Buying (Banned) Books and Getting Published at the Hong Kong Book Fair

This past weekend, Seth, Zoe, and I made our way to the Hong Kong Book Fair. The Hong Kong Book Fair is the largest book show in Asia, with over 500 vendors from over 30 countries and over 1 million guests. We had two purposes for our trip: finding a publisher and buying banned books.

Meeting with Publishers

About two years ago, I came up with the idea for a children’s book called Santa and the Christmas Dragon. The story was written for Chinese kids, so my dream is to find a Chinese publisher for it. So I printed sample pages from the story and took a stack of business cards with me to the book fair.

The fair was very crowded and none of the publishers officially sent representatives from their publishing or editing departments. The fair is almost exclusively for book buyers, so most of the publishers only sent their sales and marketing teams. However, a few editors just happened to be there, so we had good experiences with four different companies. I also have a meeting with a local publisher later this week, so hopefully soon I will have good news and more information about getting published in China.

Buying Banned Books at the Fair

I have almost every digital reader available on my iPad and downloading books from Amazon or via torrents is not a problem for me, so even if a book is banned in China, I typically don’t have problems acquiring them. Buying banned books in Chinese is another issue though. Amazon does not carry many digital books in Chinese and they are nearly impossible to find via torrents. Books avaialbe in Chinese on are going to the be same ones you can find in mainland China that are either approved or edited by the government. While Zoe is fluent in English, reading novel-length books in English is difficult for her, and she would get a lot more out of them in Chinese. So we were hoping to find a lot of books that she can’t find in mainland China at the book fair. We faced two major hurdles though.

  1. Most books sold in Hong Kong are in traditional Chinese.
  2. Most English books that are translated into Chinese are in Taiwanese-style vertical text. That means the books are written in simplified Chinese, but are printed backwards, backwards, and backwards, The text goes vertically from top to bottom, right to left on the page, and from the back of the book to the front. If you aren’t used to it, it can be very dizzying to read.

There were mainland Chinese publishers at the fair, but they didn’t have anything you can’t already find in China.

In the end, Zoe ending up getting a book about Mao in English for young readers.

Buying Banned Books Elsewhere in Hong Kong

After the book fair, we ended up running into my buddy Ray, and he told us about “the banned book store.” The banned book store is actually ironically named The People’s Book Store (人民公社). The People’s Book Store is located right across from the entrance to Times Square in Causeway Bay (1/F, 18 Russell Street 羅素街18號). Unfortunately, they had the same problem as the book fair: books written for Hong Kong readers and Taiwanese readers. They had a few books in Chinese that mainland readers can read, but not many. Zoe did manage to pick up a book about the Great Famine. They also had a lot of books in English, which was nice. I picked up a copy of Jung Chang’s book on Mao and Seth picked up Xu Yong’s Negatives, a gorgeous photo collection that really is best as a physical book instead of as a digital one.

The next morning, we happened across another banned book store just around the corner called Insiders Books (內部書店) located at 1/F, 57 Percival Street 波斯富街57號1樓. This shop though was almost all political books and had nothing in English.

“Smuggling” Books into China

I really have no idea how many physical or digital banned books I own. Buying books in English in China is difficult, so we always buy books in English when we are in Hong Kong or the U.S. We have brought dozens of books with us to China over the years with no thought as to whether or not they are banned and we have never been stopped or inspected. This trip was no different. We and our books arrived home safe and sound.

So how about you? Did you go to the Hong Kong Book Fair? Have you ever been stopped for bringing books into China? Let me know in the comments!