Hong Kongers read as one

Written By Ema Poposka

The first One City One Book event in Hong Kong started on January 5, 2019 and will last this entire year. The first book selected for sharing among Hong Kong readers is the graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan. The event opened with an exhibition of illustrations from the book at the Hong Kong Art Center and will be followed by other events, discussions, school workshops and theatre performances.


One City One Book is a name for a community-reading programme centred around one book, which has been going on for the past two decades in many cities, primarily in the USA, but also other cities around the world. It was initiated in Seattle Public Library with Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter.  Since then more than 100 books have served the purpose of gathering communities of readers around the world. The event encourages as many people as possible to read and discuss the same book at around the same time.

The Arrival was selected as the book for the inaugural Hong Kong One City One Book programme for specific reasons. “It is wordless, consists of only visual storytelling without the use of words, which helps to overcome all language issues that might be obstacles for such an event in multilingual Hong Kong,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Clapp, one of the organizers. “The book is accessible to different age groups, and the topics it covers are very topical for Hong Kong’s society,” adds Dr. Bidisha Banerjee, from the Hong Kong Education University, the main initiator of the event in Hong Kong.

Shaun Tan is a Chinese-Australian author. He received the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for his contribution to children’s literature and won the Oscar for best animated short in the same year for the film adaptation of his book The Lost Thing.

The Arrival is a story about migration, cultural dislocation, curiosity and empathy. It presents the hardships of migration due to war and poverty. However, it offers a happy ending in a new strange country. Being wordless, “the book invites the readers to be the co-creators of the story”, says Dr. Banerjee, “adding their own layers to the stories of migration.”

The book abounds with illustrations of strange creatures that populate the strange country. Some visitors liked the shadow of a dragon or unknown creature. One of the visitors noted that her favourite drawing from the book The Arrival was the last page of the book with both of the girls because it shows girl power and gender empowerment. Another young girl visiting the exhibition pointed out that the drawing with all the refugees was her favourite because the refugees are from different races and they have different ages but they help each other and care about each other and can adapt to a new life at a new place.

As part of the exhibition, there were two events for the public to attend. On January 5 a lecture in English was held, including Dr. Banerjee,  Dr. Poposki and Professor Kathleen Ahrens. A sharing session in Cantonese with Mr. Wai-sum, Eddie Cheung, art critic took place on January 12. A local Hong Kong visitor of the exhibition stressed that his only wish was to have more local people from Hong Kong to come to the events and learn more about the topics of the book.


The exhibition received a positive reception, visitors expressing that the curator, Dr. Zoran Poposki, had done a great job presenting the works. The exhibition showcased about forty of the illustrations in a photorealistic style, two videos by Shaun Tan, and an activity area. In one of his shorter videos, Shaun Tan demonstrated how to draw the Strange Animal from his book. Visitors could watch the instruction and then use the available supplies to try and draw their own strange animal.

The members of the RCHK Young Curators Club, including students from Year 5 and Year 6, led by Ms. Hamilton and Ms. Psillides, visited the exhibition on January 8 and received a guided tour and a lecture in curatorial practice by Dr. Poposki. They also sketched some of their impressions from Shaun Tan’s illustrations.

The exhibition closed on January 13, but the project will continue during the whole year with many events being announced at different venues. RCHK students are invited to check the projects website or Facebook page for updates and to join in the discussions.