Asia

Jittery Hong Kong authors seek Taiwan safety after security law

HONG KONG: China's new security law has cast a threatening shadow over Hong Kong's dynamic book industry, with anxious publishers combing through back catalogues for potentially "subversive" material, and looking to Taiwan as a safe haven for printing fresh titles.

The city has long been a refuge for intellectuals, free from the authoritarian grip of the Chinese mainland's communist leaders.

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But that status is at risk of crumbling as Beijing's new legislation sends fresh jitters through a publishing industry already wary of overstepping China's red lines.

China imposed the new security law after Hong Kong was shaken by months of protests. (Photo: AFP/Anthony WALLACE)

"Major publishing and printing houses now dare not touch a project like ours," said Woody, one of a group of journalists putting together a book of interviews with witnesses of Hong Kong's explosive protests last year.

The team were forced to review the entire contents of the title Our Last Evolution after Beijing served notice of the law in June, and three writers subsequently requested changes.

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"For the rest, it's not that they don't have any fear, they just don't know what specifically they should worry about," he said, asking to use just a first name.

DISAPPEARED BOOKSELLERS

Beijing has made no secret of its dislike of the books that roll off printing presses in Hong Kong, often painting an unflattering and at times salacious picture of many Chinese officials.

READ: Hong Kong publishers self-censor under new security law

READ: China warns some Hong Kong primary campaigning may have broken security law

In 2015, five Hong Kong booksellers offering gossip-filled tomes vanished – including one from Thailand – before resurfacing in mainland custody making "confessions".

Lam Wing-kee was one of five Hong Kong booksellers who vanished and then resurfaced in custody on the mainland in 2015. (Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh)

One skipped bail and went public with a story of kidnapping and lengthy interrogations. He has since fled to Taiwan.

The climate of fear has only intensified under the new law, which uses vague language to target secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Public and school libraries have already started pulling books deemed inappropriate or legally risky, including those by prominent democracy activists such as Joshua Wong.

Beijing has made no secret of its dislike of the books that roll off printing presses in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/ISAAC LAWRENCE)

Breakazine, a quarterly magazine exploring social problems in Hong Kong, cancelled publication of its latest issue and suspended production of the next one.

It said it had obtained legal opinion and was forced to act due to "uncertainties" in the implementation of the new law.

"HISTORY REPEATING"

The answer, say some publishers, is Taiwan, the nearby self-ruled democratic island that Beijing claims but has yet to bring under Communist Party rule.

Taipei publisher Liu Gi said the Our Last Evolution team was one of a number working on books about the Hong Kong protests that came knocking on his door in June as the law was being formulated.

Liu, who runs Alone Publishing as a one-man operation, said it signalled an ironic switch for Hong Kong, which previously served as a publishing haven for Taiwanese literature when the island endured decades of authoritarian rule.

Beijing has made no secret of its dislike of the books that roll off printing presses in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/ISAAC LAWRENCE)

"It appears to me that history is repeating itself in a reversed way," Liu told AFP.

"When Taiwan was under martial law, books banned here had to be published in Hong Kong and smuggled back to Taiwan. Now the opposite is happening."

READ: China sentences Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years

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