After Haruki Murakami novel ban, five other Hong Kong censorship controversies
Celebrated Japanese writer’s new novel, deemed indecent by a tribunal, joins a book about two penguins, rooftop sculptures, and a ballet touching on recent Chinese history in the cross hairs of city censors or the politically correct
One of the city’s annual literary highlights, the Hong Kong Book Fair, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the weekend when the latest work by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was banned from the event after being deemed “indecent” by the Obscene Articles Tribunal.
The novel, titled Kishidancho Goroshi, or Killing Commendatore, was temporarily classified as “Class II – indecent materials,” according to a notice issued by the tribunal last week. The classification means the book had to be removed from all the fair’s booths, and can now only be sold in city bookstores with its cover wrapped and a warning about its content.
Like much of Murakami’s work, the book includes occasional sex, but Dr Lee Hoi-lam, a modern literature instructor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says the tribunal’s decision was “without rhyme or reason” as it had come half a year after the novel was first published.
“In the book, sex is depicted for valid purposes, such as to reflect the main character’s emotional changes, instead of to arouse sexual pleasure among readers,” says Lee.
Attempts at cultural censorship is nothing new in Hong Kong. Here are five other examples.
1. And Tango Makes Three
Earlier this year, 10 children’s books featuring same-sex parents and other LGBT themes were hidden away from public view at Hong Kong’s libraries after months of pressure from anti-gay group, the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group.
Among the titles which were moved to closed stack sections, and are now only available on request, is the critically acclaimed And Tango Makes Three. The book, about two male penguins that fall in love and build a family together with the help of a zookeeper, was published in 2005 by Simon & Schuster and was nominated for a host of awards. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department refused to disclose when the decision to remove the books from public view was made.
2. Hong Kong Ballet causes a stir
Hong Kong Ballet got caught up in a censorship row in 2013 after cutting a controversial section from the premiere of The Dream of the Red Chamber, a collaboration between the Hong Kong Ballet and Germany’s Ballett Dortmund. At the end of the ballet, a 12-minute projection sequence depicted different stages in China’s history including the Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty, the provisional Republic of China and the Cultural Revolution.
In the part depicting the Cultural Revolution, dancers dressed as Red Guards waved around copies of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, both historic icons of the turbulent period. Following the premiere, the projection sequence was cut from the show. Media reported at the time that senior management from Hong Kong Ballet met their German counterparts and decided to cut the section because it was politically incorrect.
3. Antony Gormley’s statues
In 2014, the British artist’s Naked Man statues were to appear on Hong Kong rooftops. Titled “Event Horizon”, the 31 fibreglass and iron statues were made from life-size body casts of the artist. But when sponsor Hongkong Land decided to pull the plug on the exhibition it attracted worldwide attention. The company was believed to have withdrawn its support after an investment banker jumped to his death from the top of an office block which belonged to the major Central landlord, in February of that year. Putting Gormley’s figures on the edge of Central rooftops was considered a very badly timed exercise and the original plan was ditched.
Antony Gormley’s Naked Man sculpture fenced off in Hong Kong Central district after complaint it is an ‘obstruction’
After the project was put on hold for more than a year, five life-size Naked Man sculptures were eventually mounted on the rooftops of City Hall lower block, Hip Shing Hong Centre, New World Tower II, St. George’s Building and the Queensway Government Offices.
4. Book Fair bans pseudo-models
In 2010, the Hong Kong Book Fair got into another censorship tangle when it banned pseudo-models from appearing at the event after they had appeared the previous year and signed copies of their risqué photo books. The models, who don’t have any training, are known as lang mo in Cantonese. They attracted droves of besotted young male fans on their initial appearance at the show, but they were accused of hijacking a cultural event to promote themselves.
“The purpose of the Book Fair is to promote a good reading culture and it is a healthy event,” spokesman William Cheung was quoted saying. “Last year, we received lots of complaints from parents, educational and religious groups concerning [these pseudo-models’] appearances.”
5. Beauty and the Beast
As if berating 10 children’s books featuring same-sex parents and other LGBT themes wasn’t enough, last year the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, also opposed the rating of the Disney live-action film over claims it contained homosexual content. The group submitted a petition letter to the Hong Kong film classification authority to oppose its rating, which it had deemed suitable for all ages. The group said the film included gay scenes and neglected to criticise “gay-related behaviour or lifestyle” in any way.
A Disney spokeswoman later confirmed “the film has not been and will not be cut”, while a spokeswoman for the film authority said their panel unanimously agreed that it should be rated as suitable for all ages.