Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Hong Kong Public Libraries: Ensuring Compliance or Promoting Censorship?

The Debate on Hong Kong Public Libraries

#HongKong #PublicLibraries #Censorship #TiananmenSquare #NationalSecurityLaw #LibraryPolicy


This article critically examines recent statements made by Hong Kong's Chief Executive, John Lee, regarding the role of public libraries in ensuring that their collections do not violate local laws. The broader political context of these comments, the potential implications for library policies and practices, and the concept of intellectual freedom are discussed.


The recent statement by Hong Kong's leader, John Lee, that public libraries must ensure that their books do not breach local laws has sparked criticisms over removing materials related to China's Tiananmen Square crackdown from public libraries. This article scrutinizes the implications of such a directive on library policies and practices in Hong Kong.


This development unfolds against increasing curbs on individual liberties in Hong Kong under a sweeping China-imposed national security law. Previously, public commemorations of the Tiananmen Square crackdown were permitted in Hong Kong, unlike mainland China.

The new law has sparked concerns about erasing Hong Kong's autonomy and the potential for increased censorship and repression. Critics argue that the law is being used to silence dissent and stifle political opposition, while supporters maintain that it is necessary to maintain stability and security in the region. Nevertheless, the situation in Hong Kong remains tense, with ongoing protests and a growing sense of unease among residents.

In recent years, public monuments have been dismantled, and an annual June 4 candlelight vigil has been barred. These actions have sparked controversy and debate among the public. Some argue that removing monuments erases critical historical events and figures, while others believe these monuments represent a painful past and should be taken down. Similarly, the candlelight vigil ban has been criticized, with many viewing it as a violation of freedom of speech and assembly. These issues continue to be a topic of discussion and reflection in society.

According to the Ming Pao newspaper, over 40% of materials involving "political themes" have been removed from public libraries since 2020. This trend raises questions about censorship and access to information.

Public libraries are meant to be a place where individuals can freely access a wide range of materials, including those that may challenge their beliefs or opinions. The removal of such materials limits the diversity of perspectives available to library patrons and undermines the fundamental principles of intellectual freedom. Therefore, we must continue advocating for protecting intellectual freedom and access to information in our communities.

Problem Statement:

The directive to ensure that library materials do not violate local laws could lead to self-censorship and a chilling effect on intellectual freedom. Libraries are meant to be a place where individuals can access information and ideas freely, without fear of censorship or restriction.

However, if librarians are forced to constantly monitor and censor materials based on local laws, it could create a culture of self-censorship and limit the diversity of ideas available to patrons. This could negatively impact intellectual freedom and individuals' ability to explore new ideas and perspectives.

The issue raises important questions about balancing compliance with local laws and the library's role as a provider of information and a facilitator of free thought and expression.

On the one hand, libraries are responsible for adhering to the communities' laws and regulations.

On the other hand, libraries have traditionally been a bastion of intellectual freedom, providing access to a wide range of information and ideas.

Finding the right balance between these competing interests is a complex and ongoing challenge for libraries and their staff. It requires careful consideration of the needs and expectations of the community, as well as a commitment to upholding the principles of intellectual freedom and free expression.


Libraries have traditionally been spaces of intellectual exploration and freedom. However, Lee's comments suggest a shift in their role towards being places where content is closely monitored and controlled. This shift has significant implications for the future of libraries and their ability to serve as bastions of free thought and expression. It remains to be seen how this trend will develop and its impact on the broader intellectual landscape.

Libraries play a crucial role in fostering democratic values, and this raises significant questions about the nature of intellectual freedom. As a society, we must consider the importance of providing access to information and resources that allow individuals to make informed decisions. Libraries serve as a hub for knowledge and learning, allowing individuals to explore new ideas and perspectives. The role of libraries in promoting intellectual freedom cannot be overstated, and it is essential to continue supporting these institutions in their efforts to provide access to information for all.

Libraries have a responsibility to respect and follow local laws. However, it is equally essential to ensure that these laws do not infringe upon the fundamental rights of library users to access information freely. Libraries play a crucial role in providing access to information and knowledge; upholding this right for all individuals is essential. Therefore, it is necessary to balance adhering to local laws and protecting the rights of library users.

Furthermore, removing materials related to the Tiananmen Square incident and other political themes could limit the ability of library patrons to access a diverse range of perspectives and narratives, thereby restricting their understanding of historical and political events. Libraries must provide access to a wide variety of materials, including those that may be controversial or unpopular. By doing so, libraries can promote intellectual freedom and encourage critical thinking among their patrons. Additionally, removing certain materials may be seen as censorship, which goes against the principles of free speech and democracy. Therefore, it is crucial for libraries to maintain their role as a bastion of knowledge and information and to resist any attempts to limit access to materials based on political or ideological grounds.


Library professionals play a crucial role in advocating for the protection of intellectual freedom and the diverse information needs of library users. Therefore, they need to engage in dialogue about the latest developments in the field and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies. By doing so, they can better serve their communities and ensure everyone can access the information they need. This requires a commitment to ongoing learning and professional development and a willingness to speak out on behalf of those who may not have a voice. Ultimately, the goal is to create a more informed and engaged society where everyone has the opportunity to learn and grow.

By doing so, individuals can contribute to a more inclusive, balanced, and democratic discourse about our societies' past, present, and future. This discourse is essential for understanding our world's complexities and creating a more just and equitable society. We can learn from each other's experiences and perspectives through open and honest dialogue and work towards a shared vision of a better future. It is only by engaging in this type of discourse that we can hope to build a society that is truly inclusive and democratic.


Pang, J., & Pomfret, J. (2023, May 16). Hong Kong leader says public libraries must ensure books don't violate laws. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/hong-kong-leader-says-public-l

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