A Bookstore of Banned Books

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary Here in the United States, it sounds like a contradiction in terms. In truth, there is no such thing as banned books. What I mean by this is that you will NOT be arrested, interrogated by the police, put up before a judge, and then sent off to prison for the next five to ten years for reading about a book that has been labeled as politically, religiously, or historically “incorrect.” However, this IS reality in China, and all books deemed politically, religiously, and historically as unacceptable are carefully screened from ever being published or ever entering the country. Obviously, the Internet in China is well controlled and censored as well, the average Chinese cannot know what books and other “taboo” subjects there may be out there beyond China’s borders. In fact, they cannot even know about those Chinese authors who publish books critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

But there is an exception to the rule. In this case, the exception is Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong is still an autonomous city, it can and does allow published materials that are simply unavailable in China. Bookstores on Russell Street in Hong Kong know this, and they stock up on books and magazines that cannot be found in China by ordinary Chinese. Since there are no customs checks on those who go to Hong Kong and back (although it is still risky), many ordinary Chinese go to Hong Kong to buy a book that is banned in China. Many, many Chinese want to know what has happened in their recent history, and they want to get around the propaganda books put out by the Chinese Communist Party. Those who are able to buy books in Hong Kong tend to share these books with those they know so that more and more people can learn about recent Chinese history not found in books published in China.

One particular bookstore, the People’s Recreation Community bookstore, deals in only books, published in Chinese, that are banned in China. The aim of these bookstores is not just altruistic—there is a market for banned books among a growing number of ordinary Chinese who would not know anything about the history of their own country beyond what the Communist Party tells them. So far, the Chinese government has not found a way of sealing the Hong Kong loophole. It is probably just as well they have not since Hong Kong has been and is now more than ever a window to the outside world for the average Chinese who might not be able to go abroad. Of course, many Chinese still cannot even get to Hong Kong, but so far the Chinese government has not been able to curtail freedom of information. And as long as Chinese from the rest of China are able to obtain books they would not be permitted to see in the rest of China, then there is hope that more Chinese will be able to learn the truth of what their own government does not want them to know.

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