The Fight For Free Speech in Hong Kong

Writers and book lovers have always had a keen sensitivity to any political plea to quiet down – and any mention of banned books is sure the raise the hair on any good bookworm’s neck. So when several Chinese booksellers disappeared from Hong Kong earlier last year, it was an outrage that kindled anger from political and literary spheres alike. After months of detainment, four of the five booksellers have returned to their homes. Lam Wing-Kee, one of the returned fugitives, was released back to Hong Kong earlier this month with no intention to succumb to the silent obedience that’s …

Writers and book lovers have always had a keen sensitivity to any political plea to quiet down – and any mention of banned books is sure the raise the hair on any good bookworm’s neck. So when several Chinese booksellers disappeared from Hong Kong earlier last year, it was an outrage that kindled anger from political and literary spheres alike. After months of detainment, four of the five booksellers have returned to their homes. Lam Wing-Kee, one of the returned fugitives, was released back to Hong Kong earlier this month with no intention to succumb to the silent obedience that’s been asked of him.

Speaking out, however, comes at a steep price. While many Hong Kong locals fume a similar defiance to Chinese law, most yield to quiet submission, fearing the safety of family and loved ones. Lam is capable of speaking out because he has a limited number of ties to the mainland and an even more limited patience for the increasingly suffocating climate of his country.

Lam and fellow protesters earlier this month (Image courtesy of ABC)

 

On what he anticipated to be a brief trip from Hong Kong to mainland China last October, Lam was blindfolded, taken hostage, and transported to the port of Ningbo near Shanghai. Lam endured months of questioning, isolation, and a plague of suicidal thoughts. Before he was released, he was forced to give a scripted televised confession of his offenses.

His crime? Selling banned books on the mainland – an ideological threat in the eyes of authorities. Now, Lam is speaking out about his experience and Chinese censorship.

 

On the condition that he return to the mainland with evidence – a hard disk containing a list of customer names he sold books to – Lam was released back to Hong Kong for a day. But waiting with the disk in his pocket for the train that would take him back to the mainland, Lam had a change of heart. After several cigarettes, he decided to not board the train, and not to keep his story between him and Chinese authorities alone. “It wasn’t just about the bookstore,” Lam told CNN in an interview earlier this week, “it was about Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong protesters angered over the kidnappings (image courtesy of ABC)

 

Hong Kong has long been denied the more open system it’s pleaded for. Protests are common place and the notion of “one country, two systems” has been all but hollowed out. Communist mainland looms large over Hong Kong, and the ‘mysterious’ disappearances of booksellers points directly to the messy ideological climate that pervades the relationship between China and the island. Leading a march earlier this month to the Chinese Liaison office in Hong Kong, Lam is determined to show that “Hong Kongers will not bow down before brute force.”

Going public with his story, Lam hopes to breed defiance against a system that oppresses knowledge and stifles creativity. But more than anything, he hopes to continue selling his books to readers eager to challenge the world they know. 

 

Featured image courtesy of Hong Kong.