July 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Selling Banned Books in Hong Kong

Where do you go to buy books when your country bans them?
If you're Chinese, you go to Hong Kong:

hongkong.jpgCNN reported yesterday on an interesting bookselling phenomena: since travel restrictions were lifted in 2003, Chinese readers interested in acquiring books banned by their government head to Hong Kong, where the books can be legally sold.  And in a city where Chinese tourism is booming, this has led to substantial new business opportunities for booksellers.  (Approximately 28.1 million Chinese people visited Hong Kong last year, a figure that doubled over the previous five years).
Indeed, some bookstores are making a significant portion of their profits from this trade.  The People's Commune, a bookshop in Hong Kong, reported that a whopping 95% of its customers come from mainland China seeking books on such heavily censored topics as the Tiananmen Square protests and the ongoing Bo Xilai scandal.
Book purchasers run the risk of having their books confiscated by customs officials when they return to China.  But it's a risk many are willing to take.  One such customer was quoted by CNN, "As long as it doesn't hurt the fundamental well being of its people, I don't see a reason for the country to ban the information.  After all, we want the country to be better and our lives to be improved."
All of this must make for some fascinating book collections in China, involving secretive acquisitions, book smuggling, and repeated avoidance of governmental officials.  Those are some collections I'd like to see.