“For Taiwan, books are as important as the military with regards to “resisting autocratic China,” according to self-described “bookstore custodian” Lam Wing-kei (林榮基), who fled to Taiwan from Hong Kong in April.
In an interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) published on Nov. 10, Lam described China as an “omnipresent dictatorship that seeks to brainwash the planet.”
Lam, the former manager of Hong Kong-based Causeway Bay Books, was detained in October 2015 for selling books regarded as critical of the Chinese government.
Photo: Chen Chih-chu, Taipei Times
He fled to Taiwan this year because he feared he would be extradited to China under Hong Kong’s proposed extradition bill, which has since been withdrawn.
He is to reopen the bookstore in Taipei as “Causeway Bay Books in Taiwan” after a successful campaign to raise money for the new store.
The crowdfunding campaign was launched on Sept. 5 on the platform FlyingV. Its initial funding goal was NT$2.8 million (US$91,689), but it had raised NT$5.97 million from 2,900 donors when it ended on Nov. 4.
“The fundraising platform told me that more than 90 percent of those who donated to the cause were Taiwanese,” Lam said.
For the past few months Lam has been busy looking for space for the new storefront, and finally found a space in Taipei’s Ximending (西門町) commercial district near Taipei Railway Station.
He recently spoke at a rally for supporters of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, where he was heckled by members of the pro-unification Concentric Patriotism Association, but he is not worried, he said.
“Why should I worry? This is a public security issue that the Taipei police need to worry about. I am an honest person running a bookstore. Having a stance, having opinions ... what is wrong with that?” Lam said.
“Although I am not Taiwanese I should still be guaranteed the right to free speech,” he said, adding that if people caused trouble at his bookstore every day, the onus would be on the city’s mayor to deal with it or risk being voted out of office.
Hong Kong is now a dangerous place, as the police there have destroyed the rule of law and are unobstructed by the Hong Kong government in their transgressions, he said.
Beijing no longer values Hong Kong’s economy and simply wants the territory to become “mainlandized,” he said.
Lam said he plans to stay in Taiwan.
He has been asked by friends to move to Canada, but there would be nothing there for “someone like him who only sells books,” he said.
Taiwan is an ideal place for him given the use of traditional Chinese, similar to Hong Kong, and the country’s freedom of speech and democracy, Lam said.
However, Taiwan has increasingly come under threat from Taiwanese who overlook China’s infiltration of society, and those who use their voting rights to choose candidates friendly to authoritarian China, he said.
China does not need to “brainwash” Taiwanese directly, as Taiwanese are already being brainwashed by Chinese cultural elements within society, he said.
As an example, Lam said that many books on the central shelves of Taiwan’s public libraries “praise Chinese culture.”
Taiwanese culture is still heavily influenced by China’s Confucian culture, which extols rulers and fathers, and is very different from the Western concept of universal equality, he said.
Chinese believe in clear distinctions in social class between rulers and the ruled, and do not believe that the people have control over the government, he said, adding that the Chinese government heavily suppresses anyone who questions this mindset.
Taiwan’s education system would not include works from writers such as 19th century Chinese historian Gu Jiegang (顧頡剛), because they challenge tradition and hierarchy, he said, adding that this is a big problem that the education system must overcome.
This desire to quash anything that challenges traditional Chinese culture and autocracy is also the motivation behind Beijing’s suppression of China’s Muslim minority, he said.
Blind recognition and acceptance of traditional Chinese culture is the greatest source of instability in Taiwan, he said.
“If this generation of Taiwanese cannot overcome this blindness, they will have no way of breaking free from this destabilizing threat,” he said.
Lam said he is also concerned that there is a general lack of interest in Taiwan in reading books from an independent bookstore.
He recently visited a friend who “had everything except a bookshelf,” Lam said.
“This tells me that some Taiwanese just do not have the habit of reading, and do not have a spirit of resistance. It will be hard for Taiwanese to shed this unstable Chinese aspect of their identity,” he said.
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