Delve into the past and travel the world at the Hong Kong Book Fair

With a record number of exhibitors drawn from far and wide, this year's Book Fair promises to take visitors on a journey of the imagination

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 12:41pm

Books can enable Hongkongers to look beyond their day-to-day lives and learn about the city's past and the world beyond its borders, exhibitors at this year's Book Fair say.

This year's fair, which opens today and runs until July 22 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, features a record 570 exhibitors from 31 countries and territories.

Old and new elements come together, with Saudi Arabian and Colombian authors showcased for the first time, while veteran local publishers guide visitors through the city's history.

A themed exhibition focuses on Hong Kong's publishing history. Visitors can see examples of old printing and historical books or take a closer look at more recent publications from the past two decades.

They can take home copies of magazines published in the 1970s and 80s, including popular women's magazines with erotic covers but conservative romantic stories inside.

They can also pose for photographs at a mock-up bookstore modelled on the first branch of The Commercial Press, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

The company has also published a series of books on local culture and history to celebrate the anniversary, according to deputy manager Mok Yat-fung.

One of the books focuses on post-war architecture, much of which has been demolished over the years. Another tells the story of the former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road using interviews with former occupants and neighbours. The quarters have featured in the news more recently with their redevelopment into PMQ, a creative hub and shopping mall.

Chung Hwa Book Company also takes a local approach. One of its books, Oldies' slang, introduces readers to Cantonese slang through the decades. Another, 3/4 Hong Kong by a Taiwanese author, describes the hiking opportunities in the city, which is less well known internationally for its country parks than its urban concrete jungle.

But the fair has plenty to offer those wanting to look beyond Hong Kong's borders.

In the Japan booth, visitors can read about Tama the cat, the celebrity "station master" who has presided over Kishi Station in Kinokawa City in Wakayama prefecture since 2007. Or they can pay homage to the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the shared booth of Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The booth showcases a writer from each country.

"It's the 100th anniversary of Octavio Paz, who was a well-known poet. This section pays homage to him," Tania Libertad Hernandez, Mexico's Consul for cultural affairs, said.

Marquez is Colombia's featured writer; Peru is showcasing Mario Vargas Llosa.

"Hong Kong is very international, but it has to learn more about foreign countries. Hong Kong is like a showcase for China. We need to encourage people here to learn more about latin countries and also, for them to learn Spanish," said Hernandez.

France has a strong presence with three authors, Francois Dremeaux, David Foenkinos and Olivier Lebe participating. British writers Susan Barker, Lawrence Osborne and Peter Suart, and American journalist Barbara Demick are also attending.

Tomes that reflect their times

Publishers are putting out books on civil movements in this year's Book Fair ahead of the planned Occupy Central protest, while do-it-yourself guides to improving the city are also proving popular.

"Hong Kong citizens talk a lot about what they want from the government, but many of their demands are just being ignored," Up Publications editor-in-chief Carmen Kwong Wing-suen said. "Now people are stepping up their participation, such as by voting in the Occupy Central referendum [last month]. We can no longer rely on somebody else and [have to] act on our own."

The publisher has released a new do-it-yourself guidebook on ways to improve the environment and change the community. It includes stories on organic farming, beer brewing, food-waste recycling, being a citizen journalist and publishing a district newspaper.

Activism also goes beyond protection of just human rights. Kwong has written a book on how the city should better protect dogs by stopping maltreatment in puppy farms. "Hong Kong is slow when it comes to protecting animals. Seattle has already banned the pet trade," she said.

Kwong has collected used paper rolls to decorate her booth and make chairs out of them for readers.

Publishing house Subculture has a new book on activism in Hong Kong over the past 30 years, ranging from protests against the Star Ferry fare rise in 1966 to debates over the Basic Law in 1986 to recent movements led by young people born in the 1980s.

"Hong Kong people are too obedient and the central government is very strong," said the publisher's head Jimmy Pang Chi-ming. Previous movements did not lead to much success, he said.

Pang also wrote a series of commentaries on current affairs, especially Beijing's white paper asserting its authority over the city.

Amy Nip