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A place to read and reflect in the city

By Donna Shiu

Step into The Coming Society bookstore in Wan Chai and you will find yourself in a cozy space with walls of books, artworks, photographs and posters. Tall wooden bookcases are packed with second-hand books and in the corner, a smaller one is lined with glasses, teacups and teapots. You can pick whichever book you like, grab a cup of hot tea, prop yourself up on the couch or one of the padded chairs and start reading.

Daniel Lee and Chen Ho-lok, graduates from the Department of Philosophy of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, founded The Coming Society in 2011 with the hope of stimulating discussion.

The bookstore carries books of literature, the arts, dance, philosophy, sociology and gender studies. Lee and Chen want to provide local readers with alternative choices because they think certain types of knowledge are dominating Hong Kong’s education system.

The Coming Society is a valuable resource for readers to gain types of knowledge they have not encountered in school. “Although our influence is limited, as long as it exists, it won’t be completely dominated by certain voices [in the society],” Chen says.

The pair choose and arrange every book in The Coming Society, all of which come second-hand from people who have donated or sold them. Chen stresses their vision is not based on the idea of recycling but on their concept of what knowledge is. “Because we are not the Salvation Army or a charity organisation, we don’t want people to see us as a dump,” Chen says.

They had struggled over whether to sell works of popular fiction and leisure books to make more profit but they decided against it because they know that customers will only go to large-scale bookstores for the mainstream books. “As a small bookstore, we need to build up a unique image and a specific collection of books, so that target customers will come to us when they are searching for these particular kinds of books,” he says.
Apart from selling books, The Coming Society holds book launches, talks, mini-concerts and movie screenings on a weekly basis for people interested in social affairs, art and culture. It also provides space to any non-profit-making organisation to hold events involving discussions on social issues, book-sharing, art and culture for free. Blues Night is a free monthly event where several musicians give impromptu performances to a small audience.

Chen says it is hard for an independent bookstore to balance the books given the high rent. They moved from Sheung Wan to Wan Chai last September due to the unaffordable rent but the possibility of closure looms large. Chen, however, is philosophical about the threat. Bookstores in Hong Kong, he says, are closing all the time but the influence The Coming Society has on people will outweigh the lifespan of the bookstore.

If you want to read books outside the mainstream and attend cultural performances or talks, check out The Coming Society at 2/F Foo Tak Building, 365 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. You can also visit, or call 24677300.

Edited by Natalie Tsoi and  Esther Leung