The shop, which is on the first floor of a tenement building in Causeway Bay is decorated with portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong, People’s Liberation Army canvas bags and big posters from the People’s Communes. The interior reminds people of 1950s China.
Tang started the bookstore 10 years ago. Back then his target customers were locals and he sold mainland-published books, including classics and popular titles, in simplified Chinese characters. He thought he was onto a winner because these books were cheaper than identical titles in traditional characters printed for the Hong Kong and Taiwan markets, and because he had a mainland supplier who gave him a good discount and currency exchange rate.
However, his business plan did not quite work and in 2003, Tang added a café to the bookstore in an attempt to survive the keen competition among bookstores. It was not until the Individual Visit Scheme was launched for mainland tourists coming to Hong Kong that Tang finally managed to turn the business around. He began to sell banned books to mainland visitors.
“They are interested in political gossip, for example the secrets of late Chinese leaders,” he says. Asmore customers asked for banned books, his sales in banned books began to grow.
Tang finally started to make a profit two years ago, after losing money for eight years. For Tang, the most important rule for running his business is to follow the market demand. Currently, he also sells Hong Kong souvenirs, accessories and imported milkpowder to mainland customers.
His bookstore also accepts online orders and provides a postal service for mainland customers. The customers are responsible for bearing the risk of confiscation by mainland customs authorities but Tang always chooses the most expensive delivery services,which are less likely to be checked.
Tang says 90 per cent of the banned books he sells are bought by customers from the Mainland. He has noticed the books they purchase follow certain patterns. Younger customers in their twenties prefer books about the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 and the Diaoyu Islands; those older than 50 are more interested in secrets of the leaders as well as the hidden truth behind events they have experienced.
Jack Qiu Linchuan, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), thinks the relevance of political events to readers can explain why different age groups are interested in different issues. “The readers of banned books must care about the contents that are banned; if they don’t even know what has been banned, of course they won’t have any interest in it,” says Qiu.