January 18, 2016
Publication of book critical of Chinese president halted in response to bookseller disappearances
by Liam O’Brien
In a depressing but expected development, following the disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers whose company published titles critical of China’s ruling Communist party, a chilling effect has spread across Hong Kong’s publishing industry.
Kris Cheng reports for the Hong Kong Free Press:
A new book by a Chinese dissident planned for publication in Hong Kong and critical of China’s president Xi Jinping has been suspended due to pressure.
Yu Jie, a writer based in the US, wrote in an op-ed for Apple Daily that he finished the book Xi Jinping’s Nightmare two months ago. The book was a critique of the Xi regime. It would have been his second book on Xi, after China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping was published in 2014.
“When I finished the draft, I had a discussion with Open, the company that published China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping, and we reached an initial agreement on publishing,” Yu said. “We completed preliminary work such as editing and cover design on it shortly before Christmas. It would start printing on New Year’s Day.”
On January 3, Yu received an email from Jin Zhong, chief editor of Open, that the publication of his book was to be suspended.
“The difficulty of publishing political books in Hong Kong is already in the international spotlight. People in the industry are feeling great fear and pressure; they want to stay out of trouble so that they won’t be the next one [to disappear]. I received many calls from friends and family trying to persuade me. Because of that, we decided after much deliberation to suspend the publication of your work,” Jin wrote.
“I sincerely ask for your understanding. We published China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping, but circumstances have changed, and I am not able to face the huge consequences,” Jin said, adding that he was “deeply sorry”. Jin confirmed to HKFP that the letter was his.
You may recall that China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping was the subject of political controversy in 2014, when the book’s intended publisher Yao Wentian was effectively sentenced to death for smuggling—a charge that many speculated was government retaliation for publishing dissident writers. Open subsequently picked up and published the book, but it appears that history won’t repeat itself:
Yu says that he understood the unprecedented pressure and potential harm that publishers faced. He contacted five or six other Hong Kong publishers, but none were willing to publish Xi Jinping’s Nightmare.
Yu says that the book will be published in Taiwan in late February, calling Taiwan the “last lighthouse of publishing freedom for ethnic Chinese society”. On whether the Taiwanese version will be available in Hong Kong bookstores, Yu says he is “not optimistic”.
As the weeks drag on, few details on the missing booksellers’ location have come to light. However, a Chinese official recently commented that the five were “most likely under detention.” Political pressure is building against the mainland government as the disappearances attract international attention, but greater damage has clearly already been done. If this incident is enough to cow a previously courageous publisher into self-censorship, what’s next?
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.