November 12, 2015
Four employees of a Hong Kong publisher known for criticizing Chinese regime are missing
by Liam O'Brien
MobyLives has previously written about the challenges faced by publishers and booksellers located in—and friendly with—Hong Kong: everything from decade-long prison sentences, retaliation from distributors, and mainland censorship of any books (even seemingly innocuous ones about magic star horses) that have been deemed politically unacceptable.
So when it was recently announced that four employees of a Hong Kong publisher known for books that criticized and poked fun at the Chinese government were missing, colleagues and the media assumed the worst. Hai Nan and Yang Fan at Radio Free Asia first reported on the story:
Four people linked to a Hong Kong bookstore which has stocked titles highly critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party have been ‘delayed,’ believed detained by Chinese authorities, while on a visit to Thailand.
Owner Gui Haiming, general manager Lu Bo, store manager Lin Rongji, and staff member Zhang Zhiping of publisher and bookstore company Sage Communications are believed to be in China after having been detained there or in Thailand, their associates told RFA.
Gui, who holds a Swedish passport, went missing in mid-October while on a trip to Thailand, where he owns a holiday home, while Lu and Zhang stopped communicating around Oct. 22-24 after trips back to their family homes in mainland China, Li said.
Maya Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, told The Guardian that the fear that the men have been detained is also rooted in the fact that collusion between Thai and Chinese authorities isn’t unprecedented.
If this is confirmed, it would be another case involving Chinese dissidents and the Thai authorities. Currently, a member of the banned Chinese Democratic party, Dong Guangping, has been arrested while he was applying for political asylum [and] accused of having an expired passport.
Hong Kong’s “special administrative” status means that publishers and booksellers aren’t directly subject to the stringent speech guidelines dictated by the Chinese government in Beijing. This exception has historically created a high demand from citizens of the mainland for books like those published by Sage Communications, but this popularity has also made them a target for Chinese authorities. Time magazine’s Nash Jenkins reports:
Paul Tang owns a left-wing bookstore nearby that sells works published by the group. “[One of our employees] worked there for two days, and when she went back on the third day, it was closed, with a notice that it was undergoing ‘urgent renovations,’” Tang tells TIME. “We then tried to contact the owner, but there was no way to get through to them.”
Tang believes there is “no doubt” that the four individuals are facing punitive measures for their work, pointing to recent efforts to silence those in Hong Kong who speak out against Beijing.
As the mainland government continues to tighten control on expression (including streaming music) and the pro-Beijing Hong Kong media continues to conglomerate, Hong Kong writers and publishers intent on criticizing China face an ever-steepening challenge.
With luck, these four people are just fine, and this is a big misunderstanding; maybe they’re just stuck in a benignly bureaucratic quagmire somewhere, rather than detained by law enforcement. But it’s easy to understand why that’s not the first conclusion a member of the Hong Kong book industry might assume …
Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.