- Event was set to take place in Causeway Bay and feature local publishers, including two banned from the annual fair held in Wan Chai
- Landlord called the fair ‘sensitive’ and accused organisers of subletting the premises; event has been moved online
A private book fair organised by local independent publishing houses has been cancelled a day before its official launch on Thursday after the venue owner accused the organiser of breaching the clauses of the tenancy agreement.
The first Hongkongers’ Book Fair was expected to take place in Causeway Bay from July 14 to 19, a week before the city’s annual book fair, and included more than 12 local publishers, including Hillway Culture and One of a Kind. These were among the three bookstores that had been banned from joining this year’s annual book fair, typically held in July.
On Thursday morning, the organiser announced on social media that the event would be held online after the landlord terminated the tenancy agreement, saying the event was “sensitive” and accusing them of subletting the premises to other publishers.
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Raymond Yeung, founder of Hillway Culture and representative of the independent book fair, expressed disappointment and said he disagreed with the landlord’s decision. “They claimed that our event had escalated and that it got a lot of attention on social media … [saying it] was different from what we had proposed at first.”
But Yeung explained they had clearly stated the venue was being rented to stage a book fair when signing the contract, and that the location had hosted other small-scale markets before, adding that he didn’t agree with the allegation.
“[After being rejected from the annual book fair] we sought another way to showcase our books on the private market. Even though we signed the contract and complied with the law, the landlord – who may be under some kind of unspoken pressure – decided to terminate the contract. I was very disappointed.”
Yeung said that all the books offered at the fair were legal and appropriate, including some related to political issues and niche publications by small publishers.
In mid-May, Yeung’s Hillway Culture was notified by the HKTDC that its application to take part in the Hong Kong Book Fair had been rejected, but he wasn’t given a reason. This prompted him to organise a private book fair to feature the works he thought would be of interest to Hongkongers. During his preparations, he realised that local bookstores needed another platform to showcase their books that provided more freedom.
“Since the traditional book fair may involve some political censorship, some stores worry that if they sell certain kinds of books, their application to join the fair could be rejected,” said Yeung, saying he had noticed a change in the city’s reading culture.
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“Readers might have new requirements for the book fair. All too often, the annual event is treated just as a place [to find] discount books, so it doesn’t give readers a good experience or atmosphere. We hope that through organising this fair in a new venue with a new approach and purpose, we can find out what Hong Kong readers need at the moment.”
The 32nd Hong Kong Book Fair, hosted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), will be held in Wan Chai next week, under the theme “History and City Literature”. The organiser has rejected a few publishers’ applications to participate in the event without giving a reason.
HKTDC told Young Post that there will be over 700 exhibitors at this year’s fair and refused to disclose the number of applications it rejected.
“The books at the fair are not screened by the organisers. Exhibitors are reminded to abide by the rules and regulations of the book fair and to comply with Hong Kong law. We don’t comment on other events [the Hongkongers’ Book Fair].”
Even though the event was started because they were rejected by the book fair, Yeung stressed that it was never a political event, but rather a commercial activity that hoped to bring more options to local readers.
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“My personal hope is that it would show what the Hong Kong [publishing] industry is doing ... so this could be a place for us to demonstrate our willingness to continue to contribute to the industry and to express our freedoms of press and speech,” said the organiser, adding that the cancellation of the fair reflected the actual situation in Hong Kong.
“Even though the authorities have been saying Hongkongers still have the freedom of speech, publish and press, the reality is that people do have certain fears and [are faced with] pressure, which leads to these irrational decisions,” Yeung said.
“We did our best to prepare for this book fair. I don’t what we could do further. I can only persist in doing things that I think are right.”