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Pacific News Minute: Exiled Hong Kong Bookseller to Reopen Causeway Bay Books in Taiwan

Voice of America / Iris Tong
Lam Wing-kee

For many years, a tiny bookstore in Hong Kong sold dissident and sometimes gossipy biographies of Communist party leaders and un-official histories of events like the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Causeway Bay Books became a symbol of Hong Kong’s liberties, and, four years ago, the disappearance of five staff members set off alarm bells. Now, the shop’s founder has moved to Taiwan and vows to re-open his bookstore.

One of the most explosive moments in Hong Kong’s recent history came in June, 2016, when Lam Wing-kee held a news conference to finally explain what happened to him and four other booksellers back in 2015 when they vanished into Chinese custody. Lam said he was arrested as he tried to cross the border into China with banned books that he planned to mail to mainland customers. Three of his colleagues were also picked up in China, a fourth was apparently abducted by Chinese agents in Thailand.

After eight months in prison and, Lam said, regular, vicious interrogations, he taped a video confession that he described as scripted and staged. He was then allowed to return to Hong Kong to retrieve the list of customers on his computer.

Once back home, though, Lam refused to return to China. Speaking of his arrest and imprisonment, he told the news conference, “it can happen to you, too.”

The words seemed prophetic when Hong Kong introduced a bill to allow extradition to mainland China. Lam feared he would be first on the list and, last April, fled to Taiwan. “It’s obvious that if I stayed in Hong Kong,” he told Vice, "I’d be dead for sure.”

This week, Lam quickly raised more than a hundred thousand dollars on a crowdfunding site for a new Causeway Bay Books, which he promises will open in 2020. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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