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Hong Kong Bookseller Gone Missing

imageBanned books raised an outcry. Imagine if you’re censored and arrested for publishing materials that are at odd with the government. Imagine Bill Clinton wants to persecute and imprison all those who breathed a world about Monica Lewinsky. This is what happens in Hong Kong, in 2016. The firm believers of “one country, two system” by which the former British colony is governed after its return to the embrace of motherland get a reality check as five staff members of a local bookseller disappeared. Vanished without a trace.

The Hong Kong publisher whose disappearance has caused a major rift between Hong Kong and Beijing has written to a colleague to say that he is across the border, in China, where he is “cooperating with the authorities with an investigation.” But close examination of his handwriting revealed that the note was not written in Lee Bo’s hand. The bookseller specializes in books critical of Beijing’s Communist Party leaders. His disappearance on Wednesday, December 30 looks increasingly like an illegal abduction by Chinese police, which has no jurisdiction in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

In China, “assisting the authorities with an investigation” is equivalent to detention suspicion of criminal activity. Criminal activity can be criticizing party leaders and exposing corruption of state officials. The bookseller’s wife later went to the Hong Kong Police and withdrew of complaint of her husband’s mysterious disappearance. This, in my opinion, is very much a charade performed under duress. The bookseller’s disappearance is an assault on Hong Kong’s principles of freedom of expression and autonomy from Beijing.

The Color Purple

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I have never read The Color Puprle, but has long been aware of its controversy. Written in 1982 by Alice Walker, The Color Purple tells the story of black life during the 1930s in the deep south of the United States from a female’s perspective. The Pulitzer Prize winning (1983) novel is told in the epistolary form over a 30-year period, following Celie Johnson as she struggles through life. What unfolds is a heart-wrenching story of neglect and abuse.

Like many books that have been banned over years, the list of charges against The Color Purple includes homosexuality, offensive language, and being sexually explicit. The literary merit of the book is shadowed by challenges in schools in which parents want the book removed from the curriculum. The book was removed from libraries and rejected for purchase in some school trustee—all because of its rough language,

I am not saying the book should be used for bedtime story for children. The point is to choose practically and wisely. I believe students in high school should have enough intellectual and psychological development to not only deal with the content, but to analyze it with logic and reasoning for its artistic and social relevance. Most importantly, placing themes like racism, violence, incest in the context of fictional characters could help convey a sense of healthy understanding.

The reason I’ bringing up The Color Purple is that on Independence Bookstore Day last Saturday, this book was one of the featured title at my local bookstore, which is in Oakland, California, the very battleground for an episode of censorship. It was decided that a high school honors class was not intellectually mature enough to study the work due to its “sexual and social explicitness, and troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.” And back in 1984, predominant population of Oakland was African American.

Censorship

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

How do you feel about explicit detail in your reading? Whether language, sex, violence, situations and so on … does it bother you? Faze you at all? Or do you just read everything without it bothering you?

Explicit details in reading don’t ruffle me as long as the language, graphically vivid or violent, is deemed appropriate of the period or situation to render the book authentic. Honestly, in this self-righteous society, many works are misinterpreted or misguidedly banned because of the limitations and short-sightedness of a few. This censorship business seems to have intensify over the years since I graduated from high school. How is it that as we are poised to become more liberal we, on the other hand, I was shocked and infuriated by the fact that To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath are targets of censorship in school libraries and curriculum because they contain violence, religious viewpoints, sexually explicit language or drug references considered unsuitable for students.

It all comes down to making choices. I can understand schools want certain books not to be included in the curriculum. But removing books completely from library shelf is a violation of constitutional rights. Banning literature from libraries is obscene. Any parent can decide to opt their child out of a specific assignment if there are concerns about sexually explicit material; but no single parent should be deciding what books are allowed to be read in school and what books aren’t.

So I digress. Imagine what the books of Maxine Hong-Kingston, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison would read like if those derogatory terms are to be banned or omitted. None of the violence, sexual allusion, and derogatory language bothers me. It actually helps find the world and its cultures into perspective. Literature stems from life experience and renders life in focus. Literature is supposed to intrigue if not to offend us. The genre for those delicate people who cannot even afford to be offended by a view different from theirs should peruse fairy tales.