Hong Kong Book Fair draws readers looking for banned books, fans and bargain hunters despite the gloomy weather

Zoe Law
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Hong Kong Book Fair draws readers looking for banned books, fans and bargain hunters despite the gloomy weather

More than 100 book lovers stood in line under gloomy skies – some of them queuing overnight – to grab the best deals at the Hong Kong Book Fair when it opened at 10am on Wednesday.

Among them was Shadow To, who arrived outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai at 10pm on Tuesday.

To, who is in his 30s, said he was prepared to spend HK$1,000 (US$127) and was gunning for an autographed title by his favourite local novelist, Lam Wing-sum.

“I can get her signed book only at the book fair,” he said, adding he had “been a fan for many years”.

Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the 29th Hong Kong Book Fair will run until next Tuesday. A record-breaking number of exhibitors – 680 in all – from 39 countries and regions are taking part, and there will be 310 events, including book talks and seminars on various themes.

The annual event usually draws a mixed crowd, from bibliophiles to parents looking for assessment books to mainland Chinese looking for banned titles. Almost a million people attended last year’s fair.

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On Wednesday, about five exhibitors were seen selling books that are critical of current and former state leaders, while three – Greenfield Bookstore, Hong Kong University Press and Cultuspeak Publishing Co. – were selling volumes related to the late Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Liu’s widow Liu Xia was in the news last week when she left the mainland for Germany after years of house arrest.

Among those scouting out volumes on Liu was young Hongkonger Issac Pang. The 12-year-old said his parents told him about Liu Xiaobo and he wanted to learn more about the political dissident’s values.

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A university student from across the border, surnamed Wang, also expressed interest in buying books on Liu. But she confessed her worry that customs officers would discover her loot when she went home.

Local publishing company Sub-Culture Ltd, which has been vocal on politically-sensitive issues, said major bookstore chains and shops funded by mainland companies refused to carry three of its recently-published books – including one titled “Anti-Communism”.

“It’s not about sales. The government did not ban the books, but the bookstores are exercising self-censorship,” said company boss Jimmy Pang Chi-ming.

For others, the fair was a chance to stock up, with several people spotted hauling suitcases around.

“I can have more books to choose from because I arrived quite early. And with my suitcase, I’ll be able to carry many books home,” said Justyn Mak, a 13-year-old secondary school pupil.

A 30-year-old woman surnamed Tang said she was buying assessment books for her child in Primary 1.

“Some exercise books are quite popular, and I couldn’t get them in bookstores.”

The theme of this year’s fair is Romance Literature, and the organisers will hold an event featuring 10 local authors of varying ages whose works feature sentimental stories of love.

The event follows the deaths last month of two prominent Hong Kong writers: romance novelist Eunice Lam Yin-nei, who died of cancer, and Liu Yichang, whose works greatly influenced modern literature in the city.

Exhibitors used a variety of tactics to attract customers, from lucky draws to giveaways.

One vendor offered readers a kitchen cleaner at a discount, packaged with quotes from famous writers, if they bought books on health or cooking.

Teresa Leung Lai-han from Commercial Press, one of Hong Kong’s largest publishers, said she expected business to improve by 2 to 3 per cent from last year’s fair.

“All the books will be discounted by 20 per cent, and this will increase when readers purchase more books. We hope to increase the average amount each buyer spends,” the deputy manager for corporate communications said.

Eva Chen Yuchin, manager of Taiwan-based Wu Nan Culture Enterprise, said her company had brought more travel books to the fair this year.

“Most of the visitors here are quite young, and in recent years more young students like to travel to Taiwan, so we brought more guidebooks,” she said.

Organisers have launched an appto help visitors navigate the fair and receive announcements and discount information.

Admission is HK$25 for adults and HK$10 for children. Early birds who enter before noon pay only HK$10. Visitors who buy regular tickets for Wednesday and Thursday will get one free re-entry after 5pm on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

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