Dystopian novels ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ among Hong Kong’s most borrowed library books in 2020

Political satire novels “Animal Farm” and “1984,” both written by George Orwell, were widely checked off reading lists in Hong Kong. Photo: Penguin Essentials (left) and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (right)
Political satire novels “Animal Farm” and “1984,” both written by George Orwell, were widely checked off reading lists in Hong Kong. Photo: Penguin Essentials (left) and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (right)

Dystopian novels “1984” and “Animal Farm” were among the library books with the most check-outs last year, according to the Hong Kong Public Libraries’ “Top 100 Most Borrowed Books 2020” list.

English novelist George Orwell’s political satire fable “Animal Farm” was the third most borrowed English fiction book in public libraries, and the Chinese version was 13th on the list. 

The book, published in 1945, allegorically illustrates a group of animals that rebelled against their human leader, mirroring the dictatorship of tyrant Joseph Stalin during the Russian Revolution at that time. 

According to the ranking, the English version was borrowed 621 times.

Another Orwell’s classic, “1984” was the 10th most borrowed Chinese fiction book. The novel is set in a dystopian society controlled by dictator “Big Brother,” who ensures that residents live in fear of a repressive state under constant surveillance.

The translated copy was checked out over 2,590 times in 2020.

Read more: Gweilo, Suzie & The Monkey King: 10 English-language books everyone in Hong Kong should read

Chen Lexing, the chairperson of a Cantonese advocacy group Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis, said the trend reflects how social events have influenced Hong Kong people’s reading habits.

On Facebook, some netizens wondered whether their days of being able to borrow such novels might be numbered given the city’s increasingly sensitive political environment.  

Last June, the officials removed nine pro-democracy books from the shelves of public libraries for review, including two books written by prominent activist Joshua Wong. The Education Bureau told the schools to review the titles in libraries that may potentially breach the national security law, SCMP reported.

Commenting under Apply Daily’s report about the library list, one person wrote:  “[These books] will be forbidden soon.”

Another posted a satirical cartoon of Chief Executive Carrie Lam with the caption “Big Mother is watching you,” echoing the slogan “Big Brother is watching you” in “1984.”

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