Renowned Hong Kong author Dung Kai-cheung has penned a satirical post asking the authorities to withdraw his 2014 “author of the year” title after Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s latest novel was classified as “indecent” by the city’s Obscene Articles Tribunal.

Killing Commendatore, published in 2017, was put into the second tier of a three-tier classification system, meaning it cannot be sold to underage persons and must be kept in a wrapper that bears a legal warning.

Last month’s decision by the tribunal resulted in Chinese translations of the novel being pulled from the week-long Hong Kong Book Fair, and public libraries were banned from lending the book out to patrons under 18. The ruling prompted a public backlash and criticism of the assessment mechanism.

Dung Kai-cheung with his novel containing explicit sexual content. Photo: Facebook/Dung Kai-cheung.

Dung, the author of Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City and Cantonese Love Stories, posted a “confession from one who commits obscenity” on Tuesday.

He said that his books did not sell as well as Murakami’s and were not as sexually explicit, but he felt a need to “turn himself in” as they still contained sex scenes.

“In order to maintain the moral integrity of Hong Kong society and put an end to those shameless people who use the name of literature to skew the moral winds of society, I hereby ask the authorities to remove my ‘author of the year’ title as a warning to others!”

Killing Commendatore Volumes 1 and 2. Photo: publisher.

Several hours later, Dung wrote another post explaining his views in a serious tone, saying some had misinterpreted his satire.

He argued that sex was part of the human experience and therefore cannot be excluded from literature that aims to represent the true experience of life. He wrote that there are no objective standards on the representation of sex, but whether such representations are acceptable should be decided by readers and critics by regarding the work as a whole, and not through legal restrictions.

“Using simplified laws to restrict complex literature will cause lethal harm to literature. Literature is not above the law, but when it has not violated the law, and is only operating outside the area where it is appropriate to use the law to faithfully present the truth of the human world, then it’s even more important to respect the freedom of literature.”

Dung was made the Hong Kong Book Fair Author of the Year in 2014 ahead of the fair’s 25th edition.

Murakami’s novel was submitted to the tribunal for classification by the Office for Film, Newspaper, and Article Administration after the office received a complaint that the novel contained indecent content.

Representatives from Hong Kong’s literature, academia and education circles held a press conference on Tuesday calling on the tribunal to release the ruling’s basis and consider changing it.

petition against the classification had accrued over 2,500 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Anyone who fails to observe conditions or restrictions on Class II articles is liable to a fine of HK$400,000 and imprisonment for 12 months upon their first conviction and to a fine of HK$800,000 and imprisonment for 12 months on a second or subsequent conviction.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.