Schoolchildren, sponsored by Sun Hung Kai Properties to visit the Hong Kong Book Fair this week, brimmed with excitement as they chose their favourite titles.
"Many of them have never owned a book," says Fiona Wan, corporate communications manager at Sun Hung Kai. "They were thrilled to be able to go to the book fair and have books that belong to them."
Thanks to the company's support, about 1,000 students from underprivileged families have the chance to attend the event, which ends on Tuesday. Each student gets HK$200 to purchase a book.
Sponsorship of this kind is one of many reading initiatives rolled out by the property developer, which set up a book club five years ago to promote reading and writing in Hong Kong.
Margaret Ng, Sun Hung Kai's head of corporate communications, says the company's decision to encourage reading reflects the importance that it attaches to life-long learning.
"This is the company culture," she says. "In a knowledge-based economy that is increasingly competitive, it is important for us to enrich ourselves and broaden our horizons in order to be successful in work and in life." The book club publishes a monthly magazine - Books4You - which consists of book reviews and interviews with successful people who share their reading experiences and suggest good books. The free publication is available in shopping malls, libraries, bookstores and schools.
Sun Hung Kai also organises book review competitions. Since the introduction of the first contest in 2005, the book club receives an average of more than 10,000 entries a year.
Apart from awarding the best three entries in each of the three age-categories, Sun Hung Kai gives out book coupons as merit awards to hundreds of contestants as encouragement for them to continue reading and writing.
Wan says that cultivating a reading habit and a passion for writing in children can be challenging, as they are often distracted by a myriad of activities and forms of entertainment.
One of the highlights of the book club is a bi-annual competition - co-organised with Joint Publishing - which offers writers aged 35 or under a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to publish their debut titles. Mentoring by renowned personalities in local literary and arts circles is also available to help writers sharpen their skills and develop a better understanding of the market.
"Many people don't have access or the capital to realise their dreams," Wan says. "We hope to discover good writers and inject new blood into the literary scene in Hong Kong."
Of more than 1,000 applications received last year, eight winners were selected and their books were on sale at last year's Hong Kong Book Fair and in major bookstores.
Clayton Lo, one of the winners from last year, says the publication of his first book - a collection of poems about his experience as a visually-impaired person - has raised awareness of the challenges faced by people with visual impairments, and drawn attention to the ways they are portrayed in the media, which often does not reflect reality. "I think my book has triggered a debate on how visually-impaired people should be described and presented in the media. I've been approached by people who would like to explore this issue further," he says.
Between the lines
Outdoor reading programmes
Seminars delivered by celebrated writers, such as Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung and Leung Man-tao
Seminars on child psychology and how parents can read with their children, and help them face challenges