Hong Kong Book Fair

Looking for Haruki Murakami’s novel Killing Commendatore? Look harder at Hong Kong’s public libraries

Book will only be available to readers aged above 18 after novel is given class two ‘indecent’ rating, and exhibitors at Hong Kong Book Fair are told to remove it from booths

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 11:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 11:15pm

Public libraries in Hong Kong will prevent readers aged under 18 from borrowing a novel by popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami after the book was classified as “indecent” by a legal panel.

The decision by the Obscene Articles Tribunal has raised eyebrows among publishers at the city’s annual literary highlight, the Hong Kong Book Fair, in its third day on Friday.

Event organiser the Hong Kong Trade Development Council ordered the book be removed from all shelves at the exhibition.

The novel, titled Kishidancho Goroshi, or Killing Commendatore, is 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.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said all copies of the Chinese-language version in public libraries would also be coated with wrappers and warnings.

“Readers who have reached the age of 18 can request to borrow the book from library staff,” the spokesman said.

The department did not say how many reservations of the book from readers aged under 18 had been cancelled since the tribunal’s decision was disclosed on July 12.

As of 5.20pm on Friday, the website for Hong Kong’s public libraries showed 206 outstanding reservations for the novel.

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Under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, if a publication is deemed class two, or indecent, the publisher must not distribute it to those aged below 18, and it must be sealed in a wrapper with printed warnings on the front and back covers. Indecency is deemed to include “violence, depravity and repulsiveness”.

The tribunal last week also ruled that adult periodical Lung Fu Pao and a new photo book of model Ealies Chau were class two publications.

Dr Lee Hoi-lam, a modern literature instructor at Polytechnic University, said 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,” said Lee, who claimed to have read every novel by Murakami.

Murakami’s books are best-sellers in Japan and internationally, and his work has been translated into 50 languages.

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Copies of the novel were out of sight at the book fair as the third day of the week-long event kicked off at 10am on Friday.

A spokesman for the fair reminded exhibitors that selling indecent or obscene publications could result in a booth being closed down.

A manager for China Times Publishing, a Taiwanese firm that publishes the novel, said the firm had been told to remove the book from their booth on Thursday.

“I don’t know the details of Hong Kong’s ordinance. No one has explained to me the classifications. All I can do is respect the organiser and follow their instructions,” said the manager, who declined to be named.

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Cherry Chen, deputy general manager of Chung Hwa Book, said they had removed about 20 copies from their booth overnight as “it’s safest to obey the laws”.

“I am a bit surprised. I read the novel and I didn’t find it indecent,” Chen said.

Kit Tsoi, 24, said she had been a Murakami fan for seven years and was disappointed she could not find a copy of the book at the fair.

“But I will get it by other means,” she said.

Another reader, Chan Ching-man, 18, believed more people would want to experience the novel after hearing of its “indecent” classification.

The tribunal consists of a presiding magistrate and at least two adjudicators. Members of the public can apply to be adjudicators.

Ben Lam Siu-pan, one of about 500 potential adjudicators, said each submitted publication would usually be inspected by two or three randomly selected adjudicators along with the magistrate.

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But he suggested the system be improved with reference to the jury system by using a larger pool of adjudicators to make decisions.

Additional reporting by Zoe Law