TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Hong Kong's embattled independent bookstore Causeway Bay Books (銅鑼灣書店) is going to move to Taiwan's capital city of Taipei, according to the store's "disappeared" founder Lam Wing-kee (林榮基).
In an interview with Japan's Nikkei Asian Review (NAR), Lam, 62, revealed that he is planning on opening the store in Taipei in the second half of the year, with funding coming from pro-democracy activists based in Hong Kong.
The bookstore was popular among Chinese tourists for selling banned books about Chinese politics and political leaders, and, in recent years, salacious books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party leaders. However, the bookstore was shut down in 2015, following the mysterious disappearance of five of its employees, who later surfaced in China to make written and video confessions of fictional crimes. Currently, Gui Minhai, a shareholder of the Might Current, the publishing company which owns the bookstore, is the last of those five who is still in custody.
Lim himself mysteriously disappeared while working one night at the bookstore in October 2015, and was not be seen again until eight months later when he emerged from China. He was released on the condition that he would provide a hard disk containing the names of customers who purchased his books and then return to China. After he returned to Hong Kong, he boldly revealed the details of his 8-month ordeal in China including constant monitoring, interrogations, and a forced "confession" on mainland TV.
Lam Wing-kee speaking to reporters about opening a store in Taipei (CNA Photo)
Speaking on the likelihood of opening the bookstore in Taiwan, "It's 90% for sure now. The only thing is to find the right people and place," said Lam. "It will be more like a symbol -- a symbol of resistance -- just like Causeway Bay Books has done before," added Lam.
As he plans to continue to live in Hong Kong, despite an offer of asylum in Taiwan, he will only serve as an adviser for the new business but will not take part in the daily operations of the bookstore.
During Lam's visit to Taiwan in February, he was able to survey the bookstore scene in Taiwan and found a much greater respect for publishers and a thriving community of independent bookstores throughout the island.
Hong Kong's press freedom has declined precipitously since returning to Beijing's control in 1997, plunging 55 places in 15 years to 73rd in the world, according to Reporters without Borders. While Taiwan's latest ranking was 45th in the world and number one in Asia.
Comparing the regard for the press in the two enclaves of freedom in greater China Lam told NAR, Lam said, "Hong Kong's protection for the fourth estate is just incomparable with [that of] Taiwan."
Lam was impressed with the way local neighborhood bookstores have become gathering places to foster and spread new ideas by hosting seminars, book clubs and film screenings. During his trip, Lam visited a village where local bookstores displayed banners supporting the burgeoning antinuclear movement in Taiwan.
Lam hopes the active independent bookstore community in Taiwan can serve as a model for Hong Kong, "They can help sow the seeds of new ideas in Hong Kong, whether it can be a new philosophy of governance or independence -- what I mean is not just greater political independence but also mental independence," he told NAR.