books about china

2

Henry Lascelles  //  Post-book!Canon aesthetic
           → “I have come here to fight. To erase the stain upon England’s honour that was made by that fellow’s cowardice.”

2

Image: Paul Tang, owner of the People’s Bookstore in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kuhn/NPR)

In Hong Kong’s densely packed Causeway Bay district, a red sign with a portrait of Chairman Mao advertises coffee, books and Internet. Customers go up a narrow staircase and into a room stacked high with bookshelves. The walls are painted red, and decked out with 1960s Cultural Revolution propaganda posters.

This is the People’s Bookstore (in Chinese, “People’s Commune”), run by Hong Kong entrepreneur Paul Tang. He specializes in books about mainland China published legally in Hong Kong, but banned on the mainland. 

Tang’s bookstore has been receiving quite a bit of attention since the disappearance of five nearby booksellers who also specialize in banned books. Two of those booksellers resurfaced in police custody on the mainland, leading to fears that the men were kidnapped.

The Hong Kong Bookseller Who’s Keeping ‘Banned’ Books On His Shelves

«(…) Chris Marker threw himself into a peculiar editorial project that remained relatively unknown - obscured for his later media outburst. Between 1954 and 1958, Marker worked for the Seuil Publishers, editing and organizing a series of unconventional travelling books: The Petite Planète collection, where he also participated with texts and photographs of his own. In these samll volumes dedicated to several countries in the world, Marker’s intervention was immediatly felt, not only in his modern and experimental (photo)graphic montage, but also in the profound heterodoxy of its textual contents.

The usual references to the history and culture of each country are still present, but these books clearly distant themselves from the idyllic and uplifting descriptions that generally fill up travelling books. They surprise us by enhancing least obvious narratives, unpredictable commentaries and social and political critique. The shocking photographs of dead people or public executions that, for example, are part of the book about China really give away how the Petite Planète books frustrate any expectations on this editorial type. Particular hybrid objects, where a cold reporter fuses with a subjective opinion, where verbal and textual discourses are equivalent to each other, and where politics and poetry become united, there books conceal, from an early point, what is Chris Marker’s little planet (…).