Books by satirical cartoonist Zunzi have disappeared from Hong Kong public library listings, after his comic strip was axed by newspaper Ming Pao on Wednesday following criticism from an official.

A search by HKFP, including for Zunzi’s real name, Wong Kei-kwan, yielded no results on the public library’s official website on Friday.

No results were found when searching "Zunzi". Photo: HKPL Screenshot.
No results were found when searching “Zunzi”. Photo: HKPL Screenshot.

Ming Pao reported on Friday that they had received screenshots from a reader showing that there were originally 21 results for “Zunzi” on the website on Wednesday. However, by Thursday, the listings had disappeared and there were gaps on library shelves where the books once sat.

The titles included books, recording and videos, while 10 items were not authored by Zunzi, but included his illustrations. HKFP noted that five items were storybooks published by the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies for teaching grammar.

No results were found when searching "Wong Kei-kwan". Photo: HKPL Screenshot.
No results were found when searching “Wong Kei-kwan”. Photo: HKPL Screenshot.

Zunzi told HKFP in an interview, it was until Thursday he knew his books had been placed on the shelf before and the books had been removed.

” [Free speech and publication] have encountered a rapid contraction in the short-term, but they can also be adjusted at any time. They are now in an unstable state.” Zunzi told HKFP on Friday.

Zunzi's comic on Ming Pao published on May 11, 2023.
Zunzi’s comic in Ming Pao published on May 11, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In response to the removal of books for deaf children, he said: “Books that are in the public interest, which only included illustrations, were also not allowed. It shows carelessness under the bureaucratic system.”

Ming Pao
Ming Pao. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

When approached by HKFP for comment, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said: “Hong Kong Public Libraries will periodically review and remove books that do not comply with the development of the collection. Books that are suspected to potentially violate national security law or Hong Kong laws will be immediately removed for review.”

Comic condemned

Zunzi’s 40-year-old strip has faced criticism several times by different government departments in the past. On Tuesday, his strip was swiftly condemned by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak, who called it “distortive” and “unethical.” Ming Pao decided to suspend satirical comic strips on Wednesday following the complaints.

The three-panel strip showed a man telling a woman that the city’s district representatives will be chosen “as long as the superior finds them suitable” – even if they fail health tests and exams.

On Thursday, Hong Kong’s security minister hit back at a local press group which had said the move showed the city “could not tolerate critical voices.”

John Lee
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attends a press conference on May 2, 2023 about the proposed amendments to the District Councils. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

When asked about the incident by the press on Friday, Chief Executive John Lee said that the city’s press freedom was protected in the Basic Law: “However, I am opposed to any false, biased, defamatory, or misleading information.”

“If any books or publications, first, offend laws in Hong Kong, we will definitely not lend them out,” he said of the library removals. “Secondly, we will comprehensively review whether they are suitable for the public to read, including what I just mentioned, such as whether they violate the Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance or whether they promote a sense of moral wrongdoing. We have a responsibility to review these things.”

HKFP reported in 2021 that Hong Kong public libraries, over the preceding 12 years, had removed 29 out of 149 books about the Tiananmen crackdown from their shelves, a total of 263 individual titles.

Zunzi’s last comic is set to be published by Ming Pao on Saturday.

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Mandy Cheng is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. Previously, she worked at Ming Pao, focusing on investigative and feature reporting. She also contributed to Cable TV and others.