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Causeway Bay Books Moving to Taiwan

‘I Can’t Start A School, But I Can Open A Bookstore’

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‘I Can’t Start A School, But I Can Open A Bookstore’

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Lam Wing-kee, former owner of Hong Kong’s well-known bookstore of forbidden politically-related publications, is looking to reopen his bookshop in a trendy district frequented by the younger generation in Taiwan.

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‘I Can’t Start A School, But I Can Open A Bookstore’

By Sharon Tseng
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Causeway Bay Books (銅鑼灣書店), Hong Kong’s well-known “free speech bastion for banned books,” is said to reopen in 2018 in Taiwan, where “freedom and democracy is more assured,” described by the former founder and owner of the bookstore, Lam Wing-kee(林榮基). “It is more like a symbolic movement of defiance,” said the persecuted bookseller. “And that is exactly what the bookshop was set up for.”

Since Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997, the bookstore had drawn streams of Mainland tourists to buy forbidden politically-related publications. Causeway Bay Books was dubbed “the sanctuary of the fourth estate” in China, featuring a number of books on topics that were considered sensitive and therefore banned in China, including scoops of the private lives of China’s political leaders. “When the sales of some books reached a certain level, they caught the government’s attention for being ‘potentially dangerous’.” Starting from October 2015, five publishers involved with Mighty Current Media, the company that owned the bookstore, went missing. Three months later, all five were proved to be detained by Chinese authorities, including Lam, who later returned to Hong Kong to give a public speech on how he was treated in jail for 8 months. The abduction of the publishers and the arbitrary closure of the bookstore led to a discernible chilling effect on China’s publishing industry.

‘Taiwan’s Way is Hong Kong’s Way’

In July 2017, Lam had his third visit of the year to Taiwan, where he plans to reopen the bookshop. In fact, earlier in February, at a forum held by The Taiwan Association for Independent Bookshop Culture, Lam had mentioned that he had no intention of restarting the business, in fear of another ‘Causeway Bay Books Disappearance’ to occur. However, later this year, in an interview with the Central News Agency, he expressed his beliefs that studying the country that has growing influence on the world is becoming more and more important for both the people of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

 “Taiwan can help Hong Kong sow the seeds of new thinking, from philosophy, management, to independence – both politically and mentally,” said Lam. To achieve this goal, Lam believes that the younger generation plays a crucial role. “I can’t start a school, but I can open a bookstore.”  In hopes of setting up a bookshop in Ximending (西門町), a bustling district frequented by trendy young Taiwanese and Chinese tourists, Lam aims to foster critical thinking in the minds of the younger generation. According to Bei Ling, a Chinese poet and journal editor who is often associated with the dissident Chinese Misty Poets, lectures on forbidden topics in China will be offered in the bookstore. Lam, who prefers to stay in Hong Kong, affirms that he will only take on an advisory role in the running of the business in Taiwan. The new venture will be receiving financial support from anonymous Hon Kong democracy activists. “Now, we only need the right people, and the right place.”

What worries Lam the most, is the indifference among Taiwan’s younger generation toward Mainland China, their “biggest threat.” According to Lam, many Taiwanese do not have an appetite for forbidden topics in China as much as Hong Kongers do. The market will be even much smaller because the other main target of his bookstore, the market of Chinese tourists, has shrunk since the pro-independence president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected. Ms Tsai, on the other hand, seems to be prudent about persecuted figures reviled by China coming to the island. In July, though Lam applied for a one-month stay, the government merely approved a 10-day short stay with ‘protective escorting.’ Despite all concerns, Lam is still willing to give Taiwan a try. “As we are both facing Mainland China, your (Taiwan’s) way is our (Hong Kong’s) way.”

What might make this bookseller smile, is that Hong Kong and Taiwan seems to be growing more attached to each other. (Read: Why Hong Kong Is Smitten with Taiwan?)  Taiwan is now the preferred destination for Hong Kong emigrants, as the number of approved residence permits of Hong Kongers in Taiwan has grown over 60% from 2013 to 2014. Hong Kong-Taipei was even announced as the busiest airline route in the world for 3 consecutive years. (Read: Hong Kong-Taipei, World’s Busiest Airline Route 3 Years In A Row, Why?) Perhaps the increasingly tangled triangular relations among Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China will pave a way for the forthcoming bookstore. After all, when it comes to fighting for democracy and dealing with Beijing, there are no simple solutions.

Source: The EconomistCentral News Agency, Liberty Times Net


Additional Reading

Hong Kong-Taipei, World’s Busiest Airline Route 3 Years In A Row, Why?
Why Hong Kong Is Smitten with Taiwan?
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