Occupy Central

Hong Kong book giant in censorship row after returning titles to ‘pro-democracy’ publisher

Conglomerate accused of 'indirectly murdering the whole publishing industry'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 March, 2015, 11:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 5:57pm

A small independent publishing firm, with a pro-democracy background, has accused the biggest publishing conglomerate in the city of "indirectly murdering the whole publishing industry" by returning hundreds of books after the Occupy protests.

Up Publications had hundreds of books returned by Beijing-friendly Sino United Publishing through its subsidiaries Joint Publishing, Chung Hwa Book and Commercial Press, which operate 51 stores across the city.

"Twenty books - even new publications - which amount to hundreds of copies have been returned by Sino United over the past few months," Up Publications' editor-in-chief, Carmen Kwong Wing-suen, told the Post.

"Our distributer told us that some bookstore staff said we should not have stood at the front line of Occupy Central."

Kwong questioned the reason for the "unprecedented" return of the books by Sino United. She said many of the returned books were about pets and food and were far from being political.

"[The move by Sino United] is no different from indirectly murdering the whole publishing industry … by making the books they dislike simply disappear from the market," she said.

She added that it was exceptional for bookstores to return books in less than half a year as they were normally displayed for a whole year, starting from July, when the annual book fair starts.

It is the second time in three months that Sino United has faced censorship allegations. Earlier this year, the giant was accused of halting sales of the Chinese-language book Hong Kong Nationalism at its three subsidiary book chains after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hit out at the University of Hong Kong's student union for "advocating independence".

Up Publications, set up in 2006 and helmed by outspoken cultural critic Leung Man-tao, has published books relating to leisure, culture and politics over the years, including the book OC (2013) in which a group of writers explained why they decided to back Occupy Central.

Kwong added that another publication, Love and Justice, co-written by her on Occupy, also received an "abnormal" lukewarm response from the conglomerate as it only ordered 28 copies for all of its 51 retail outlets instead of the normal practice of 200 copies. Occupy's core volunteer, Shiu Ka-chun, also said his new book, That's All I Know about OCLP, was not picked up by the three book chains.

Staff from the three book chains all told the Post that Shiu's book was not available at any of their branches. Both books, however, turned out to be among the bestsellers in bookstores located above street level, such as the Hong Kong Reader in Mong Kok.

A spokesman for Sino United refused to comment on individual cases, but said the bookstores made their own decisions on what books to stock and the duration of display according to the publications' quality and the authors' reputation.

Kwong said they had no alternative but to hold a clearance sale to get rid of the returned books to clear their warehouse ahead of the annual book fair in July.


Beijing criticised for publication of new series of anti-Occupy books

Beijing has been accused of launching a new propaganda war by putting pressure on a leading publisher to release a series of books with an apparent antiOccupy agenda.

The emergence of at least five books - all published and distributed by subsidiaries of Sino United Publishing - came as the 27-year-old publisher faces allegations of not selling books written by pro-democracy authors in its 51 Hong Kong shops, operated through its subsidiaries Joint Publishing, Chung Hwa Book and Commercial Press.

Books which claim to uncover the secrets of last year's Occupy protests are easily visible in prominent areas of the stores. Closer study, however, suggests they all contain passages heavily critical of the 79-day sit-in which finally ended in December.

The free speech group Independent Commentators Association has hit out at one book, whose title translates as Looking Into Occupy Central, written by Kwan Sau-king, for accusing the association of receiving funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, a group sponsored by the US Congress to promote democracy abroad.

The book also targets former reporter Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, now a journalism lecturer at Baptist University and a member of the association, for apparently exaggerating a negative slant on the mainland when covering China affairs.

The association last week demanded Kwan delete all allegedly false statements within seven days or face legal action. Kwan and Joint Publishing - which published the book - said they could not comment.

Another book, whose title translates as Decrypting Occupy Central, is said to have been written by Poon Tin-long and was published by Sinminchu Publishing, another subsidiary of Sino United. It claimed the so-called umbrella movement was a "colour revolution" - such as those in former Soviet states - manipulated by Western forces.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Beijing wanted to tighten its control of Hong Kong through publishing in the aftermath of the Occupy protests.

"Occupy might have ended but its impact remains," he said. He added Sino United's move to publish books against the movement and not sell those in favour "is apparently an order [from] beyond the publisher itself".

Occupy Central co-founder Dr Chan Kin-man expressed concern about the situation.

"People might not easily be aware that what is being displayed in the [major] bookstores is already the result of censorship. They thought they had choices," he said.