Hong Kong Book Fair returns after one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, but self-censorship fears continue

  • Amidst worries about the national security law, event organisers insist they had not been informed about any random checks for politically-sensitive titles
  • With social-distancing measures in place, and requirements for staff and exhibitors to be vaccinated or get tested for Covid-19, at least 100,000 fewer visitors are expected this year
Kathleen MagramoSammy HeungPhila Siu |

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The Hong Kong Book Fair opens after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many exhibitors cautious about the national security law. Photo: SCMP / K. Y. Cheng

Hong Kong’s largest book fair returned on Wednesday morning after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic , with strict social distancing rules in place and fears of self-censorship over the sweeping national security law.

The Hong Kong Book Fair, organised by the Trade Development Council, runs until July 20 at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. This year, it involves about 544 publishing sector exhibitors, down 20.7 per cent from 2019’s 686 exhibitors.

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All exhibition staff and exhibitors have been required to either get tested for Covid-19 within the 14 days before working at the event, or show proof they have been fully vaccinated.

Organisers will only be able to accommodate 85 per cent of the venue’s capacity, based on current social-distancing measures. Compared to previous years, at least 100,000 fewer visitors are expected as border restrictions keep out mainland Chinese attendees.

Self-censorship concerns cast a shadow over the long-awaited book fair. Photo: SCMP / K. Y. Cheng

About three hours before the event opened at 10am, dozens had already queued at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, with visitors bringing along suitcases and trolleys to carry home their purchases.

“I plan to buy fashion magazines like Elle, as well as travel books and CHOICE magazine,” said a 58-year-old homemaker at the fair.

She and her husband were the first in line at the ticketing office, having arrived at 7am. Both planned to take advantage of the free tickets offered to vaccinated residents who showed up before noon.

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Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, boss of publisher Subculture, which is taking part in the fair, said on a radio programme on Wednesday that some exhibitors have chosen not to sell politically sensitive books at the events for fear of getting into trouble.

“Some have asked each other to be careful, and they’d rather engage in self-censorship than break the law,” he said.

He expected business to be down 20 per cent this year compared with previous years.

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Benjamin Chau Kai-leung, deputy executive director of the Trade Development Council, said on Tuesday that exhibitors could ask relevant government departments if they were unclear about the suitability of material to be displayed at the event.

Asked whether books penned by arrested opposition figures would be available, Chau replied: “As long as they abide by the law of Hong Kong, I think they have the right to choose to display or exhibit at the fair.”

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Chau denied speculation that any items at the fair deemed “politically sensitive” would be scrutinised and said organisers were not informed about any random checks by officers.

The book fair’s opening comes nearly a month after the closure of the Apple Daily newspaper following the arrest of five top executives and its lead editorial writer for allegedly violating the security law.

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