Hong Kong purges public libraries of politically sensitive books

Hong Kong Central Library. By Wikipedia user Wpcpey licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Veteran political cartoonist Zunzi was axed from his long-time employer, the local media outlet, Mingpao, this month after numerous criticisms and attacks from the Hong Kong government, where he was accused of smearing the authorities. Not long after, citizens learned that the prominent cartoonist’s books had all disappeared from the local libraries. 

Upon further investigation, local media outlets discovered that most books from political dissidents, including nearly all books and video documentaries about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, had been removed from the library bookshelves. 

Since the public library operator, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, did not inform the public of its censored list, media outlets could only investigate via the public library’s online search system. They discovered that, besides Zunzi, all collections from the following writers had vanished from the stacks. Here is an incomplete list of critics whose work has seemingly been removed:

  • Ma Ngok – a political scientist specializing in Hong Kong politics and democratization. He is currently an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 
  • Hui Po Keung – a cultural studies scholar and a trustee of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which helped protesters pay for their legal and medical bills after the 2019 pro-democracy protests. He was arrested on charges of foreign collusion under the National Security Law (NSL) and is now out on bail. 
  • Margaret Ng – a barrister and former member of the legislative council. She is also out on bail under charges of foreign collusion as a trustee of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.”
  • Allan Au – a veteran journalist and journalism lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was arrested, accused of “conspiracy to publish seditious materials,” and is released now on bail.
  • Szeto Wah – the founder of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. The prominent democracy activist passed away in 2011.
  • Sam Ng – a veteran media worker and a prominent satirical news commentator on the TV news program “Headline News,” which has since been banned.
  • Tsang Chi-hoa radio host who also played a major role in “Headline News.”
  • Justin Wong – is an award-winning artist, political cartoonist, and former assistant professor at Baptist University.
  • Chin Wana prominent writer and localism advocate. 
  • Simon Shena political scientist. 

Numerous non-political publications, including travel journals, academic books, and oral histories written by state critics, were also pulled from the library shelves. 

A national security audit

According to an investigation from Mingpao, about 40 percent of the books on politics were pulled from the library shelves between 2020 and 2023. 

Last month, the Audit Commission released a report criticizing the lack of management of the city’s public library. It demanded the public library operator step up its efforts of reviewing books that were “manifestly contrary” to national security interests and remove them from the shelves. 

According to the Mingpao investigation, within one month, the libraries had removed 45 out of 46 remaining items about the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. 

In response to the controversy, the city security chief Chris Tang stressed that “safeguarding national security is high on the agenda of each individual department and bureau.”

The book purge was so arbitrary that even some pro-establishment figures, including the government’s executive committee member Ronny Tong, found the censorship problematic: 

Twitter user, Rikka Kevo, highlighted former government archive director Simon Chu’s comment on South China Morning Post: 

Exiled political cartoonist, Ah To slammed the political censorship with his latest artwork which changed the name of “Hong Kong Central Library” to “Hong Kong Chinese Communist Party Book-slaughtering House” by swapping the Chinese word Central 中央 into CCP 中共 and book 圖書 into book-slaughtering 屠書 (via Twitter user @hkposter777):

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