What’s the Mystery Behind the Disappearance of a Hong Kong Bookseller?

Hong Kong has a mystery on its hands with the disappearance last week of local bookseller Lee Bo and signs are pointing to Communist China. Lee is the co-owner of the Causeway Bay Bookstore, a tiny shop that sells the gossipy books critical of political leaders in mainland China published by Mighty Current books. He is the fifth person connected to the publisher to go missing in the last two months. The previous disappearances are believed to be linked to the upcoming publication of a book about the love life of current Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Adding to the mystery is a new report from Lee’s wife, Choi Ka-ping, who rescinded her missing person report and now claims that he is “helping with an investigation” on the mainland—even though he holds a British passport and had no travel documents for visiting China. Amnesty International representatives believe that Choi is being pressured by the Chinese government.

According to an Associated Press report:

“If he did indeed write the letter, it was almost certainly written under duress,” said William Nee, Amnesty International’s China researcher. “What we see in mainland China all the time is that police and state security put enormous pressure on family members not to speak to media and not to raise a fuss on social media. If indeed it was state security that detained Lee Bo, one wonders whether the same tactics are being used to silence family members here in Hong Kong.”

Fears are increasing that the territory might be losing its legal independence and freedom of speech. In the last two years a former editor-in-chief of a major newspaper was stabbed in broad daylight, a media mogul’s house was fire bombed and a publisher sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to this story in the Wall Street Journal. In addition, a bookshop chain with headquarters in Singapore, Page One, has begun pulling political titles from it’s shelves.

Recommended reading:

Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China by Yiu-Wai Chu (State of University of New York Press, 2014)

lost-in-transition-yiu-wai-chuIn this informative book, Chu gives a helpful overview of Hong Kong’s political and social history since its transition to Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Chu focuses on the ways the “one country, two systems” approach has eroded Hong Kong’s unique culture, and anticipates the challenges Hong Kong faces in terms of redefining its political and cultural identity.

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