While the National Security Law (NSL) shrunk the Hong Kong Book Fair, its spirit continued in Toronto, when the first Hong Kong People’s Book Fair took place in early July.
The Hong Kong Book Fair, held annually in July, was once one of the largest of its kind in Asia. Since the NSL was imposed, many local publishing houses have been unable to participate in the fair. With the blind “red lines” freedom of speech was in jeopardy, forcing authors and book reviewers to travel overseas. They organized forums and book fairs as spokespersons for freedom.
The Hongkongers Book Fair cum Art Creations Marketplace was held on July 3-4 in Toronto. He hoped to spread Hong Kong’s culture to continue the 2019 anti-extradition movement’s “bloom out” strategy. Event organizer Edward Chin shared with The Epoch Times that he thought it would be the approach for Hongkongers scattered around the world to inherit cultural heritage. “Our mission is to carry on the legacy of traditional Chinese characters and Cantonese dialect.”
The Hongkongers Book Fair was an extension of the first Hong Kong World Forum held in Markham, Toronto. An organic produce store provided the venue for the book fair free of charge. The books on display were provided by four independent booksellers, with topics ranging from sociology and politics to the Hong Kong economy. There were also picture books reminiscent of Hong Kong and Cantonese teaching materials for children. Most of the books were in Chinese.
Mavis Fung was responsible for the room alignment. She said: “We had a lot of people at the two day event. So many Hong Kong immigrants came that the store couldn’t accommodate them all. At peak times, there was a queue in front of the store. Organizing the event was exhausting for Mavis, but she thought it was worth it. She was especially heartened by the support of so many Hong Kongers for the event.
Although the fair was a “mini”, Edward said the quality of the books was high. Probably the most popular was “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World”, written by Mark Clifford, a former board director of Next Digital Limited. In 17 chapters, the book describes the Chinese Communist Party’s repression of Hong Kong and the restrictions it imposed on the freedom of Hong Kongers.
In the current political environment, the book could no longer be distributed in Hong Kong. Edward regretted it: “In the two years since the imposition of the NSL, many books have disappeared from the Hong Kong Book Fair. There are cases of publishers and writers being charged for violating the NSL. Our goal for this book fair is to draw more attention from overseas Hong Kongers to Hong Kong. It is a kind of political and cultural cover.
Overseas Hong Kongers reunite
Fiona Wong was liaison for the event. She encountered all kinds of obstacles during the various stages. The first venue she applied for had to be shelved due to cost and communication issues.
Another location has been identified. Initially, the venue manager was happy to host the event. When it was learned that the venue was intended for a book fair, the venue management demanded that every book in the fair be reviewed. Fiona found the practice to be against the principle of free speech, so she eventually abandoned the venue. Fortunately, a supporting store agreed to host the event free of charge, which allowed the book fair and market to go ahead as planned.
Participating booksellers mainly worked on books published in Hong Kong and Taiwan. They were Mediarich Books, established in Canada for 20 years; Book Treasures, which focuses on Hong Kong children’s books; Think Spot and Wo4 Gwong1, two online bookstores that had opened recently. Fiona observed that the book fair attracted a lot of immigrants from Hong Kong. She saw hope in it: “In fact, I am convinced that overseas Hong Kongers can organize impressive book fairs. Let’s not limit ourselves to thinking within the framework of the past Hong Kong Book Fair. For we must “be water” now by advancing in another mode.”
Building Hong Kong people’s own printing press
As the “red line” that threatened speech and freedom drew closer, Edward found it unsettling. He was going to have a book published in Hong Kong this year, but the publisher there was threatened by NSL censorship that could make publishing the book impossible. Edward realized that overseas Hong Kongers needed to fast-track the construction of their own printing press to distribute physical books independently. Hong Kong people’s thought, culture and history will then be expanded through these books.
Fiona agreed. Of course, the Internet was well developed and a report could spread and receive comments as soon as it was uploaded. But the role of physical books cannot be replaced by the Internet and television programs, she said, since many rigorous studies and checks must be carried out before a book is published, which underlines the value of physical books to serve and circulate as a record of history.
This Toronto book fair and market featured crafts, artwork and t-shirts designed with ideas from Hong Kong films and Hong Kong-style proverbs. Tasty snacks with Hong Kong flavors were shared among visitors, who were able to buy books as well as artistic creations from the territory. Some souvenirs reminiscent of Hong Kong’s British colonial era could no longer be sold in Hong Kong, as the government intended to “decolonise” the territory. The real history, however, could not be erased just like that, Fiona added, so the history of Hong Kong has spread overseas and people learn about it through these art-making products.
Milpitas in San Francisco held a grand “Hong Kong Carnival” on July 2, which drew a crowd of 6,500. By comparison, the Toronto event was smaller and not as impressive. Fiona spoke to the carnival organizer and admired how the event attracted Chinese Americans, Westerners as well as mainstream TV stations that covered the event.
First “Hong Kong Carnival” in North America to revive Hong Kong culture overseas