Haruki Murakami is one of Japan’s most celebrated authors and has given us critically acclaimed novels such as Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, and IQ84. Despite his success, Murakami’s new book, Killing Commendatore, has run afoul of censors in Hong Kong where it was deemed ‘indecent’ by a tribunal and has been removed from displays at a book shops and fairs.
As the South China Morning Post reports, the Hong Kong’s Obscene Articles Tribunal announced last week that the Chinese translation of Kishidancho Goroshi (Killing Commendatore) has now been classified as “Class II – indecent materials.”The book can still be sold in bookshops, but it will only be sold to those over the age of 18 and the cover will be hidden with a notice to warn potential buyers about its content. The book has also been been removed from stands at the Hong Kong book fair, a spokesperson stated the novel has been removed proactively following the ruling.
Killing Commendatore has proven to be yet another hit for Murakami. It was published in Japan last year and plenty of readers queued up at midnight openings to get their hands on it. The book is set to be published this Autumn on October 9 in the UK and US and is “an epic tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art – as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby – and a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers,” according to its British publisher Harvill Secker.
China Times Publishing, the Taiwanese company which has rights to publish Murakami’s novel, has also reported that its been told not to display the book at the Hong Kong book fair. It was warned that failure to remove the book could lead to the booths being shut down.
While the censorship stands for now, it has been criticized by many. The president of PEN Hong Kong, spoke with The Guardian, saying that “for a place that holds itself out as Asia’s world city, the Hong Kong authorities’ views toward sexuality and the literary treatment of it are archaic.”
“They are also arbitrary: who is to say Mr Murakami’s depiction of sex in Killing Commendatore is any more indecent than that in a James Joyce or Henry Miller novel? And yet the former is banned from a literary event and the latter is taught in school as classics,” he said.
A petition has also been created which calls for the censorship to be removed and has been signed by nearly 2,000 people. The petition states that the censorship “makes Hong Kong the most conservative area in the Sinosphere, and will bring shame to the people of Hong Kong.”
In a similar vein, children’s books with LGBT themes have been taken from libraries in Hong Kong following duress from an anti-gay-rights group. For instance, And Tango Makes Three, an award-winning picture book for children that features two male penguins raising a chick together has been removed from the public and is now only available by request.
“Any citizen, gay or straight, should be equally outraged by such blatant censorship. We hope that civil society in Hong Kong will continue to stay vigilant to ensure that these isolated incidents don’t turn into a troubling pattern and eventually to a new normal,” said Ng.
In response to the censorship, PEN International has sent a report to the Human Rights Council. Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship, stated that recent censorship “appear to be part of a worrying trend in China to be more restrictive about how sex is portrayed in books, and what is ‘allowed.’
“Book fairs are the last places we expect to see censorship, so it is worrying that we are seeing the new Murakami novel removed from the Hong Kong book fair’s booths. Book fairs are where people go to see a range of writing and we would call on the directors to make sure that they resist bids to censor which pieces of writing are on show,” she said.
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