Hong Kong bookstore chain Bookazine has refused to stock a political title over security law concerns, according to email correspondence seen by HKFP.
In a message from one of the bookstore’s directors to publisher FormAsia Books in September, Bookazine declined to stock a book by HKFP columnist Kent Ewing about the city’s political development since 1997. It said it wished to “stay under the radar” after the Beijing imposed its security law on the city.
The title, Hong Kong on the Frontline, was commissioned from the American writer and included a series of essays detailing important political figures and events in the city since the handover from British to Chinese rule. The work was contracted shortly before the promulgation of the security law on June 30.
“I am writing in regards to Hong Kong on the Frontline 1997-2020,” an email from one of Bookazine’s directors read. “Only because we are trying to stay under the radar and because of the new legislation, we will not stock it at Bookazine.”
The bookstore is a family-run business with nine stores across the city.
In a separate email from September, FormAsia informed the author that it could not secure a printer for the title, whilst designers had requested their names be omitted from the work.
“Under current political circumstances FormAsia won’t (can’t) publish On The FrontLine for a string of reasons,” the publisher wrote. “The designers have withdrawn their accreditation from the work. Securing a printer willing to undertake the assignment has, till date, not been possible.”
The publisher later informed Ewing that the project was “off our books and we won’t invest further funds in it.”
In response to enquiries, Bookazine Director Shonee Mirchandani declined to corroborate the email correspondence. “Without further investigation we cannot confirm or deny if this email was sent from Bookazine,” she wrote, but added that their emails to authors were “off the record and confidential.” Mirchandani did not respond to HKFP’s further questions over whether they were claiming their emails to Ewing were a result of a hack.
Meanwhile, FormAsia did not respond to multiple inquiries from HKFP.
Speaking about the cancelled book, Ewing told HKFP that it revealed a wider trend of self-censorship in the city’s publishing sector: “It means that self-censorship is rampant… I got to see it for myself and it’s absolutely frightening.”
The failed project comes amid growing fears of censorship under the security law. International governments and rights groups have criticised Beijing as using the guise of the security law to crush dissent and curtail the city’s promised freedoms following last year’s pro-democracy protests and city-wide unrest. Meanwhile, the local and national authorities have hailed the law as bringing stability and peace to the city.
Founded by photojournalist Frank Fischbeck, FormAsia is a Hong Kong-based publishing house which specialises in Asia-centric photography collections and travel essays.”FormAsia’s dedicated team believes in the power of the picture and the potency of the pen,” its website states.
In June, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into city’s mini-constitution–bypassing the local legislature. The law criminalises subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.