From pornography to Chinese Communist Party scandals, Hong Kong publishers have been delivering “banned books” to the mainland using different means for many years, but petrified delivery companies have recently stopped

taking orders in the wake of the missing booksellers’ case.

Since the mysterious disappearances of five Causeway Bay booksellers who specialised in publications critical of the leadership in Beijing, delivery companies have realised that the price to pay for business is too high.

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With their refusal to handle bulk delivery, mainlanders looking for the banned books may have to come to Hong Kong in person and buy them.

“In the past, staff from Causeway Bay Books would wrap the banned books in the covers of love novels. Delivery companies usually charged just HK$10 for each kilo of books delivered. That’s not a lot of money,” a source with knowledge of the delivery process said.

“No companies that I know of would still do deliveries now. They are running a business and the possible price to pay is just too high.”

The source could not imagine how publishers were still able to deliver large quantities of banned books across the border, except by employing money-hungry parallel traders willing to take the risk.

The delivery industry insider‘s revelations came after Gui Minhai, a co-owner of publisher Mighty Current which owns Causeway Bay Books, was ­accused of ordering his associates to deliver about 4,000 banned books to the mainland since October 2014.

Jin Zhong, Open Magazine chief editor and publisher of banned books, said those publications had always been one of the top items for smugglers.

“ A case in point is the Hong Kong pornographic magazine, Dragon-Tiger-Panther. I have heard of someone who once bought surplus copies at HK$1 each and resold them to a smuggler for HK$5 a copy. The smuggler then transported them to the mainland at a higher rate to make a profit,” he said.

“Some of the titles produced by my publisher also get carried to the mainland. A few, such as the Chinese edition of Jung Chang’s Mao: The Unknown Story, have been reproduced in pirated editions in simplified characters and even with photo-images from cover to cover.”

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Jin said he was aware of a case of illegal publishing and distribution some years ago. The offender was sentenced to five years in prison.

Dissident poet Bei Ling, who has known Gui since the 1980s, said the only difference between what Gui was accused of doing and what other publishers usually did was that Gui handled bulk deliveries. Other publishers usually delivered from 10 to a few dozen books at a time, he said.

He cast doubt on the mainland authorities’ motives for targeting Gui and his associates, saying the accusations were an attempt to smear Gui.

Hong Kong police were informed by the Guangdong authorities on Wednesday that Gui’s associates – Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee – would be released on bail pending investigation in the next few days.

But a government source said it was unclear whether the trio could return to the city.

“The mainland authorities only stated that Lui, Cheung and Lam would be released on bail, but did not elaborate on the bail conditions,” the source said.

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