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Hong Kong book fair subdued after bookseller disappearances

Caution evident in buying and selling of politically sensitive material amid fears of growing repression from mainland’s Communist party

The 2016 Hong Kong book fair, the most important event in the city’s literary calendar, opened its doors on Wednesday to familiar long queues and hordes of special security personnel on watch for potential stampedes. Inside, it was business as usual: a large convention hall divided into genres, with one large area just for religious publishers, complete with saffron-robed monks writing calligraphy and dispensing blessings. Media types gathered on the first floor where a local starlet in a low-cut dress posed for photographers in front of a stand devoted to fashion books and magazines.

But this year is the first fair held in Hong Kong since the disappearances of five booksellers from the city in late 2015. For many visitors, the attention is squarely on the few publishers still willing to sell “forbidden books”. What has happened to the five men has profoundly shaken Hong Kong’s book trade: Gui Minhai, owner of the Mighty Current publishing house and the Causeway Bay Books shop, remains in detention in mainland China after having disappeared from his holiday house in Thailand in October 2015, only to reappear in a tearful televised confession in January 2016. Mighty Current editor Lee Bo was also reportedly abducted from Hong Kong and later reappeared in March, as did manager Lui Por. Just two days later, business manager Cheung Chi-ping was released, after he disappeared in October during a trip to see family.

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