Dissident poet turns sleuth to uncover disappearance of bookseller friend Gui Minhai
Bei Ling’s globetrotting investigation to protect freedom of speech
Dissident poet Bei Ling, a long-time friend of publisher Gui Minhai who is being detained on the mainland accused of running an illegal business there, is in Hong Kong to prepare an investigative report into the bookseller’s strange disappearance in October.
Bei, president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, is planning to talk to booksellers and publishers in the city to find out as much about Gui’s business here as possible. He will also look into how the disappearances of Gui and his four associates may affect the publishing industry in Hong Kong.
“I am doing this because I don’t want this to happen again. I still want Hong Kong to enjoy the freedom of speech that it has always enjoyed. Another reason is that I was also arrested many years ago because of publishing matters,” Bei told the South China Morning Post on Saturday.
In August 2000, Beijing police detained the poet for distributing a literary journal called Tendency, which he launched in 1993 to showcase young underground writers. He was expelled back to the US from Beijing about two weeks later – he migrated to America in 1998.
“I don’t want Hong Kong to become just another Chinese city. It appears to me that the ‘one country, two systems’ principle is being damaged,” said Bei, who has known Gui since the 1980s.
Before coming to Hong Kong, Bei has already conducted an investigation in Pattaya together with some of Gui’s friends. Bei came to the conclusion that Gui was kidnapped after doing a series of investigative works, including reviewing security footage of Gui’s condominium.
Since October, five associates of publishing house Mighty Current and its bookstore Causeway Bay Books started to disappear one after one. Gui vanished in Pattaya, Thailand, in October under mysterious circumstances. In the same month, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee went missing while in the mainland. In December, Lee Po disappeared in Hong Kong.
Their disappearances have led to fears that they were kidnapped by Chinese agents because the publishing house and the bookstore they run specialised in books critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Here in Hong Kong, Bei aims to gain entry to Gui’s flat in Tsuen Wan to look for clues.
“About trying to talk to the Hong Kong police, I doubt if they will be willing to talk to me. But I can try. I can tell them I may be able to help them with what I know,” Bei said.
With the mainland authorities portraying Gui as the mastermind of the “illegal business” he is accused of running, Bei feared that his long-time friend will be eventually convicted of the offence.
In January, Gui was paraded on state television CCTV claiming he surrendered himself to the mainland authorities over a 2004 drink-driving incident in Ningbo, Zhejiang province. He was later also accused of ordering his associates to deliver about 4,000 banned books across the border since October 2014.
While Gui has made a fortune with his publishing business, Bei believed that his friend did not just do it for money. Bei believed that Gui enjoyed taking the risk of writing about politics in China.
Although Bei believed that Gui might really have been delivering banned books across the border as the Chinese authorities alleged, the dissident poet said it does not mean Gui deserved to be taken away.
“His disappearance was very unexpected to me. I don’t even think he would have imagined it,” Bei added.
Bei arrived in Hong Kong on Friday and will leave on Wednesday. He said he will not be able to gather all the information he needs to compile his report and so he plans to come back again in the future.