A Hong Kong publisher previously detained by Chinese authorities has reopened his bookstore in Taiwan on Saturday, defying what he called attempts linked to Beijing to intimidate him.
The opening of Lam Wing-kee’s Causeway Bay Books came a year after he fled to the island when the Hong Kong government announced a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to China.
The 64-year-old – one of five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books publishing salacious titles about China’s leaders – vanished and then resurfaced in custody on the mainland in 2015.
He was allowed to return to Hong Kong the following year, but only to bring back a computer hard drive listing bookstore customers to give Chinese authorities.
Instead, he escaped and went public to tell an explosive story of how he was blindfolded by mainland police after crossing the border and interrogated for months.
‘Still have the right to read books’
“The reopening is very meaningful,” Lam told reporters at the new store in Taipei.
“Causeway Bay Books was destroyed by China through violent means. The reopening proves Taiwan is a place with freedom and democracy, and we still have the right to read books,” he added.
On Tuesday, a man threw red paint at Lam while he was at a cafe, just a day after he received a letter threatening legal action from a person who claimed to have already trademarked the bookstore’s name.
Lam’s attacker reportedly said his fundraising project for the bookstore “damaged” Taiwan’s relations with China.
Police were also investigating a death threat against him left on a government agency’s Facebook page.
Banners reading “Taiwan independence” and “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” decorated the wall of the small shop, which was opened with the help of a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.
Hong Kong has been rocked by violent demonstrations that began in March 2019 to protest legislation seen as Chinese meddling in the city’s affairs and morphed to a broader call for more safeguarding of liberties.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who is disliked by Beijing, sent a bouquet of flowers to the opening with a note quoting a Chinese proverb about justice and fairness.
China still sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, by force if necessary.
Tsai’s government has advertised Taiwan as a place that values liberties and democracy, encouraging media outlets and organisations that are kicked out of authoritarian China to set up shop there instead.
“I feel very proud of Taiwan’s democratic system and of Taiwan valuing the rule of law and human rights,” parliament speaker Yu Shyi-kun, who visited Lam’s shop on Saturday, told reporters.
“I am here to congratulate him (Lam) for reopening his bookstore and to cheer him on.”
Thomas Lan, a 17-year-old customer, said he closely followed the protests in Hong Kong.
“I support Hong Kong young people’s democracy movement,” he told AFP. “And I am worried that Hong Kong today could be Taiwan tomorrow.”
Lam raised approximately $200,000 – half of the money pledged in less than a day – via online crowd-funding last year to reopen the shop.