What Happened to the Five Missing Hong Kong Booksellers?

Sad news from the book world: the five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing late last year are still missing. Their bookstore is associated with a publisher known to be critical of the Chinese government, and many suspect that the government had something to do with their disappearance.

All five missing employees are involved with Causeway Bay Bookshop in Hong Kong, a store associated with the publisher Mighty Current. Mighty Current, in turn, has developed a reputation for publishing books critical of the mainland Chinese government. According to some reports, the publisher is planning to put out a book about an alleged mistress of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The case has drawn a lot of international attention, in part because Hong Kong is supposed to be autonomous from mainland China. Hong Kong has been a territory of China since 1997 (before that, it was a British territory). It still operates under different laws, and as a result, many books banned in mainland China can still be purchased in Hong Kong. People who can purchase these banned books include citizens of mainland China, who can travel freely to Hong Kong to get books.

Of the five missing employees, three were last seen in mainland China and one, Gui Minhai, was last seen in Thailand. The fifth, Lee Bo, was last seen in Hong Kong. Mr. Bo has since been heard from, allegedly telling his wife over the phone and by written letter that he is on the mainland working with “concerned parties.” Some human rights organizations have raised the possibility that Mr. Lee’s letter was written under duress.

Further complicating the politics of the issue is the fact that one of the missing employees, Lee Bo, is a citizen of the United Kingdom. Now the European Union is calling for an investigation, noting that the disappearances are “extremely worrying.”


Main image: Tyrone Siu/Reuters, via the Guardian