A publisher has removed a preface from a philosophy book after its writer refused to amend a passage referencing the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement and Hong Kong’s “political decay.”

The Commercial Press book, entitled Non-drowsy Philosophy, is a compilation of writing from a new generation of local philosophers assembled by news outlet HK01’s 01 Philosophy platform. On Friday, Hong Kong Baptist University’s director of the Liberal and Cultural Studies Programme Dr Wong Kwok-kui wrote on Stand News that Commercial Press had asked him to amend a passage in the preface but, after refusing to do so, the section was lifted altogether. The published version excluded his preface, Wong said.

01 philosophy

The passage in question said that Hong Kong is experiencing a philosophical “awakening.”

“Over the past ten years, Hong Kong has experienced political decay and social chaos, and absurd and unjust incidents are an everyday occurrence. After the Occupy movement, young people feel depressed and lost, and it is natural that they wish to seek a way out via philosophy,” it read.

A ‘wake up call’

Wong told HKFP the publishers did not tell him why the passage was problematic, adding that 01 Philosophy had been in close contact over the matter.

On the matter of censorship, Wong said, “As far as publishing in three major Chinese background publishers [Commercial Press, Chung Hwa and Joint Publishing] is concerned, things have clearly become worse. My first book on Nietzsche published in 2014 also marginally touches on some political issues, but nothing of this sort happened then. Now it has happened twice.”

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Photo: Commercial Press screenshot.

Last year, when compiling an anthology on Nietzsche conferences, Wong said he was asked by the publisher to request that a writer amend an essay which criticised Xi Jinping as well as China’s policy towards Hong Kong and Taiwan. Wong refused, and the project was cancelled, despite everything being ready for publication. “This shows how serious political censorship is,” he wrote.

When asked what writers can do in light of increasing political censorship, Wong said: “I think, not only writers, but also readers and people related to [the] publishing business in Hong Kong have to become aware of the fact that such censorship will happen again, that we should not allow the almost monopolistic status of the three publishers to restrain our freedom of speech and press, which is clearly their objective.”

Wong said he went public with the incident partly because he hoped “this could be a wake up call for us all,” and that a variety of choice is always the best defence against such threats. “We should support the independent publishers and bookstores more, and by real action.”

Sino-United Publishing

In 2013, Apple Daily reported that Chung Hwa Books published a Chinese translation of John M. Carroll’s A Concise History of Hong Kong with two different versions; in one of them, criticism towards the Chinese government was removed. Chung Hwa then explained that this was in order to negotiate copyright with mainland China.

Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong controls the three main bookshop chains, which are fully owned subsidiaries under Sino-United Publishing.

HKFP has contacted HK01 and Commercial Press for comment.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.