The part-owner of a Hong Kong bookstore specializing in texts critical of China’s leaders reopened his shop in Taiwan on Saturday after fleeing Hong Kong due to legal troubles, saying he was grateful for the chance to make China’s Communist rulers “less than happy.”
The opening and accompanying news conference came days after Lam Wing-kee was splattered with red paint by a masked man while sitting alone at a coffee shop in Taiwan. Lam suffered no serious physical injuries and showed little sign of the attack other than a red tint to his hair.
China’s leaders don’t want to allow a bookstore selling tomes that would “make them uncomfortable or impact on their political power,” Lam, who moved to Taiwan a year ago, told journalists.
He thanked supporters in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, for the opportunity to start over. “This makes (China’s leaders) less than happy,” said Lam, who raised nearly $200,000 through online fundraising to finance his new venture.
Commenting on Tuesday’s assault, Lam said the Communist Party appeared to think it could stifle the shop’s business in both Hong Kong and Taiwan by using “underhanded methods of all sorts.”
However, on a slightly pessimistic note, he added that China’s policies had left little room for idealistic young Hong Kongers other than ”into the big sea.”
Lam was one of five shareholders and staff at the Causeway Bay Book shop in Hong Kong, which sold books and magazines purporting to reveal secrets about the inside lives of Chinese leaders and the scandals surrounding them.
Along with others, he was taken across the border and put into Chinese custody in 2015, but was released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong in June 2016 in order to recover information about his customers stored on a computer.
After refusing to return to China, he went public with accusations that he had been kidnapped and brought to the mainland, where he says he was interrogated under duress about his business. Following the detentions, the shop was forced to close while edgy political texts have largely disappeared from mainstream book retailers under pressure from Beijing.
Lam moved to Taiwan last year amid fears over proposed legislation that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to China, likely face torture and unfair trials. Concerns over the legislation, which was later withdrawn, sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that has retained its own legal, political and economic system after being handed over to the mainland in 1997.
Hong Kong police last week arrested 15 prominent lawyers and opposition figures over their alleged involvement in the protests, prompting further concerns that the city’s civil liberties are being eroded by China’s increasingly stringent political controls.
Although claimed by Beijing as its own territory, self-governing Taiwan, with its flourishing democracy and robust defense of civil rights, has become a safe haven for critics of the Chinese government.
Two high school students who turned out for Saturday’s event at the minuscule shop on the 10th floor of a business building in Taipei’s Zhongshan District said they saw its reopening as a sign of both hope and defiance.
“It offers Hong Kong people a safe place to develop,” said one of the students, Hsu Shih-hsun.
Taiwan’s own experience with dictatorship and martial law under Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to the island with his government ahead of the Communist takeover of the mainland in 1949, adds special resonance to the values the bookstore represents, said the other student, Wang Tsung-fan.
“I think that this bookstore coming to Taiwan makes us Taiwanese extremely proud. We can give Hong Kong a helping hand,“ Wang said. “After all, our own freedoms were not easily won.”