The Hong Kong bookseller who stood up to China
By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chain smoking outside a train station in Hong Kong last Thursday, a thin, bespectacled man called Lam Wing-kee was in a bind.
He could return across the mainland China border to meet up with the Chinese agents who had just kept him captive for eight months and hand them a disk holding the names of hundreds of customers who had ordered politically sensitive books.
The alternative was to hold a news conference in Hong Kong and tell the world how he had been arrested, blindfolded and handcuffed in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Oct. 22, and then taken to the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo where he was forced into solitary confinement and faced repeated interrogations.
Lam chose the latter.
By doing so, he reignited a controversy that first rocked Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to China in 1997, late last year. That was when Lam and four other booksellers, who published gossipy and often scandalous books on the personal lives and power struggles of China's senior Communist Party leaders, had mysteriously disappeared.
Just a year earlier Lam had led an ordinary life, managing a small bookshop, but he now found himself thrust into the center of an extraordinary political storm that had called into question Hong Kong's relationship with its Chinese rulers.
In an interview with Reuters, Lam said he was released last Tuesday and sent back to Hong Kong with an express purpose - to bring back that hard disk containing the customer database.
But as he prepared to board a train to the Chinese border, Lam vacillated. He paused at a 7-11 convenience store where he bought a bottle of water and a packet of cigarettes that he smoked, one after another. Continued...