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HK libraries remove children’s books over pro-democracy content

They began removing hundreds of titles last year that might be regarded 'sensitive' by Beijing

'Tour of Hong Kong' by Taiwanese author Sun Hsin-yu contains scenes of demonstrations in Causeway Bay

'Tour of Hong Kong' by Taiwanese author Sun Hsin-yu contains scenes of demonstrations in Causeway Bay. (Photo: RFA Screenshot)

Published: October 18, 2023 05:42 AM GMT

Updated: October 18, 2023 06:26 AM GMT

Hong Kong’s public libraries have removed two popular children’s picture books by a Taiwanese writer for allegedly containing illustrations of a pro-democracy demonstration and a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, says a report.

The books Tour of Hong Kong and Tour of Beijing by Sun Hsin-yu were removed from the shelves of Hong Kong’s Central Library due to alleged “sensitive content,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Oct. 16.

Moreover, searches for the two books on the public libraries’ online catalog showed no results, although other titles by the same author were listed as available to borrow, the report stated.

Critics say the latest move shows the extent of censorship in the former British colony since Beijing imposed its repressive National Security Law in 2020.

Author Sun said that she was unaware that her books had been removed from Hong Kong’s libraries and expressed dismay over the move.

“If so, I can only feel that this is regrettable. It’s not something we get to decide — we’re only the creators,” Sun said.

Allegedly, the 2015 book, Tour of Hong Kong, has imagery of a demonstration in the shopping district of Causeway Bay, complete with a statue of the Goddess of Democracy first seen in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, RFA reported.

The image also accompanies slogans such as “Power to the People!” and “Democratic China!” regarded as anti-nationalistic in nature.

The book also has another illustration of the city’s airport and a boarding gate with the number “64,” a likely reference to the Tiananmen massacre that occurred on June 4, 1989, that crushed weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

Similarly, the book, Tour of Beijing, has an imagery suggestive of Mao-era revolutionary slogans from the 1960s and 1970s, RFA reported.

Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department said as part of the official government policy public libraries must remove any book that “violate Hong Kong laws, endanger national security, contain unhealthy content, or that are obviously inconsistent with the facts.”

Tsam Sing, a publishing industry insider told RFA that the national security police have written to printing companies warning them to not print anything that could be in breach of the law.

Due to the escalated censorship, most printing companies have required publishers to submit PDF files of the book in advance for checking, before accepting a print job, he said.

The publishers “are carrying out a high degree of self-censorship,” Tsam said, adding that he was “unsurprised” by the take-down order for Tour of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities began removing hundreds of titles from public libraries last year, which critics say is aimed at ensuring that book collections in public libraries do not have any content that would even remotely criticize the local government and the Chinese Communist Party.

A political cartoonist and former teacher who exiled himself from Hong Kong to Taiwan and identifies himself only by the moniker Vawongsir, as he fears reprisals ,said that the removal of books over their content is not new.

“It’s plain to see that Hong Kong’s education system has been getting more and more like that of mainland China, and even a little opposition is no longer tolerated in picture books today,” Vawongsir told RFA.

“There is no room for opposition, and things are likely to get more repressive in the education sector,” he warned.

Vawongsi was fired from his school after he began sharing cartoons critical of the Hong Kong government and police during 2019 pro-democracy protests. The Education Bureau termed his acts as “professional misconduct.”

Current affairs commentator, Sang Pu, pointed out the images of the protest movement like the ones in Sun’s books are regarded as particularly sensitive by Beijing.

“They will examine books and authors from Taiwan with forensic attention. They will censor certain ... images particularly strictly,” Sang said.

Some 146 titles about the Tiananmen Massacre and the pro-democracy movement of 2019-2020 were recently removed from Hong Kong’s public libraries.

Keyword searches “June 4,” “Tiananmen Incident,” “Tiananmen” and “1989” returned either zero results, or showed titles that were marked as unavailable, RFA reported.

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