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  • Writer's pictureSharon Chau

Book fair and Hong Kong politics

This is part of a series I call 'daily espressos', where I write down a stream of thoughts on a random topic!

Last night, I went to the Hong Kong Book Fair with one of my besties and fellow book lover, Gwyneth. The fair is a massive event hosted every summer in Hong Kong, with hundreds of exhibitors, 1 million+ visitors, and great deals on books and stationery amongst others. It’s one of the things I look forward to most when back home, and I have fond memories of going there every year with my family, even dragging along a suitcase to buy our year’s worth of books (we were super extra). This year, seeing little kids dotted around the exhibits, completely entranced by a new fiction series, reminded me of Helen and I when we were young.

The thing that struck me most this year was the special display, which was ostensibly to celebrate the 25th Handover of Hong Kong back to China. To give it some context, the Handover refers to Hong Kong being ‘handed back over’ to China in 1997 after being colonsied by the British from 1841. The 25th anniversary is seen by the government as a monumental event, with Xi himself paying a historic visit to Hong Kong, and lavish celebrations such as a whole road of flags, ostentatious red symbols screaming ‘25!’, and posters and TV ads everywhere. The book fair was no exception - with rows and rows of books on Xi Jinping thought and modern Chinese/Hong Kong politics, there was a rich array of heavily subsidised books in both English and Chinese. The scale was honestly quite impressive, especially as it was the first thing that greeted you when you entered the massive exhibition hall.

Given that as the backdrop, I was quite surprised by the still reasonably extensive collection of, shall we say, controversial books on offer. I picked up a copy of the (in)famous 醜陋的中國人, translated as The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture. The title is rather telling, with the contents being staunchly critical of Chinese culture and practices; it was written by 柏楊 (Bo Yang), a Chinese-born academic who moved to Taiwan, later becoming head of its Amnesty International chapter and also serving in prison as a dissident. I thought the title was familiar when I bought it - when I went back home and excitedly showed my mom this book, she told me that my grandpa also had the exact same copy. That made me quite nostalgic. My grandpa passed away from cancer when I was 13, but he loved talking to me about Hong Kong and Chinese politics, and always recommended me really interesting books to read. I wasn’t old enough then to understand a lot of the political terminology he used, nor did I understand it when he said that his book collection might one day be in danger - and now I do. I’m just hoping that his fears won’t actually materialise, and that I’ll still be able to see a copy of The Ugly Chinaman at every future book fair.


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