The recent disappearances of five Hong Kong residents connected to the Causeway Bay Bookstore and Mighty Current publishing house have caused a storm in the Chinese special administrative region. Under “One Country Two Systems”, Hong Kong was guaranteed freedom, including freedom of publication and freedom of speech, which people in mainland China are deprived of. For this reason, the city has served as a publishing and trading hub for books banned in China.
However, the five publishers’ disappearances, along with the jailing of another publisher and two Hong Kong journalists last year, point to a possible crackdown on freedom of publication. In the light of these incidents, HKFP takes a look at some of the banned books: these vary in credibility but what they all have in common is a negative approach when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party:
1. China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping
The book is the third instalment of a trilogy by exiled Chinese human rights activist and author Yu Jie on Chinese Communist Party leaders. After calling former premier Wen Jiabao “China’s best actor” and former president Hu Jintao “emperor of harmony”, Yu describes current leader Xi Jinping as the “godfather” of the “Chinese mafia” – the Communist Party. Under Xi’s rule, China is becoming increasingly authoritarian and aggressive, Yu said.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the initiators of the Occupy Central movement, said in the preface to the book that constitutional reform was “still possible” in China under the Communist regime. However, such reform would be aimed at preserving the party’s rule, he wrote.
In October 2013, when Hong Kong’s Morning Bell Press was preparing to publish the book, its chairman Yiu Man-tin was arrested in Shenzhen, Guangdong. More than half a year later, the 74-year-old veteran publisher was sentenced to ten years in prison by a Shenzhen court for “smuggling and tax evasion.” He was convicted for smuggling industrial paint without paying the required import duty. The book was then transferred to Open Books in 2014 for publication.
2. October Huge Change
This book discusses internal power struggles among different factions of the Communist Party. In one of the chapters, the author describes an “embarrassing” scene where the party’s top graft fighter, Wang Qishan, allegedly said he should be made China’s premier.
This was said to be at a meeting between President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Wang, who is in charge of the party’s disciplinary inspection body. According to the book, Xi asked Wang to state his opinions “honestly” about the leadership arrangements. Wang was at first coy, saying Xi and Li’s positions as the country’s two top leaders had been “decided by party elders five years ago” and that it was “meaningless” for him to voice his opinions. After being reassured by the president, Wang said bluntly that the best arrangement in his mind was that Xi be the chief of the party and the military, Li be the president and Wang himself the premier. Xi, who is chief of both the party, the military and the government, was “greatly embarrassed” by Wang’s comments while Li “put on a forced smile”, according to the book.
The book predicted a “huge change” in China’s political scene in October 2015 due to internal wrangles in the party.
3. Old Jiang Enrages Xi Dada
This book, like many others, claims that there is an ongoing battle for power between former president Jiang Zemin and current leader Xi Jinping. The most eye-catching story described in the book is an incident during last year’s grand military parade in Tiananmen Square, where first lady Peng Liyuan was allegedly prevented from getting on to the Tiananmen Gate inspection deck by Jiang. According to a report in Ming Pao’s overseas edition in September, Peng was expected to be on Tiananmen Gate with her husband to watch the parade but the arrangement was opposed by “party elders.”
The author of Old Jiang Enrages Xi Dada said that the “party elders” who stopped Peng “at the last minute” were Jiang and former premier Li Peng. Jiang remains influential more than a decade after his presidential tenure ended in 2003. The 89-year-old refused to allow Peng to stand on Xi’s left side and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Xi’s right, which would have made him appear to be sidelined, according to the book.
The Causeway Bay Bookstore and the Mighty Current publishing company were in charge of the book’s distribution.
4. The Secret Emotional Life of Zhou Enlai
This book, written by Tsoi Wing-mui and released last month, has received a lot of attention for suggesting Communist China’s first premier Zhou Enlai was gay. After studying Zhou’s diaries and personal letters, Tsoi came to the conclusion that the revolutionary leader was probably in love with a family friend with whom he also studied.
“Zhou himself believes in love, but he considered love to be surpassing gender. He thought marriage between men and women was absolutely meaningless other than its reproduction function,” Tsoi wrote. According to the book, Zhou loved his friend Li Fujing and had no romantic feelings for his wife Deng Yingchao. The couple were married for 51 years and had no children of their own.
Zhou is one of the most beloved Communist Party leaders in China and the book has upset some people in the mainland. Hong Kong actor Wong Hei was recently censored by mainland broadcasters and attacked by Chinese netizens after he said on social media that Zhou was gay.
5. The Ending China Miracle
This book sounds an alarm for the Chinese economy, arguing that President Xi Jinping’s economic reforms, including loosening control of state-owned companies and cracking down on shadow banking, cannot be pushed forward without hurting the already slowing economy. Xi’s battle against corruption is also hindering growth. According to the book, a financial crisis is imminent in China.
6. Tianjin Nuclear Explosion
This book puts forward a conspiracy theory that the chemical explosions which flattened an industrial zone in the port city of Tianjin in August 2015 were the result of infighting between President Xi Jinping and former president Jiang Zemin.
“Jiang Mianheng (Jiang Zemin’s grandson) was preparing to use a micro nuclear warhead to assassinate Xi Jinping when he came to Tianjin for a meeting. Xi heard about Jiang’s plan and sent more security guards to patrol the meeting venue. Accidentally, the guards ran into Jiang Mianheng’s men. The two sides fought and in the process, a car’s gas tank exploded, setting off the micro nuclear bomb, which then ignited two tonnes of solid rocket fuel due to be exported to North Korea. The explosions and fire combined to create the effect of a nuclear blast. Xi Jinping fled home to Beijing overnight following the incident…” according to the introduction to the book, available for purchase on Causeway Bay Bookstore’s website.
7. Xi Jinping and The House of Cards
The book’s title comes from a joke which Xi made during his 2015 state visit to the US. Speaking to a room full of American entrepreneurs and politicians, Xi said his anti-graft campaign was not aimed at taking out his political rivals. “This is not House of Cards,” he said. The popular American drama series centres on a power hungry Washington politician who eventually became US president by tricking his enemies.
However, according to the author of “Xi Jinping and The House of Cards”, the Chinese president is just as cunning as the television series’ protagonist, Frank Underwood. He has surprised many by attending the funerals of first-generation Communist Party members who were “on both the right and the left sides” of the Party, the book says. According to this and other books, Xi aims to gather support before the 19th party central committee convention in 2017, when he will try to prolong his term from ten to 20 years.