The disappearance between October and December 2015 of five people who worked at Causeway Bay Books 铜锣湾书店 in Hong Kong alarmed fellow booksellers, media, and a general populace already wary of mainland interference in free expression in Hong Kong, and sparked international outrage. Lam Wing-kee 林榮基, the bookshop’s founder and book editor Lee Bo 李波 (the bookshop is involved in publishing as well) were abducted by mainland agents in Hong Kong and taken across the border. Gui Minhai 桂敏海, a major shareholder and Swedish national, was also abducted, but from his home in Pattaya, Thailand, drawing both Sweden and Thailand into the incident. The two others, publisher Cheung Jiping 張志平 and manager and shareholder Lui Bo 呂波, were detained by the police when they visited family in Guangdong.
Causeway Bay Books, which Lam founded in 1994 and was acquired by Mighty Current Media Ltd in 2014, had made its reputation publishing books about in-fighting, intrigues, and scandals among China’s party leaders, ‘red aristocrats’, and their families.
If the ‘Causeway Bay Books Incident’ 铜锣湾书店事件 was intended to be a lesson to other independent booksellers and publishers in Hong Kong, it had mixed results. On the one hand it was widely condemned. On the other, at least one publisher lost nerve. Hong Kong’s Open Books had contracted the dissident writer Yu Jie 余杰 to publish his critical account of Xi’s administration, Xi Jinping’s Nightmare 習近平的噩夢, but informed Yu on 3 January 2016 that they could not publish the book. Yu relayed the contents of the email sent to him on that day by Jin Zhong 金鐘, editor-in-chief at Open Books, in which Jin wrote:
The difficulty of publishing political books in Hong Kong is already in the international spotlight. People in the industry are feeling great fear and pressure; they want to stay out of trouble so that they won’t be the next one [to disappear]. I received many calls from friends and family trying to persuade me. Because of that, we decided after much deliberation to suspend the publication of your work.
By mid-2016, several of the Hong Kong-based booksellers had been allowed to return to Hong Kong, though the circumstances of their disappearance remains unclear, with Lam alleging serious mistreatment.