‘Controversial’ Books Disappear from Hong Kong’s Libraries, Bookstores

Over the last two years, Hong Kong authorities have removed nearly 200 works from the shelves of the city’s public libraries, citing possible violations of Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL). The blacklisted items range from documentaries about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre to travel books by dissenting journalists.  

The city’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department stated that, “following the enactment of the national security law, libraries have to ensure their collections are in compliance with the relevant laws and regulations.”

Bookstores shy away from sensitive titles

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee told media that libraries must not “recommend” any books that are “unlawful, violate copyrights, [or] contain unhealthy ideas.” He added that titles removed from public libraries can still be bought from private bookstores.  

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain such titles in bookstores: the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Tuesday that some sensitive books, including works on Tiananmen and others written by pro-democracy figures, have also largely vanished from at least 29 bookstores in Hong Kong.

NSL’s long reach  

The Beijing-imposed NSL came into effect on June 30, 2020. The legislation was in response to months-long protests and unrest that swept the city following the introduction of a proposed extradition bill. The NSL outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign groups.  

The law has had a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s politics — and its book scene. One bookstore owner interviewed by SCMP said, “we are actually not sure if new books can clear customs,” leading some booksellers to play it safe and avoid hawking controversial titles.