Monday, March 10, 2008

Killed by Books

A book shop owner died recently while working in the warehouse where he stored his books. That was 羅志華, owner of 二樓書店 青文書屋, which closed a couple of years ago. He was working alone during the Chinese New Year holidays when boxes of books fell on him, and killed him. It was said that death came quickly and he did not suffer too much. But his death was not discovered for more than 10 days.

He was a true lover of books and was, in fact, trying to re-open his book shop. I didn’t know him personally but had been a long term customer. More than a hundred people attended his memorial service held at a book shop in Central. Many articles have been written about him in newspapers, blogs, ... all over Hong Kong. His death touched a nerve, particularly among other book lovers. In Chinese, we say 物傷其類.

Second floor bookstores is a unique Hong Kong phenomena. One can make a decent business selling text books and stationery. But not just plain books of literature, history, philosophy, etc. Many such bookstores cannot afford the high rents of street-level stores, hence they have to move upstairs. Most bookstores in Hong Kong are very small.

This is really sad. Among Chinese societies, Hong Kong is the most prosperous and open, with the fewest restrictions and taboos. Yet the book-reading population is so thin that we cannot support bookstores of a decent size. While in Taipei and any mainland city of a reasonable size, one can find numerous mega-bookstores filled with people.

Books are the main vehicle for depositing and propagating a people’s culture, its thoughts, its feelings, its soul. Is Hong Kong destined to be a soul-less city? Do we want to be known as the generation in which Hong Kong lost its soul?

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