The Katthveli book club will launch in Taiwan in December to discuss exploring political activism, free speech and democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan, two places under extraordinary threat from an increasingly belligerent China.
Publisher and activist Tsai Kun-lin, who was arrested and jailed during the 1950’s in Taiwan for joining a book club, will address the launch alongside exiled Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee.
Participants from around the world can join via Jitsi, an encrypted communication app that requires no sign-in. Users are sent a link and advised to use false names if they have personal safety concerns, says festival curator Aephie Chen.
The measure for the online club, an initiative of the Taiwan UK Film Festival, were deemed necessary given the topics and the expectation it would be probably be monitored by Chinese authorities.
Discussions of topics such as independence and activism are possibly illegal now in Hong Kong, and the security measures reflect the growing threat to those who advocate democracy.
The 90-year-old Tsai, living in Taiwan’s thriving democracy, says a book club has once again become an act of resistance and that “once there were people who risked their lives to read books and pursue the truth”.
“Especially when Hong Kong is facing persecution from China, and Taiwan is threatened by China. It’s important to advise young people what kinds of books they should read.”
In the past 18 months Hong Kong has changed dramatically, wracked by pro-democracy protests and a resulting crackdown by Beijing with a national security law that has in effect outlawed dissent.
The crackdown resulted in more than 10,000 people, mostly young pro-democracy activists arrested, with dozens held under the national security law. At least 2,300 have been prosecuted for a variety of protest-related charges.
Advocating for independence or protesting against the government is now largely illegal, and sensitive books have been removed from libraries and bookstores in Hong Kong.
Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, with President Tsai Ing-wen promising “necessary assistance” to the people there earlier this year.
Beijing insists it will “unify” with Taiwan, which it considers a rogue province of China, though Taiwan’s government is resisting.
The film festival’s curator AephieChen, says she sees Tsai’s persecution happening again with the youth of Hong Kong. “Every generation has to reimagine … the concept of freedom,” she said.
Chen, the daughter of an environmentalist father forced to leave Taiwan during martial law, has watched in horror at the crackdown in Hong Kong, and then sadness as she felt the world start to lose interest.
She felt driven to share its story and how Taiwan could help, but said adding a Hong Kong film to the festival’s line-up wouldn’t do it justice.
The book club was born to explore the history of danger in both places by giving people the time and space to read and research.
Chen invited Lam Wing-kee to speak to the club. The 64-year-old Hong Kong bookseller was abducted and detained by Chinese authorities in 2015 for selling banned books on the mainland, and has lived in Taiwan in self-imposed exile since last year.
Lam told the Guardian it was important “to delve deep in these clubs to get to know the whole context of the problem, not just the surface”.
“It’s important to understand the history and culture of all of it so you will understand why China is China today,” he said. (Source: the Guardian)