The Hong Kong Bookseller Who’s Keeping ‘Banned’ Books On His Shelves

Anthony Kuhn/ February 8, 2016 /

In Hong Kong’s densely packed Causeway Bay district, a red sign with a portrait of Chairman Mao looms over the bustling storefronts and
shoppers. The sign indicates that there is coffee, books and Internet on offer inside.

Customers go past a window where travelers can exchange foreign currencies, up a narrow staircase and into a room stacked high with books. The walls are painted red and decked out with 1960s Cultural Revolution propaganda posters and other Mao-era memorabilia. The aroma of coffee and the sound of jazz waft over the book-browsing customers.

This is the People’s Bookstore (in Chinese, “People’s Commune”), run by Hong Kong entrepreneur Paul Tang. Tang got his start selling Chinese-language books from the mainland in 2002. A year later, China’s government began allowing individual mainland travelers to visit Hong Kong. Previously, they were only allowed to go in tour groups.

Tang changed his product line to accommodate the influx of mainland customers. He began specializing in books about China — mostly about high-level political intrigue, sex scandals and the like — published legally in Hong Kong, but banned on the mainland..

“In theory, the mainland enjoys freedom of the press. But in reality, we’re not allowed to


Paul Tang, owner of the People’s bookstore (courtesy Anthony Kuhn,


mention these forbidden topics. So many mainland readers come looking for these books out of curiosity. To put it simply, over here, you can read the truth.” – Zhang, buyer from the mainland

Tang’s bookstore has been receiving quite a bit of attention since the disappearance of five booksellers at the nearby Causeway Bay Bookstore and its affiliated publishing house, Mighty Current, both of which specialize in books forbidden on the mainland.

The last of the five, bookseller Lee Bo, disappeared more than a month ago. He and a colleague resurfaced in police custody on the mainland. Authorities offered no explanation for how they got there, leading to fears that the men were kidnapped.

“It’s really, really horrible for me to look at,” Tang says, sitting in his bookstore. At the same time, he adds, he’s not worried too much about his own safety or his business. That’s because the nascent crackdown appears geared more toward the publisher and the closely linked bookstore.

“For the government, we’re too small” to bother with, Tang says. He notes that the books in question remain widely available in Hong Kong, from curbside newspaper stands to convenience stores to the Hong Kong airport.

Tang shows me a few examples of hot-selling titles in his store.

Struggle for Control of the 19th Communist Party Congress Standing Committee is about a meeting of China’s ruling party that’s still more than a year off.

Tang explains that this title sells well because mainland businessmen and officials want to know about leadership reshuffles that could affect their careers — something they’re unlikely to glean from mainland media. Read more…


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