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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Asia Pacific writers festival to go ahead in mainland without any booksellers

Organiser declines to provide reasons for the exclusion in the wake of the missing Hong Kong booksellers saga

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 2:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 11:04pm

The 2016 Asia Pacific Writers and Translators conference will be held in mainland China next month however this time with the notable absence of any official booksellers.

Hosted by the Sun Yat-sen University Centre for English-language Creative Writing, in Guangzhou, on November 25 and 26, organisers say more than one hundred writers, translators, editors and industry professionals are expected to join the event. But unlike most previous events, there will not be any official booksellers.

Executive director of the conference, Jane Camens, declined to say why there would be no booksellers at this edition, or if the decision was made at the request of the host university or the central government.

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“No one is authorised to address your question on behalf of Asia Pacific Writers and Translators. It’s inappropriate for me to provide further comment,” Camens said.

“At most, though not at all our conferences, we’ve had booksellers. We didn’t have an official bookseller when the event was held in Hong Kong in 2010,” she noted.

But on the association’s Facebook page, Camens had written in a response to an Australian bookseller: “Bookselling is a huge problem at this event… There’s been a big crackdown on publishers in China. There will be no official bookseller. People may bring in a few copies of their own books for personal sale, but that’s it.”

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This week marked one year since Gui Minhai, co-owner of the Hong Kong Mighty Current publishing house, went missing while on holidays in Thailand. He was the first of five Hong Kong booksellers – all linked to the same Causeway Bay bookstore known for publishing banned books on China’s political intrigue – who disappeared last year and later resurfaced in the mainland.

Gui, a Swedish national, vanished on October 17, 2015, and remains the only bookseller that has not been released by mainland authorities.

In January, he was paraded on Chinese state television confessing to drunk-driving charges. Although his legal situation remains unclear, he has been accused of ordering colleagues to deliver 4,000 banned books across the border since October 2014.

Camens declined to comment on the current publishing situation in the mainland and Hong Kong, given the recent case of the missing booksellers.

“Asia Pacific Writers and Translators is a guest of Sun Yat-sen University. We cannot comment on Chinese domestic issues,” she said.

Talking about organisational challenges, she said: “There have been no more challenges organising this conference in mainland China than there were in organising our conference – twice – in Bangkok, Thailand.”

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Camens said it was hard to attract local writers to the event in both places.

“We hold the conferences in English and don’t have the resources to provide simultaneous translation,” she said.

“We hope some Chinese authors join us to make the most of this international network. Anyone who comes will need to be able to communicate effectively in English.”

As of Saturday, 105 participants from countries including Canada, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, Spain and the UK had registered for the event. Camens said that figure was expected to increase with late over-the-counter registrations from local people wanting to join the workshops.

This is the ninth edition of the gathering, which was held last year in Manila. Chinese writer and professor Dai Fan, American author Robin Hemley and British-Pakistani writer Qaisra Shahraz are among the speakers already confirmed.

Additional readings will be hosted in Hong Kong and Macau on November 27 and 28, respectively.