Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The People's Bookstore

Inside the People's Recreation Community in Causeway Bay
In Causeway Bay mainland tourists get their shopping fix at Sogo, Times Square, Gucci, Uniqlo, Sasa, i.t, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

But they head to People's Recreation Community on Russell Street. One would think it's the last place mainlanders would like to go to because there are Chinese revolutionary posters on the walls, with Mao's quotations, mugs with the Great Helmsman's face, making it all very kitsch.

However it's where mainlanders get their banned books.

The owner Paul Tang started off selling simplified Chinese books in 2002 and he says because of its location, mainland customers started coming to his store.

The convenient location makes it popular for mainland visitors
When they started asking him for banned books, he immediately realized he had a business opportunity. "Now more than 95 percent of the titles we carry are banned in China," he says. "They are mostly about politics, sex, feng shui and religion."

He also says 95 percent of his customers are mainlanders, 30-50 years old. What's really interesting is that Tang has identified his customers by their consumer habits.

"Some men in suits will come up with an assistant. When they find something, they pass the book to their assistants without looking at them," Tang says. "They'll just walk out when they're done and leave the assistants to pay. Those are usually government officials."

It seems amusing, but they really don't want to be caught dead purchasing the books themselves, but the books they buy are now practically required reading, Tang says. "Many political books are about the lives of higher-level government officials, and naturally they want to know more about their boss. We know because some of them can't resist chatting with us."

Too funny.

The decoration in the bookstore is very kitsch
Even better, Tang adds, is that not only books about Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping are popular, but books on sex positions in particular. "They'll slip one or two into a pile of political titles -- some say it's for a friend's wedding."

Uh huh.

Tang says his business will keep going as long as there are banned books in China. "The interesting thing is most people are aware of how corrupt the government is. But they can't beat the system. They play along."

People's Recreation Community
1/F, 18 Russell Street
Causeway Bay

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