Hong Kong Airport shutters bookstores amid fears of eroding press freedoms

By Elaine Yu, CNN / April 12, 2016

Hong Kong (CNN)It used to be hard to miss the face of Xi Jinping at the Hong Kong International Airport.Until recently, some 16 bookstores across two terminals carried books bearing the name and face of the Chinese president on their shelves.

They were popular buys for many Chinese travelers who passed through the transport hub each year, eager to steal a glimpse of the back-room politics and private lives of China’s ruling elites through books banned in the mainland.
With titles like “Rumor and Truth About Chinese Authorities” and “The Secret Trade Between Rich People and Top Officials,” these stores peddled often poorly sourced and gossipy looks at the leadership as well as more serious publications.
But it’s getting harder for travelers to pick up these titles — 11 of the bookstores have closed this year.
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Hong Kong airport’s Relay store / Courtesy: cnn.com
“Serious historical studies, memoirs and gossipy trash alike sold well to mainland visitors looking to buy books to bring home,” independent publisher Renee Chiang told CNN
.
Some shops have been replaced by other businesses — one is now a Calvin Klein store — while a state-owned Chinese book chain has replaced others.
The businesses say they’re closing for commercial reasons, in part due to the popularity of smartphones and e-books, but critics say it’s another sign of Hong Kong’s eroding freedoms.
Chiang, who runs the New Century Press in Hong Kong with founder and husband Bao Pu, said sales have also gone down for them, especially for “books on sensitive topics.”
“I have no proof of anything, but these changes at the airport seem to be a part of the ongoing campaign to stop the flow of Hong Kong books into the mainland, and another nail in the coffin of independent publishing in Hong Kong,” said Chiang.
New Century Press is best known for publishing critically acclaimed but controversial titles such as “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.”
Zhao is a former Chinese Communist Party chief who was purged after sympathizing with student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“The airport was an important part of the independent publishing industry of Hong Kong, as the vast majority of the readers of books on sensitive political topics are actually mainlanders, not local Hong Kong people,” Chiang said.

“It’s all business”

Airport management and several bookstores have denied that political motivations were behind their closing.
“Based on our regular customer survey and assessment on passenger needs due to change in reading habit and advancement in technology, (the Airport Authority) has consolidated the number of bookstores from 16 to 10,” a spokesperson from the Hong Kong Airport Authority told CNN.
“As for the types of books sold at the bookstores, please note that selection of books to be offered in the shops are decided by bookstore operators.” Read more…
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