Therefore, younger people tend to be interested in books about the Diaoyu Islands and current social movements, as they are more relevant.
Scholars usually prefer academic works, such as How the Red Sun Rises and businessmen are the biggest spenders, sparing no amount to get the latest information about which way the political wind is blowing in the Mainland, or buying the books to give to government officials as gifts.
Q, a customer of the People’s Bookstore, is a civil servant from the Mainland. He is interested in the state of play in Chinese politics and in the secrets of Chinese leaders and often comes to Hong Kong to read banned books. “I think Hong Kong has the freedom of publication, and thus there is more [political] information,” he says. However, once he gets them back to the Mainland, he does not share them with his friends and only reads them secretly.
Hong Kong readers may take mainland-banned books for granted because they do not hold the allure of the forbidden. But some locals still enjoy reading them.
William, a local educator born in the 1950s who prefers not to give his full name, says banned books help him understand opinions from different groups, especially young people. “The mainstream media in Hong Kong does not provide enough in-depth analysis [on political issues], and their angles are often one-sided,” he says.
The owner of Sun Ah Book Centre, So Keng-chit, has been in the publishing business for over 40 years. He observes that banned books are mainly read by the middle-aged and older people in Hong Kong and attributes the phenomenon to what he calls young Hong Kongers’ “complete despair over mainland China”. As they try to disconnect themselves from the Mainland, what happens there means nothing to them. So thinks this is a pity.
In general, the majority of people who buy banned books, whether they are from the Mainland or local, tend to be middle-aged and above. Young people show less interest in them.
However, the impact of these banned books cannot be underestimated. It has never been easier for Mainlanders to visit Hong Kong, and buying banned books has become a common activity on their Hong Kong shopping circuit. As CUHK’s Jack Qiu says: “The more normalised [banned books]are, the greater their infiltration will be.”