While the national security law (NSL) shrivelled the Hong Kong Book Fair, its spirit was carried on in Toronto, when the first Hongkongers Book Fair took place in early July.
The Hong Kong Book Fair, held in July every year, used to be one of the largest of its kind in Asia. Since the NSL was imposed, many local publishing companies were barred from joining the fair. With the indiscriminate “red lines” freedom of speech was in danger, which forced authors and book reviewers to move overseas. They ran forums and book fairs as a voice out for freedom.
The Hongkongers Book Fair cum Art Creations Marketplace was held on July 3 and 4 in Toronto. It hoped to extend Hong Kong culture to carry on the “blooming far and wide” strategy of the 2019 anti-extradition movement. Event organizer Edward Chin shared with The Epoch Times that he believed this would be the approach for scattered Hongkongers all over the world to inherit cultural heritage. “It’s our mission to carry on the heritage of traditional Chinese characters and the Cantonese dialect.”
The Hongkongers Book Fair was an extension of the first World Hong Kong Forum held in Markham, Toronto. An organic products store provided the venue for the book fair for free. Books displayed were provided by four independent booksellers, with subjects ranging from sociology, and politics to the economy in Hong Kong. There were also picture books reminiscent of Hong Kong and Cantonese teaching material for children. Most of the books were in Chinese.
Mavis Fung was responsible for lining up the venue. She said, “We had many people at the two-day event. So many Hong Kong immigrants came that the store could not hold them all. At peak times, there was a queue outside the store. Organizing the event was exhausting for Mavis but she found it entirely worth doing it. She was in particular encouraged by so many Hongkongers’ support for the event.
Even though the fair was a “mini” one, Edward said the quality of the books was high. The most popular one was probably “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World,” authored by Mark Clifford, an ex-board director of Next Digital Limited. In 17 chapters, the book depicted the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of Hong Kong and the shackles it forced upon Hongkongers’ freedom.
Under the current political environment, the book could no longer be distributed in Hong Kong. Edward regretted it: “In the two years since the NSL was imposed, many books disappeared from the Hong Kong Book Fair. There are cases of publishers and writers indicted for breaking the NSL. Our goal for this book fair is to get more overseas Hongkongers’ attention to Hong Kong. It is a kind of political and cultural hedging.”
Overseas Hongkongers Getting Together
Fiona Wong was responsible for liaising for the event. She encountered all kinds of obstacles during different stages. The first venue she applied for had to be shelved for cost and communication issues.
Another venue was identified. Initially, the venue’s person in charge was happy to accommodate the event. When it was learned that the venue was for a book fair, the venue management demanded every book in the fair be scrutinized. Fiona found this practice to be against the principle of freedom of speech so she eventually gave up the venue. Fortunately, a supportive store was willing to accommodate the event for free, which enabled the book fair and marketplace to take place as scheduled.
The participating booksellers mainly worked on books published in Hong Kong and Taiwan. They were Mediarich Books, established in Canada for 20 years; Book Treasures, focusing on Hong Kong books for children; Think Spot and Wo4 Gwong1, two online book stores that had opened recently. Fiona observed that the book fair attracted a lot of immigrants from Hong Kong. She saw hope in this: “Actually I am very confident that overseas Hongkongers can run impressive book fairs. Let’s not restrict ourselves to think in the framework of the past Hong Kong Book Fair. For we must “be water” now in moving forward under another mode.”
Build Hongkongers’ Own Printing House
As the “red line” that threatened speech and freedom was closing in, Edward found it unsettling. He was going to have a book published in Hong Kong this year, but the publisher located there was threatened by the NSL’s censorship which might make the book’s publication not possible anymore. Edward came to realize that overseas Hongkongers must speed up building their own printing house to distribute physical books independently. Hongkongers’ thinking, culture, and history will then be extended through these books.
Fiona agreed. For sure the internet was well developed and a news report could spread and get comments as soon as it was uploaded. But physical books’ role could not be replaced by internet and TV programmes, she said, in that there were a lot of stringent studies and verifications to be done before a book was published, which underlined physical books’ value in serving and circulating as the evidence of history.
On display at this book fair cum marketplace in Toronto, were handicrafts, illustrations, and T-shirts designed with ideas taken from Hong Kong movies and Hong Kong-style proverbs. Tasty snacks with Hong Kong flavours were shared among visitors, who could buy books as well as art creations that originated from the territory. Some souvenirs reminiscent of the British Hong Kong colonial era could no longer be sold in Hong Kong, as the government intended to “decolonize” the territory. The true history, however, could not be wiped out like this, Fiona added, so Hong Kong history extended overseas and people are learning it through these art creation products.
Milpitas in San Francisco ran a grand “Hong Kong Carnival” on July 2, which attracted a crowd of 6,500 people. In comparison, the Toronto event was smaller in size and not as impressive. Fiona talked to the organizer of the carnival and admired how the event pulled in native Chinese Americans, westerners as well as mainstream TV stations that covered the event.