Hong Kong bookseller who fled to Taiwan warns of danger new home faces

Lam Wing-kee's Taipei bookshop is full of titles forbidden in China, including topics considered taboo on the mainland like the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The Chinese government's grip on censorship is tight, banning books it perceives to damage national unity or smear the communist party and its leaders.

For decades, Lam smuggled texts critical of China’s leaders from his homeland, Hong Kong, to the mainland.

At its peak, he said he would send five kilograms of books a day, five times a week to the mainland. Driving him was a desire to spark democratic change.

"Because I wanted to change China," Lam said.

But in 2015, as China's leaders started clamping down on Hong Kong's freedoms, Lam and four other booksellers went missing. Lam was detained during a visit to the mainland and held for eight months.

He said he contemplated suicide.

"It's extremely terrifying. I was really, really fearful."

Three years ago he fled to Taiwan, which China sees as its own territory and wants to "reunify" despite the ruling Communist Party never having governed it.

China's Xi Jinping, now entering a precedent-breaking third term as leader, has shown a sharper tone on Taiwan. At the end of last month's party congress, the constitution was changed to oppose Taiwan independence and to advance the "one country, two systems" model on the democratically-ruled island.

Lam has this warning for his new home: "'One country, two systems' is definitely fake. It didn't happen and if you look at Hong Kong, Taiwan shouldn't go that way."

Taiwan's government has repeatedly rejected the proposal.

Lam's bookshop, Causeway Bay Books, is a recreation of his old Hong Kong store and has become a gathering point for supporters of democracy.

"This bookshop is a hub for freedom, democracy and human rights," a visitor from the mainland said.

Lam Wing-kee’s bookshop in Taipei, in Taiwan.

He said it's a place to voice support for Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Uyghur Muslims – something he wouldn't be able to do in China.

"If you speak a different kind of perspective or opinions you will disappear for no reason," he said.

The man said he wants to move to Taiwan, but Xi's grip on power makes him fearful.

"I'm really afraid there's going to be World War III."

But there are difficulties for those seeking refuge in Taiwan.

"Taiwan has quite restrictive asylum measures. It's not open to asylum seekers even from Hong Kong," writer and activist Brian Hioe said.

"There's an increasing view in Taiwan that Hongkongers could be Chinese spies."

Lam won't return to Hong Kong because of fears for his safety. His bookshop with a bunkbed is home, and a hub of freedom for others.

Cushla Norman's trip to Taiwan has been funded by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.


More Stories