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Last year, five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared - four in October, one in December. They later turned up in police custody on mainland China. There's been no explanation of how they got there. The case has sent a chill through Hong Kong's publishing industry, especially those who sell books about Chinese politics. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been talking to people in the industry, and he filed this report from Hong Kong.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Bao Pu was on the streets of Beijing on June 4, 1989, when soldiers started gunning down pro-democracy demonstrators.
BAO PU: Ever since that happened, I see the systematic effort of erasing that event from Chinese history by Chinese government. And I don't like this.
KUHN: Erasing the record included silencing Bao Pu's father by jailing him for seven years. The elder Bao served as secretary to the late premier Zhao Ziyang, and he remains under house arrest to this day. Bao Pu says these events surrounding Tiananmen Square propelled him into the publishing business in Hong Kong.
BAO: And I thought, you know, maybe I can do something to preserve historical records.
KUHN: In 2010, Bao Pu got a hold of what he believed to be a highly sensitive record - a memoir of Li Peng, China's premier during the events of 1989. The memoir was damaging to many senior officials because it showed that they were complicit in the crackdown.
BAO: We're a month away from the planned publication date.
KUHN: When, Bao says, the book ran into trouble.
>>PU The mainland authority come to Hong Kong to negotiate about the publication.
KUHN: Bao declines to say exactly who these authorities were, but he says he backed down and nixed the publication. This allowed Bao to continue running his publishing business, and he says it gave him an important piece of information.
BAO: What I got is the verification of - this is a authentic diary from Li Peng.
KUHN: Bao Pu says his experience shows that mainland authorities' efforts to suppress politically sensitive books in Hong Kong are nothing new. The recent booksellers' disappearance may have shaken some people's confidence in Hong Kong's autonomy, Bao adds, but not his.
BAO: I didn't have the faith that the Hong Kong government or Hong Kong police would protect me, so I knew the risk. And as far as the risk is concerned, that hasn't changed.
KUHN: What has changed is the country's leadership. When President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, some observers were hopeful that he would move Chinese politics in a more liberal direction. But Chinese author Yu Jie advised readers not to get their hopes up. His 2014 book was entitled "Godfather Of China: Xi Jinping." That's godfather as in Mafia boss.
YU JIE: (Through interpreter) Xi Jinping has concentrated power in his own hands and then suppressed dissent in civil society, the media and academia. He could not possibly have initiated reform of the political system.
KUHN: Yu Jie says that mainland police lured his book's publisher from Hong Kong back to the mainland, where they sentenced him to 10 years in jail. The publisher was convicted of smuggling, but author Yu Jie believes it was in fact punishment for publishing his book. Yu had already earned the government's wrath with his earlier writings about China's leaders.
YU JIE: (Through interpreter) I was kidnapped, tortured and forced to promise in writing that I would not criticize members of the Politburo standing committee by name.
KUHN: The members of that committee are nominally the seven most powerful men in China, and Yu Jie argues Xi Jinping, who is the most powerful of all, is also the least tolerant of criticism. Yu Jie is now based in the U.S. He was due to come out with a new book this year called "Xi Jinping's Nightmare," but he was not too surprised when this book's publisher, a veteran Hong Kong journalist named Jin Zhong, called him to say the deal was off. In an interview, Jin told me that his friends and family had begged him not to take the risk of publishing Yu Jie's book.
JIN ZHONG: (Foreign language spoken).
KUHN: "Hong Kong people, especially in my industry, feel that they're in danger," he told me. "If mainland agents are really being sent here to abduct people, then that is terrifying." Since I spoke to him, Jin Zhong has moved to New York to join his wife. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hong Kong.
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