 books written in the simplified characters more commonly used in mainland China. Hong Kong uses traditional characters.
Kowloon City Court magistrate Wong Sze-lai, who convicted Cheng of theft, slammed his conduct as “selfish and stupid”, adding that the purpose behind the crime did not matter. She said English folk hero Robin Hood would similarly be found guilty of theft even for robbing the rich to help the poor.
Outside court, Cheng said the conviction made him feel “quite helpless” since he had never held any desire to obtain the property of others yet had been found guilty of an offence involving dishonesty.
He did not comment on whether he would continue his campaign against simplified characters, save for saying: “I hope Hongkongers will cherish and defend our language.”
Cheng, the vice-chairman of localist political party Civic Passion, went to a public library in Ho Man Tin on March 29 last year in the hope of “protecting libraries” and drawing attention to his cause. He filmed himself dumping nine children’s books into a library rubbish bin. The books cost HK$505 in total.
Cheng said that since children would not be able to tell the difference at a young age between the two versions of characters, the simplified books might affect their cognitive learning and confuse them. He also said the “effects and poisonous influences” of such books went beyond just the different shapes on a page.
The recorded stunt was uploaded to his Facebook page, where he called on others to follow suit during his campaign to run for a seat in Hong Kong’s legislature in elections last September.
Librarians later discovered 12 other books in the library’s fire hose reel cabinet, behind computers and under book shelves.
Radical Hong Kong activist arrested for allegedly removing library books using simplified Chinese characters
The defence had argued that Cheng carried no dishonest intentions as he had publicly dumped the books.
But the magistrate said whether an act was dishonest should be determined by the standards of a reasonable person, who would in this case read and borrow books from the library and return them accordingly instead of permanently depriving others of the same right by throwing them away.
She also said theft came in many forms and did not require property being taken away from an owner’s premises so long as prosecutors proved a defendant had dishonestly appropriated it with the intention of permanently depriving others of that property.
“The defendant’s conduct was selfish and stupid,” she told the court. “Luckily [the books] were recovered.”
In mitigation, defence counsel Edward Chan stressed that his client had not committed the offence for selfish reasons. He argued that the conduct was consistent with the principles of civil disobedience previously highlighted by a Court of Appeal judgment for the resentencing of 13 protesters over an unlawful public assembly outside the Legislative Council in 2014, because Cheng had shown restraint while breaking the law and cooperated with authorities.