First rule about selling books in Hong Kong: make sure that none of your stock is critical of big brother China and daddy Xi Jingpeng. Oops. Looks like some haven’t heeded the basics….five businessmen, all in the book trade, have disappeared since October and all were behind subversive texts that weren’t exactly pro-China.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. China moves and shakes in this part of the world without even a cursory glance at rules on illegal detention or human rights. The only surprising thing about the mystery of the disappearing book sellers is that that Hong Kong residents themselves are incensed (it’s as though they’ve all been infected with an Asian form of Bolshevism since the democracy demonstrations of 2015) and they’ve been quick to publicly stamp their feet with a ‘give-us-back-our-booksellers’ protest movement.
The booksellers, China-born Swedish national Gui Minhai as well as Lee Bo, Lui Bo, Cheung Ji-ping and Lam Wing-kei have all become something of a cause célèbre for fellow residents who appear positively emboldened by the notion that the ‘one state, two systems’ affords their city some leeway for journalism and literature that reflects public opinion, even when that hits hard at the mainland rulers.
The work of Gui that seems to have precipitated the Chinese security force’s tactic of abduction, is a mix of fabricated half-truths, innuendo and salacious rumours about the Communist Party’s top bosses, their families and entourages. Writing trashy tales about the Party bosses got Gui removed from his apartment in Thailand and smuggled back to Beijing – we assume very much against his wishes. While the ploy of censorship by silencing the author isn’t new or exclusively Chinese, the fact that they went to another country to get him either shows just how sensitive the Party is to criticism, or how close to the truth these trashy novels are.
What is also novel (sorry about the pun) about the case of Gui, is that unlike the UK, US or Russia, China has never been inclined to send out its spooks to other countries to track down and capture dissidents. They’ve always been first class at control within their own borders rather than anyone else’s. These actions also come with the appropriate code name as well. Chinese president Xi Jinping launched Operation Fox Hunt last year to repatriate Chinese fugitives abroad and has since brought home hundreds of people wanted by Beijing, mostly on corruption charges – or, pseudo-something charges.
Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, the ‘umbrella movement’ generation seems to have discovered that activism is way cooler than playing computer games with online buddies as young Hong Kong gets involved on the issue. Videos demanding questions from Beijing are viral and Twitter is awash with images and under 140-character statements reflecting public anger toward the Party.
And all of this sets me up quite nicely for my trip there this month. Hong Kong is a city like no other and if the commercial zeal of the residents was to transform into activism on a scale that 2015 delivered then I might give up watching the BBC version of ‘War and Peace’ I had planned to devour in-flight in favour of reading Gui’s hottest work, “The Lovers of Xi Jinping.”
Now just imagine if David Cameron was the supremo of China. What would he have done to co-authors Lord Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott to stop sales of their novel detailing stories of his student days and a certain obscene act with a pigs-head..…?