No. 60 Hollywood Road: A Bookstore with a Secret
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
In 1919, on the first floor of 60 Hollywood Road, resided a bookstore, Cuì wénshū fāng (萃文書坊), that risked closure and its owner's imprisonment through the act of selling banned books in support of freedom of speech, and in this context the New Culture Movement and the spread of anti-imperialist ideas. There is little evidence that activity associated with the New Culture Movement existed in Hong Kong. The building that stands on 60 Hollywood Road is one of historic importance for it links Hong Kong and Cantonese interest to the New Culture Movement.
The New Culture Movement in the 1910s and 1920s promoted new Chinese cultural ideas based on westerns values. The intellectuals who spearheaded this movement, including, Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀), Li Dazhao (李大釗), Cai Yuanpei (蔡元培), Hu Shi (胡適), and Lu Xun (魯迅), rejected classical Chinese values, formed from Confucian philosophy, and instead promoted “total Westernization” (全盤西化). Although the movement was formed to collectively reject China's imperial structure of government, many of these writers also scrutinised the semi-feudal and semi-colonial society in China.
The New Culture Movement gave rise to the “May Fourth Movement,” which grew out of hysteria over the Chinese government's failure to challenge Western powers’ during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Coincidently, anti-imperialist feeling fluctuated during this period, when the Chinese people felt let down after the U.S and Britain favored unfairly with Japan over the “Shandong Problem” (山東問題). The protests may have erupted due to anti-imperialist feeling, but they were directed at a government too weak to make demands of its own accord. Over 3000 students gathered in Tiananmen (天安門) on May 4, 1919, demanding changes to the Republican government. Like New Culture intellectuals, the protestors demanded an end to China's Confucian, authoritarian governing style to modern Western democratic rule.
Cuì wénshū fāng's establishment after the May Fourth uprising in 1919 is somewhat noteworthy. It suggests the desire, from intellectuals and revolutionaries in Hong Kong, to read publications associated with the movement. Most of the books were secretly shipped from the mainland to Hong Kong, through the owner's contacts.
The bookstore was founded at some point in 1919 by Huo Ruoding (霍汝丁經), a member of the Chinese Revolutionary Party and the Revive China Society (興中會), a political party founded by Sun Yat-sen. It is unknown when exactly Huo arrived in Hong Kong, but he most likely left China before the “Second Revolution”(二次革命) in July 1913, when many of those associated with the Chinese Revolutionary Party were arrested in Guangzhou. Although not a politically influential individual at the time, Huo's collection of essays and establishment of the bookstore are essential to connecting the New Culture Movement to Hong Kong’s cultural and literary history. Notable banned books sold at the store included Lu Xun’s works, “Call to Arms” (吶喊), "Wondering" (彷徨), "The True Story of Ah Q" (阿Ｑ正傳), and “Madman’s Diary” (狂人日記) as well as a number of books by Hu Shi, another exceptional Chinese writer, and essayist of the era. It is also believed that “Political Life” (政治生活) and "Guide" (向導), banned publications, written by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), were sold. These publications are all highly ideological and other bookstores in Hong Kong refused to sell them.
There is no doubt that there was an element of danger to selling banned books in Hong Kong. Lu Xun (魯迅) - whose books were among those sold illegally at the store - describes the danger of bringing books into British controlled Hong Kong from China in 1936:
"It is difficult to take books into Hong Kong. If you are not careful, they can claim that the books are "dangerous documents." As for the precise definition of the word "dangerous," I have no idea. In any case, the slightest suspicion can land you in a lot of trouble. The first step is to lock you up, and you will remain locked up until your books have been translated into English."
In 1927, Lu Xun visited the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong just up the road from the bookstore at 51 Bridges Street. In front of a crowd of over 500 people, much to the British government's dismay, Xun gave two lectures entitled, "Silent China" and "Fading Old Tunes." I wonder if he popped into the bookstore that perilously sold his work under the watchful eyes of the Colonial police.
Lu Lun (侶倫) (1911-1988), formerly named Li Lin, is one of the few people to have written about the bookstore. In his book, "Writing to the Water House” (向水屋筆語), he describes the store's "facade, instrumentation, and interior furnishings" as "among the least particular of its peers.” The bookstore was small, and in it hung a portrait of Sun Yat-sen. He explained that the bookstore was presided over by a father and son. The owner was an elderly Christian who wore “outdated suits and a vest outside [his] shirt; with an old tie, gray hair and a pinch of unadorned beard on the upper lip, he looked like a fallen gentleman.” Lun described him as being “extremely dissatisfied with the "current situation" of China's political power struggle at the time,” and often grumbled about this to his customers. Lun also suggested that the owner was an old comrade of the “Tongmenghui" (中國同盟會) (an underground resistance movement founded by Sun Yat-Sen in Tokyo, 1905) and after participating in the revolution, may have been an early official of the Republic of China. Lun indicates that the owner left China because he probably felt "disillusioned" with reality after the revolution.
During this period, selling new cultural books and ideological publications was a monopoly business. Interestingly, such was not the case at Cuì wénshū fāng. The owner sold these rare books for no extra charge, perhaps indicating his loyalty to New Culture ideals and his desire to spread the movement's propaganda.
Another novelist, Ping Ke, (1912-2013), formerly named Cen Zhuoyun, described his understanding of how the bookstore functioned under the scrutiny of the police. The books were sold “semi-publicly.” The police would often patrol the area around the bookstore and check it out from time to time. Although the police confiscated many books on at least one occasion, it was considered an “open secret,” and they typically left the store to its own devices. Customers, however, usually had to ask the owner for a certain magazine or specific book and the owner would open a secret compartment. Ke suggests that the store initially only experimented in selling "new literature and art books.” As soon as, however, the store received long-term customs, like Ke, more books became available. Other periodicals, published in Beijing and Shanghai, also appeared in the store.
The owner's son took over the bookstore after his father's death and closed it shortly after the end of WWII. It may have been immediately replaced by Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice, which opened in 1948 and remains standing to this day. With patterned tiled floors and whirling ceiling fans, one feels as if they have stepped back in time upon entering the shop. Founded by Lam Fong-Nam, the shop is still popular today for supplying traditional sugar cane juice using a 30-year-old steel roll press to squeeze the juice from the fruit. The shop is now run by Lam's nephew, and will likely be passed down to his sons after he retires.
Perhaps also worth mentioning is that the third and fourth floors of the building were rented in 1919 by Peter Tsui Yan-Sau, the founder of Wah Yan College (still open today, located 281 Queen's Rd E, Wan Chai). By 1921, the school grew from 4 students to 400, resulting in the consolidation of the school in 1922 on Robinson Rd.
Chinese Economic Journal, Bureau of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Industry. 1935
Feng Ziyou, "History of the Founding of Overseas Chinese Revolution", The Commercial Press, 1946.
"On Hong Kong," Lu Xun, translated by Zhu Zhiyu with Don J. Cohn, 1936.
Wang Xiaolan, "Study on the Distribution of Early Party Newspapers of the Communist Party of China", "Studies on the History of the Communist Party of China", 2006.