Culture and Celebrity Inspiring China’s Book Business
First published 17th July 2015
As the constant presence of modern technology in the form of smartphones dominates the urban landscape, the Hong Kong Book Fair 2015 is a reminder that older forms of communication still have relevance. Attended by literature luminaries including Alain de Botton, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Carol Thatcher – the Moderator was Shanghai Tang Founder, Sir David Tang. With more than 580 exhibitors from 33 countries and regions attending this year’s 26th Book Fair, it was a feast of literature in a modern city setting.
Hong Kong is known to be a work hard play hard city, to the extent that even book reading takes on ambitious levels. The potent mix of celebrity, commerce and culture in China evident at the event is keeping demand for books standing strong. On the subject of new media and the Internet era, biographer Carol Thatcher said aspiring authors today have “never had it so good”. Ms Thatcher, the daughter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, added, “There is so much information online … tips and guidance for aspiring authors, all that sort of thing. Make full use of it.”
China added 18.94 million new Web users during the first six months of 2015 and its Internet population had reached 668 million by June, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. “Lower device costs and better surfing experiences will help smartphones overtake personal computers and tablets as the device of choice for Internet users in China,” said Liu Bing, deputy director of the CNNIC.
The heavy weight celebrity attendance is playing a key role in the interest of readers. Encouraging the usage of ‘paper made books’, Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, attending the event for the first time, enthused “I’ve always felt that Hong Kong is kind of a place of the imagination. Mr Okri said. “I was quite astounded. I have been to some pretty big book fairs and writers’ festivals in my time – but this is the most astonishing just for the sheer numbers of people I saw – it was a big enough number to fill a whole country.”
Kelly England, Creative Director, said “The whole building is filled with people aged nine to ninety and they also seem very enthusiastic – much more so than expected at a regular ‘literature event’. There is the energy and excitement of a pop concert here, it really is amazing.”
Visiting from London, Simon Sebag Montefiore, well known for his historical masterpieces such as Jerusalem: The Biography, and portrayals of personalities including Joseph Stalin, said: “All of us have the duty of simplifying and making complicated ideas and subjects palatable to a wider readership.” It was also announced at the event that his latest book has just sold its first option to actor/director Angelina Jolie’s production company. The development of book reading in this intensive, exciting Hong Kong style is sure to continue blending old and new with technology and celebrity for full commercial advantage.