As Hong Kong’s publishing industry feels the growing weight of the political, legal and social changes China’s communist party has imposed on the city, a Taiwan-based auction house is selling non-fungible tokens of manga artwork created in the former British colony as a way of preserving its distinct culture and history.

Lootex, a decentralized, Taipei-headquartered NFT marketplace, recently held a sale of NFTs of the first volume of “Buddha’s Palm,” a famous Hong Kong manga series first published in the 1980s. 

The NFT platform quickly sold out of a total of 20 copies, each sold for 0.05 BinanceCoin (about US$15.60 at press time), according to Lootex Co-founder and CEO Justine Lu. 

“Buddha’s Palm,” also known as “The Force of Buddha’s Palm,” is a fantasy martial arts manga series created by Tony Wong, a well-known master manga artist in Hong Kong. It depicts the adventures of a young apprentice of Buddha’s Palm, the most powerful force in the story. The manga was widely praised as one of the top four Hong Kong manga series when it was published.

Censorship, fear and flight

The NFT sale comes as Hong Kong’s publishing industry is under siege amid a slew of repressive legal and political measures forced on the formerly freewheeling city by Beijing. Even before the imposition of the communist party-drafted National Security Law last year, Hong Kong book publishers had been effectively forced to self-censor. Some authors looked to nearby Taiwan as a haven in which they could operate freely.

Lu said Lootex had created the manga NFT in view of the restrictions being imposed on publishing in Hong Kong. 

“[The Hong Kong government] could take aim at some comic books such as ‘Teddy Boy’ or ‘Buddha’s Palm’,” Lu told Forkast.News in an interview. “These could be some things that don’t really fall in favor of the government, so I feel we are doing something meaningful to help preserve their culture.”

Lu said Hong Kong had yet to impose clear restrictions on publishing comic books, but that the market was in the doldrums, with only a handful of local manga series still being published.

“Publishers have also expressed concerns over how rampant unauthorized digital versions of manga could be, which has long been a headache for them,” Lu said. “NFTs allow publishers to officially sell digital versions of manga, which is a promising approach for them.”

One buyer of the manga NFT wrote in a Lootex group chat shown to Forkast.News by Lu that he was glad that he had been able to get hold of the NFT because he regretted not being able to buy the full-color “Buddha’s Palm” books four decades ago.

A 24-year-old from Hong Kong who had watched a TV show adapted from the manga told Forkast.News that the specific NFT might be more appealing for older fans as it was “a few generations ahead of us.”

Cultural preservation

Terence Leong, a co-founder of Taiwan-based NFT platform OURSONG and chief content officer of music streaming service KKBOX, told Forkast.News that NFTs could preserve culture. 

“[An NFT] is essentially a container that encapsulates anything,” he said.

Leong said that as long as a cultural artifact or a moment in history could be turned into a form of media content that could be captured in such a way, it “stays forever on blockchain.” 

Some Hong Kong activists also share the idea of preserving content on blockchains. When Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, the city’s biggest-circulation pro-democracy newspaper, was forced by the government to shut down last month, a 21-year-old local developer started a “dAppleDaily” project to “decentralize Apple Daily” by scraping content from the paper’s website and putting it on Arweave, a decentralized data storage platform.

“It’s unjust for the regime to ban Apple Daily,” the developer, who gave their surname as Ho, told Forkast.News at the time. “The truth is important. Human history is important and needs to be written by the people.”

In addition to “Buddha’s Palm,” Lootex also sells NFTs related to other famous Hong Kong manga series, including “Teddy Boy” and “Chinese Hero.”

Danny Park also contributed to this report.