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Hong Kong Book Fair shines light on China’s banned scribes

HONG KONG: The annual Hong Kong Book Fair opened Wednesday with around a million people expected to attend the event, which is known for shedding light on work that has been banned in mainland China. More than 530 exhibitors from 20 countries are taking part in the 23rd edition of the fair, and organizers are expecting to beat last year’s attendance of 950,000 people.

“I am very confident that this year we will exceed last year’s attendance,” Hong Kong Trade Development Council deputy executive director Benjamin Chau said.

New e-reading technology and seminars by some of Asia’s best-known writers are some of the top attractions of the seven-day fair. For many visitors from mainland China, though, the highlight is the chance to browse works by Chinese authors which have been outlawed by the communist authorities in Beijing.

“Every time I come to Hong Kong I look at these types of books,” said a visitor from Nanjing, who requested anonymity as he flipped through a banned book about disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai.

“I feel that I have to study these issues. I don’t like to only listen to one side of the story.”

The former British colony is a semiautonomous city with its own miniconstitution that guarantees freedoms of speech and expression that are not enjoyed on the mainland.

Dissident Chinese artist and writer Ai Weiwei, who spent 81 days in custody last year and continues to be barred from leaving China, is offering a collection of blog posts which has been banned from sale in the mainland.

“I believe mainland people that have a good understanding of Ai Weiwei will be interested in buying this book,” a spokesman for the publisher, Great Culture Mountain Publications, said.

“Since Hong Kong has publishing freedom, he thought it would be a good idea to promote it here so more people will see it.”

Ai, whose work is exhibited in galleries around the world, has riled the Communist Party with investigations into the collapse of schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and into a 2010 fire at a Shanghai high-rise.

Hong Kong has long served as a clearinghouse for political views that cannot be expressed in the mainland. In June up to 200,000 attended a candlelight vigil in the city marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, a subject that is still off limits for discussion in China.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to call for greater democracy on July 1, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Hong Kong on the 15th anniversary of the territory’s handover from British rule.

Aside from books, the fair is showcasing new digital technology such as a machine that recommends books by reading visitors’ facial structures.

“It differentiates between people by reading their faces and then it can tell the person’s gender, age and even their nationality,” said MultiMedia Global director Ian Chan, whose company created the machine.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 19, 2012, on page 16.
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