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A Bookstore That Shines as ‘a Lighthouse of a Free Society’

2020-08-09 07:00:10
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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Inside a hushed bookstore in central Taipei one recent night, Ju Lee-wen stood beneath a large black banner that said “Revolution Now!” and raised her fist into the air.

Ms. Ju, a 26-year-old lawyer, is concerned by China’s increasingly authoritarian policies, including harsh new security laws in Hong Kong. She went to Causeway Bay Books, an irreverent shop stocked with volumes critical of the Chinese Communist Party, to show her support for democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“We have to fight to protect our freedom and our future,” Ms. Ju said.

Causeway Bay Books, which occupies a cramped room on the 10th floor of a drab office building, has in recent weeks become a gathering place for people worried about the future of Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy that China claims as its own. As China’s leaders lead a sweeping crackdown on free speech and activism in Hong Kong, fears are growing that Beijing may move to more aggressively bring Taiwan, too, under its control.

Hundreds of people come to the store each week to peruse books forbidden in the mainland. They pick up exposés on the private lives of China’s leaders, historical accounts of events like the Tiananmen Square massacre and dystopian novels like George Orwell’s “1984.”

The bookstore has its share of critics. Some believe the selection of books offers a skewed portrait of modern China, focusing too much on negative portrayals.

The store has also ignited debate about whether Taiwan should accept political refugees like Mr. Lam. Ms. Tsai and her governing Democratic Progressive Party have vowed to help more activists from Hong Kong find shelter in Taiwan. Some members of the opposition party, the Kuomintang, believe such a move risks retaliation by Beijing.

Mr. Lam has become a target. In April, shortly before opening the store, two men attacked him with red paint as he walked to a breakfast shop in Taipei. The men were later arrested.

As tensions with the mainland rise, many visitors say they feel a sense of camaraderie at the store, where they discuss issues like military policy and whether Taiwan should seek formal independence, a move that Beijing has long adamantly resisted. Some worry about the possibility of a military conflict in which Taiwan would be caught in the middle, if relations between China and the United States continue to deteriorate.

The Chinese government’s decision in June to impose sweeping national security laws in Hong Kong, giving the authorities broad powers to crack down on a variety of political crimes, has galvanized many Taiwanese to speak out.

“Some think what has been happening in Hong Kong is a glimpse into Taiwan’s future,” said Chen Wei-nung, 36, who works part-time at a public opinion survey company.

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