The People’s Bookshop, a tiny Hong Kong establishment, used to be the last place to get ahold of censored literary contraband. Today, it no longer exists. Locals and activists believe that there was pressure from the government—and recent history seems to agree. Hong Kong bans literature to do with politics, religion, or sex, rendering topics ranging from BDSM to China’s own history nigh unspeakable. Now, literary censorship remains unchallenged.
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China adopted the ‘one country, two systems policy‘ in the 1980s, ostensibly with the intent to grant certain regions of China (including Hong Kong) with territorial autonomy independent from the rule of the Communist Party of China. In actuality, the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s autonomy is uncertain and possibly suspect. Many in the literary and political spheres questioned the role of literary censorship in regional autonomy back in 2015—when 5 controversial Hong Kong booksellers were abducted. One vanished overseas under deeply suspicious circumstances, with CCTV footage demonstrating that, although the victim was in Thailand, his kidnappers could only speak Chinese.
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China at large is infamous for literary censorship, with popular works like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland on its banned list. Yet even with the heightened efforts at Hong Kong censorship, which began in 2013 as penalties increased for smuggling texts from the city, Hong Kong’s literature has heretofore thrived. Exiled Chinese poet Bei Ling stated in a 2016 interview: “according to my estimates, about half of the books published in Hong Kong are on politics and cultural topics banned in China.” While the People’s Bookshop closure is certainly upsetting, it implies a far darker truth: that the Party may no longer be interested in protecting regional autonomy and may, instead, prefer to dismantle it.
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