Thursday, 31 March 2016

The War on Books at the Airport

Page One bookstore is quitting the airport after its lease was up in April
From tomorrow there will be fewer reading material for sale at Hong Kong International Airport.

There were two bookstore chains, Relay, and Page One, and the latter has lost all six of its airport bookshops with its leases up in April.

Both bookstores' biggest shops near gates 20 and 21 will be replaced with luxury brands MCM and Hermes. Relay's other stores will be relocated to smaller spaces near departure gates.

But that's not all -- there will be five bookshops at the airport that will be run by mainland publisher and bookstore chain Chung Hwa. One wonders what kind of reading material will be for sale there.

It is believed the change in the bookshop vendors may have something to do with pressure being put on the Airport Authority to shut down bookshops selling politically sensitive books, in relation to the saga of the missing booksellers.

There will be fewer Relay stores in the airport
However, an Airport Authority spokeswoman said the decision was made to reduce bookstore space because of a "change in reading habits and advancement in technology", following regular customer surveys on travellers' needs.

When asked to comment, a spokeswoman for Page One said the proposed units up for tender by the authority were not appropriate for the chain to continue its presence in the airport, and cited the economic downturn as another reason.

Lisa Leung Yuk-ming, associate professor in the department of cultural studies at Lingnan University, said Chung Hwa had "quite a strong mainland Chinese background" and people might come to the conclusion that there were political reasons behind the change in book vendors.

"Airport book shops became a haven for all these controversial books about Beijing government officials and their sex lives and how they made their way [to power] through corruption," she said.

"They were a haven not only for books but for magazines publishing gossip tabloid stories about the mainland government. This might be a reprisal for bookshops selling these kinds of things or it might be self-censorship by the airport itself to try to weed out these problematic bookshop labels.

Pro-China Chung Hwa bookstore chain will be moving in
"It might be a more proactive strategy to let more pro-Beijing commercial presses have more space at the airport as a way to toe the official line -- [and say] these are the books you should be reading rather than the problem [ones]."

The Airport Authority spokeswoman declined to address concerns over a political motive for the reduction in bookshop space. "The selection of books to be offered in the shops is decided by bookstore operators," she said.

It sounds like the airport is taking a cue to be more politically correct and ensure it doesn't rile up Beijing. But really, those bookstores did make a lot of money from selling these books that are banned on the mainland.

So instead of confiscating the books when travelers enter China, why not stop them from even coming in in the first place, by cutting the number of bookstores in the airport and putting in a pro-China shop?

Talk about waging a soft power war on culture.

In the meantime I, like everyone else will have to buy our reading materials before we head to the airport. It sounds like this new reality is only the beginning of the new normal...

1 comment:

  1. Hong Kong is not yet like the rest of China but its liberties truly are under threat. Some react by becoming angry, others by giving up. I think you know which reaction I prefer and have.