The Hong Kong publishing market may be smaller than that of mainland China or Taiwan, but its annual book fair— which is organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and held every summer at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center—is definitely a must-see travel destination. And not just for the East Asian library specialist. Book lovers of any subject can find something of interest at this yearly event.
I first started attending the Hong Kong book fair out of a sense of professional necessity. For several years, political events in Hong Kong had been having serious repercussions on the book trade (and, thereby, on Duke University Libraries’ acquisitions of Chinese books published in Hong Kong). Following the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” – so named because the protesters who occupied the city for 79 days while calling for electoral reform had used umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray employed against them by the police – it became increasingly more difficult for bookstores to conduct business as usual. In 2015, one of the Hong Kong-based book vendors with whom Duke Libraries had worked for a long time was forced to close its doors. Later that same year came the shocking news of the disappearance of the manager of Causeway Bay Books, an upstairs bookstore in Hong Kong that is famous for selling works on topics considered politically-sensitive (and therefore banned) in mainland China. It was later confirmed that the manager, along with four other staff members from the same bookstore, were being held in police custody in Guangdong, China. The Library has another book vendor in Hong Kong, but after evaluating their catalogs for one year, I was concerned that many books that we would have liked to purchase for our Chinese collection were not included in their list of offerings. I felt that I needed to be on the ground in order to see how I could rectify the situation.
During my first visit to the Hong Kong book fair, in 2017, I made contact with publishers with whom I was barely familiar or did not know at all and asked for their catalogs. It was mostly a study trip and I purchased only a small number of books. I also visited a few upstairs or “second floor” bookstores: smaller shops, packed with shelf-after-shelf of books, from floor to ceiling, and usually located on the second or third floor of a building, where the rent is much cheaper.
In 2018, I visited the fair in the company of the Assistant Fung Ping Shan Library Librarian for Collections of the University of Hong Kong Libraries (UHKL), who attends the Hong Kong book fair every year and regularly acquires books there. With the guidance of this local expert, I gained more knowledge about the publishers and vendors at the fair. I also learned that for many independent and/or small publishers, the fair is the most important place to distribute their books, which are often printed in small numbers and difficult to acquire outside the fair.
My latest trip to the Hong Kong book fair occurred in the summer of 2019. That year’s event was especially festive because it marked the 30th anniversary of the Hong Kong book fair. The theme of this fair was “Sci-Fi and Mystery”, but the tagline “Reading the World” http://hkbookfair.hktdc.com/tc/About-Book-Fair/Previous-Fair/Theme-Of-The-Year.html, pointed to more global aspirations. There were a total of 686 exhibitors and close to one million visitors. Besides the usual plethora of seminars by local and international authors and scholars, the fair had its own Art Gallery, which exhibited photos from the archives of past fairs. Other highlights included the distribution of limited-edition bookmarks created for Hong Kong author Xi Xi’s The Teddy Bear Chronicles; and photographs of Louis Cha, one of the giants of martial arts literature, visiting the Book Fair. I managed to purchase a good number of books (that we would never have acquired otherwise) at the fair. I also visited a mini fair organized by several independent bookstores outside the grounds of the convention center, and held on two floors of an old, narrow building in Wai Chai, Hong Kong. The building’s small and shaky elevator could only take about three to four people up at a time. There was a good number of people at each of the two floors and payment was by cash only. And yet, the sense of being at an exclusive book store, one not frequented by many Chinese booklovers, much less other US-based East Asian library specialists, was priceless.
To get some sense of the variety of books purchased at the 2019 Hong Kong book fair, check out selected items on display on top of the microfilm cabinet at the East Asian Collection on the second floor of Bostock library. As the brief annotations written by me and two of my Chinese-speaking student assistants show, these books encompass numerous topics, themes, and media. This sample display demonstrates the vibrancy of the Hong Kong book market and the value of collecting materials from this part of the world.
A Hundred Years of Colonial Impressions by Otto C.C. Lam. 300 black and white photographs documenting Hong Kong from 1860 to 1960 in 13 chapters. The baby on the cover is Ian Kreft, 18 months old, at Southampton, England, waiting for the ship to take him and his mother to Hong Kong to reunite with his father, who served at Royal Engineers.
Umbrella Chronicle by Simon Chow: 248 black and white drawings documenting and chronologizing incidents in the “Umbrella Movement.”
Awakened by 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests by Liu Ruishao. As a witness of June 4th Incident and a Hong Kong citizen in the face of impending pressure from the Mainland, the author shares his immersive experience of the turning point in Modern China’s history. This book offers an opportunity to look into the dynamics of democratic movement and political struggles across 30 years in Greater China from Hong Kong’s perspective.”
Dark Soy Sauce China by Zunzi. Bo Yang a Chinese historian and poet, describes Chinese culture as a “soy sauce vat”—in contrast to the organic fluidity of a river, with thousands of years of precipitation, China, and especially Chinese politics, has become as dark and stinky as a soy sauce vat. The book’s author, Zun Zi, one of the most famous comic artists in Hong Kong, ironically names his two newly published comic books as Dark Soy Sauce China and Soy Sauce Hong Kong to unveil the genealogy of Chinese politics.