Hong Kong Book Fair organiser vows no political censorship yet urges exhibitors to ‘comply with the law’ ahead of annual event
Trade Development Council official claims bans would only be applied to materials judged indecent or obscene by the relevant tribunal
No political censorship will be imposed on titles sold at the annual Hong Kong Book Fair as long as exhibitors “comply with the law”, the organiser pledged, amid concerns publications advocating independence for the city will be removed.
The Trade Development Council emphasised the fair would remain as liberal and open as possible, and expressed confidence that publishers would cooperate if their materials were flagged.
Against the backdrop of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, focus has turned to whether advocates of independence or localism would use the platform to sell “radical” materials.
Benjamin Chau Kai-leung, the council’s deputy executive director, said bans would only be applied to materials judged indecent or obscene by the Obscene Articles Tribunal.
“Whether it’s politically sensitive, that is not our consideration. But of course, publications must comply with the law,” he said, without elaborating.
“We try to keep the Hong Kong Book Fair a very open platform for everybody.”
Concerns about political censorship have intensified in the city since the disappearance in 2015 of five Hong Kong-based booksellers whose company, Mighty Current, had sold materials critical of the central government. The five eventually turned up in the custody of mainland Chinese authorities.
Chau revealed officers from the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration – a local regulatory agency – would conduct spot inspections on the eve of the fair.
“But of course, we won’t be able to check every single book that is put up for sale. That’s why we always welcome reports from the public.”
To tackle waste, exhibitors were urged to donate their unsold books to charities.
Chau said five boxes of books were collected from the recycling programme last year and that similar arrangements would be put in place again.
Launched in 1990, the fair has grown to be the largest of its kind in Asia, drawing 1.02 million visitors last year.
Held this year between July 19 and 25, the seven-day event is poised to host 670 exhibitors – a record high number and up 4.7 per cent from last year. The exhibitors hail from 35 countries and regions.
To celebrate this year’s theme of travel, local and overseas authors with travel experience have been invited to conduct talks. Global explorer and Hong Kong native Rebecca Lee Lok-sze is on the programme.
In addition, 49 independent booksellers are slated to exhibit from Taiwan, marking a 16 per cent rise from last year. That compares with 60 independent publishers from the mainland, which matches last year’s figure.
In addition, film stars are due to participate, such as leading mainland actress Liu Xiaoqing, who will make her Hong Kong debut as a literary figure.
Yau Lop-poon, chief editor of mainland news publication Yazhou Zhoukan, sits on the fair’s cultural events advisory panel and said the guests represented the “best and brightest” from the region’s cultural community.
“It took us almost half a year to finalise the guest list,” he said. “We have been trying for years to invite Liu to Hong Kong. Each and every one of them are leading voices in their respective fields.”