May 29, 2009 / 2:42 AM / 9 years ago

Red-hot sales of Zhao's Chinese memoirs in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Chinese version of former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang’s explosive memoirs sold to great demand in Hong Kong bookstores on Friday, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Customers buy copies of the Chinese version of former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang's memoirs as it goes on sale at a bookstore in Hong Kong May 29, 2009, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. REUTERS/Aaron Tam

The memoirs, which detail Zhao’s years in power and his ousting by Party hardliners after the bloody 1989 crackdown when tanks and troops crushed the pro-democracy demonstration killing hundreds, have proven to be of great public interest in the city which holds a large candlelight vigil to mark June 4 each year.

Zhao, who secretly recorded his memories on audio tapes, denounced the killings as a tragedy and rejected the government claim that the protests were an anti-Communist conspiracy.

A first print-run of 14,000 copies sold out within hours in several bookstore chains including Page One and Commercial Press. Even bookstores traditionally seen to have Communist-sympathies have been ordering the book in bulk to meet demand.

“Demand is far outstripping supply,” said Cheung Ka-wah of Greenfield Book Store, the distributor of the book in Hong Kong.

“Over the past 20 years, this book is the most sought-after that I’ve ever seen,” she told Reuters.

While the English version of Zhao’s memoirs hit bookstores several weeks ago, the publication of the Chinese edition is potentially a more sensitive event for Beijing given the likelihood of copies being ferreted across the border to readers in mainland China.

“Not only do I want to read it myself, I want to buy it for my brother and friends in mainland China,” said Chen Shi, who bought four copies in the bustling Greenfield store on Friday.

In a rare commentary by the semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency earlier this week, the Western media was attacked for hyping up Zhao’s memoirs which it said “confounded and misled the public.”

“Hyping up the ‘memoirs’ on the eve of the June 4 anniversary is to reverse the verdict on the incident,” it wrote.

Chinese customs are expected to step up checks and seize copies of the book from passengers arriving from Hong Kong. The government is also expected to crack down on pirated copies.

“Eventually mainland readers will find their way to this material,” said Bao Pu, the publisher of the Chinese book.

“It’s just a matter of time. If people take the book across to China on an individual basis, there’s nothing they can do except confiscate the copy.”

Bao, the main editor of the English version “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang,” urged Chinese authorities not to ban the book like they have for previous titles put out by his publishing house New Century Press.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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