US-based writer Yu Jie says publication of Xi Jinping’s Nightmare was halted as the industry ‘wants to stay out of trouble’ after five booksellers have vanished
The author of a book which criticises Chinese president Xi Jinping has said its publication has been suspended in Hong Kong, because its publisher was fearful of the “huge consequences” of its release, following the mysterious disappearance of five of the city’s publishers in recent months.
Writing in Apple Daily [in a piece translated by Hong Kong Free Press], the US-based Chinese dissident writer Yu Jie said he had finished his critique of Xi’s regime, Xi Jinping’s Nightmare, in November 2015, and that his publisher, Open, had been due to start printing it on 1 January.
Related: Hong Kong bookshops pull politically sensitive titles after publishers vanish
But Yu wrote that he received an email from his publisher’s chief editor Jin Zhong, who had previously published another book, China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping, by the author, informing him that publication of the new book would not be going ahead. Jin wrote: “the difficulty of publishing political books in Hong Kong is already in the international spotlight [with] people in the industry … feeling great fear and pressure; they want to stay out of trouble so that they won’t be the next one [to disappear].”
Five publishers and booksellers linked to Sage Communications, a firm known for publishing books criticising the Chinese government, have mysteriously gone missing in Hong Kong and Thailand in recent months, most recently UK citizen Lee Bo. The International Publishers Association has expressed its “deep concern” about the situation, with president Richard Charkin urging the Chinese authorities “to assist in locating them and allowing for their safe return home”, adding: “These disappearances immediately raise dire questions about the Chinese government’s commitment to freedom to publish.”
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond said last week that he had “urgently inquired both of [the] Hong Kong authorities and of the mainland Chinese authorities what, if anything, they know” of British passport-holder Lee Bo’s whereabouts.
Related: Creeping censorship in Hong Kong: how China controls sale of sensitive books
China has repeatedly denied knowledge of the disappearances, despite growing suspicions that its security forces were involved.
As a major Singapore bookselling chain announced it would stop stocking politically sensitive books in its Hong Kong stores, Jin wrote to Yu that he had received many calls from friends and family trying to persuade him not to publish Xi Jinping’s Nightmare. “Because of that, we decided after much deliberation to suspend the publication of your work,” wrote Jin, adding that he was “deeply sorry”.
“I sincerely ask for your understanding. We published China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping, but circumstances have changed, and I am not able to face the huge consequences,” said Jin.
According to Hong Kong Free Press, Yu said that he had contacted other Hong Kong publishers about taking on the title, but none wanted to publish it. The book will now be released in Taiwan, which Yu called the “last lighthouse of publishing freedom for ethnic Chinese society”, in February.