The Case of the Missing Hong Kong Booksellers
January 9, 2016 6:08 PM   Subscribe

One Country, Two Systems? Although none of the booksellers have disclosed their locations, a few have been in sporadic contact with family members to communicate, in opaque terms, that they are “assisting in an investigation.” On the phone with his wife, Sophie Choi, earlier last week, Lee conveyed that he was calling from Shenzhen, specifying that he, too, was voluntarily helping with a case but, strangely, spoke in Mandarin, the standard mainland dialect, rather than his native Cantonese.

There has been extensive discussion and coverage about this in the Hong Kong press. Some English links:

Prominent Hong Kong voices speak out about the disappearances in a short YouTube video. "What should the international community do when this sort of thing is happening? I suggest they have a moral obligation at least to speak up for Hong Kong people."

Elizabeth Lui writes for the Hong Kong Free Press: We may still be struggling for democracy, but at least we are confident that we can openly criticize the Communist government and expose the misgivings of China’s political leaders without having to fear for our lives—that is, until the mysterious disappearance of Lee Bo and his colleagues. This could mark the moment when our remaining sense of security crumbled, and China’s white terror came knocking at our doors.

The South China Morning Post has a round up of articles on the case. (Registration may be required.)

This Facebook video shows a public artwork called 五個失蹤的人 Five missing men, posted by 社區藝術試點 Community Art-boratory.

Similar-but-different-- The NYTimes writes about Christoph Rehage, a German who made comments online comparing Mao to Hitler. Even though Rehage lives in Germany, there have been widespread calls in China to charge him for violations of "The Seven Bottom Lines".
posted by frumiousb (14 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I heard about this on NPR, and it's bizarre:
A Hong Kong woman who suggested last week that her husband had been abducted by Chinese police has withdrawn her missing person's report.

The surprise move came after her husband, Lee Bo, who sold books critical of top Communist Party officials, vanished from Hong Kong last week.

Lee was the fifth person in the city connected to the publication of sensational books on top Chinese leaders to disappear since October, prompting speculation among democratic activists that Chinese security agents may have detained them.
The Plot Thickens In The Mystery Of Hong Kong's Missing Booksellers (January 5, 2016)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:24 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for putting this post together. I have fond memories of going through the politically naughty bookstores of Mongkok while in Hong Kong on visa runs, and of the little frisson that I got whenever I carried my purchases back across the border.
posted by bokane at 11:30 PM on January 9, 2016

I moved to Hong Kong three years ago and more than anything else, this case has made me question whether it's time to plan an exit strategy and head somewhere more secure. Plenty of my friends here who can theoretically live elsewhere are considering the same thing.
posted by mdonley at 1:51 AM on January 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

What has happened to the political situation in Hong Kong since I left ten years ago always upsets me.
posted by Dysk at 4:08 AM on January 10, 2016

Sad to hear, mdonley, but you're probably right. I spent a decade in China, and after years of building a life and putting down roots there (to whatever extent that's possible for a foreigner), I ended up realizing around 2012 or 2013 that however optimistic I might've been about the place in the medium-term, the environment there was getting a lot worse. I left in mid-2013 and haven't regretted it for more than a half hour or so a day since then. A lot of my friends, Chinese and non-, have left since then, or are planning to, or are doing their best to make sure their kids have the option. It's a truly sad thing to see.

Hong Kong's a different situation, of course. But even in Beijing, people were still optimistic about five or six years ago. Don't think that's been possible, even for the most congenitally sunny, for quite some time now.
posted by bokane at 4:23 AM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bokane, are you speaking of the political environment or the actual (like, clean air) environment? Or both?
posted by blueberry at 5:35 AM on January 10, 2016

Both, really -- the lousy environment environment probably would've been a lot more tolerable if the government hadn't started getting crackdown-crazy around early 2011 in response to the Arab Spring.
posted by bokane at 7:02 AM on January 10, 2016

Was it the Arab Spring that triggered all this off? I vaguely thought it had something to do with Xi Jinping's personal agenda and things became definitively worse when he took over, but I don't know.
posted by Aravis76 at 7:19 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

> Thanks for putting this post together.

From me as well; I'd been wanting to know more about this. Great post.
posted by languagehat at 8:30 AM on January 10, 2016

So basically what happened was Beijing took a huge dump on Hong Kong Basic Law and flush it down the toilet.
posted by Carius at 9:09 AM on January 10, 2016

Xi Jinping definitely came in with his own agenda, but some of the crackdowns started before him: my reading is that the Arab Spring was seen in China as a case of the sort of color revolution that the US (aka unspecified "hostile foreign forces") was hoping to foment and support via social media properties. So there was about a two-week period during that time (February/March 2011, if memory serves) where the international internet was very nearly unusable, even with a VPN. Monitoring and blocking got stepped up very noticeably afterward.
posted by bokane at 10:07 AM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Last night I could hear the protests going on from my apartment. I tend to stay away from the protests myself, so that the protests can't be blamed on western influence. (During Occupy, this was a thing-- pictures of white faces would be spread as "evidence" of foreign agents inciting the crowds.)
posted by frumiousb at 5:27 PM on January 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

An update, of sorts. Needless to say, nobody in Hong Kong believes it.
posted by frumiousb at 9:31 PM on January 17, 2016

It's a bloody travesty. The ccp are so ham fisted.
posted by smoke at 1:59 AM on January 18, 2016

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