15 July 2019
People from various walks of life have slammed the government’s move to classify a book (inset) from Haruki Murakami as indecent material, and called for retraction of the decision. Photos: HKEJ, Internet
People from various walks of life have slammed the government’s move to classify a book (inset) from Haruki Murakami as indecent material, and called for retraction of the decision. Photos: HKEJ, Internet

Retract ‘indecent’ label on Murakami book, group tells govt

A literature promotion group, as well as some lawmakers, called on authorities to withdraw their “indecent” rating on a book from acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami and end the sales restrictions on the title.

The House of Hong Kong Literature, a group set up by local writers and academics to promote the development of literature in the city, slammed the government’s decision to classify a book written by Murakami as indecent material.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the group said the prudish regulatory action sets a very bad precedent and goes against the principle of freedom of publishing, speech and creation.

The group claimed that it has collected online more than 2,500 signatures from people from various circles, including politics, performing arts, and education, over the past 11 days on a petition calling for the government to retract the rating decision on the book “Killing Commendatore” by Murakami.

The comments came after The Obscene Articles Tribunal announced earlier this month that it has decided to slap a “Class II – indecent materials” classification on Murakami’s book, which means the book cannot be distributed to people under the age of 18, and it must be sealed with printed warnings on the front and back covers when it is on sale in bookstores.

Following the “indecent” rating, the book was removed from the Hong Kong Book Fair that was held between July 18 and 24.

The tribunal’s decision sparked strong criticism almost immediately. Some critics said the action made Hong Kong an international laughing stock.

At the press conference Tuesday, the House of Hong Kong Literature, together with representatives of some political and civic groups, said the rating showed once again how ignorant the tribunal is, after it previously ruled –in 1994 — that a photo of Michelangelo’s statue, David, is indecent.

Through its decisions, the tribunal is impairing the freedoms on publishing, speech and creation that should be enjoyed by writers, the group said.

Tang Siu-wa, co-founder and chief curator of the group, pointed out the book in question has more than 700 pages in total but the accused scenes of sex or violence only account for some 30 pages, which is a really small portion.

He also pointed out that some well-known world literature classics, such as the Chinese Dream of the Red Chamber and works of William Shakespeare all contain descriptions of sex scenes.

If Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore” (which is translated version of the original Japanese work “Kishidancho Gorosh”) has to be sealed before it can be sold, then most of books currently offered in the market should be, too, said Tang, adding that it is a matter of shame that Hong Kong has become a city that is easily offended by literary works.

Tang criticized the tribunal for not providing clear and convincing reasons as to why Murakami’s book was considered indecent, putting the local literature circles in a difficult position.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen from People Power also lashed out at the tribunal, accusing it of failing to distinguish between literary works and pornographic novels.

Currently an article is classified by two members selected from a panel of 500 potential adjudicators and appointed as a tribunal. While the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau had proposed to change both figures to four and 1,500, respectively, and also conducted two rounds of public consultation, such changes have not been made yet, the Hong Kong Economic journal noted.

Meanwhile, some major Japanese media outlets, including The Yomiuri Shimbun, The Nihon Keizai Shimbun and The Tokyo Shimbun, have suggested in their reports that Murakami’s open support for Hong Kong’s street protesters during the 2014 Occupy pro-democracy movement could be why his book received such treatment in the city.

Given the suspicion, Chan urged the tribunal and the government to explain in detail how the decision was made to avoid any speculation by international and local media, as well as make clarifications to the public if there is no political motive behind the action.

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