[Selected book excerpts]
Louisa Lim, the author of “Return to Tiananmen”, has a Singaporean Chinese father and a British mother. She spent her childhood in Hong Kong; since 2003, she has worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the National Public Radio (National Public Radio). NPR), stationed in Beijing and Shanghai for 10 years. When the anti-extradition movement surged in Hong Kong in 2019 and the suppression continued to escalate, Lin Mulian began to study Hong Kong historical documents in depth, only to find that Hong Kong people lacked self-identity under the rule of the British Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist regime. Historical memory is So incomplete and tampered with: “Who are we? What are we defending? And then we start discussing what are the core values of Hong Kong.”
In the end, Lin Mulin tried to break away from the official definition, whether it was the British or the Chinese historical framework. She wanted to write a history for Hong Kong, a history written by Hong Kong people themselves and by everyone who “really loves Hong Kong.” to interpret history.
And the beginning of all this will be discussed by Tsang Tso Choi, the “Emperor of Kowloon” who some say is a street artist, some say he is a calligrapher, and some even say he is a lunatic. Tsang Tso-choi claimed that he was the owner of the land and the king of Hong Kong. He used the pen and ink in his hands to “declare sovereignty” tirelessly for 50 years. The Emperor of Kowloon is like a symbol. The Hong Kong people who occupied the streets with their bodies, the Hong Kong people who tried to take back their own history and memory, and the Hong Kong people who continue to challenge the control of the Chinese Communist Party overseas will need more decisive perseverance and the will to resist── ─This is the strength and hope that Lin Mulian’s “Hong Kong Unyielding: A City That Cannot Be Erased” is intended to pass on.
This article is the postscript of “Hong Kong Unyielding” and was published with the authorization of Eight Banners Culture. The title and subtitles in the article were rewritten by the editor of “The Reporter”.
If we are really guilty, then our crime is to dare to spread hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong. I am not afraid or ashamed of going to jail. If this cup of bitterness cannot be removed, I will drink it without regret. ──Bai Yaoting
There is a wall in Central, an inconspicuous yellow-gray stone wall, 100 meters high and 25 meters long. After decades of people coming and going, the wall has been severely worn. I passed by it often and didn’t notice anything special. Until one day, someone told me the secret of this wall. On a sultry afternoon after a heavy rainstorm, the wall seemed to be enchanted, and the ghostly writing was faintly visible in the dim light.
The late Emperor of Kowloon left a letter on this long wall, claiming that he was the owner of the territory. Of course, these writings were quickly covered with a layer of paint by government workers, just like other places, but something unexpected happened here. It turns out that the ink used by the Kowloon Emperor here was specially prepared by Zhong Yanqi. He added acrylic paint or oil to make the ink very viscous. Years of wind and sun have taken away the handwriting of the Kowloon Emperor, leaving dark glyph marks on the mottled light gray walls. These marks are not obvious at ordinary times, but whenever it rains, the handwriting of the Kowloon Emperor will faintly reappear like a photographic film.
I discovered this wall in 2015 and took Chen Shuzhuang to see it on site. Chen Shuzhuang is a lawyer and member of the Legislative Council, and one of the founders of the Civic Party. She looks as bright as a star, determined and confident. She always actively interacts with voters and often expresses her political stance with eye-catching actions. For example, one time she shaved her hair to protest China’s imposition of election rules. hair. In 2010, she asked the Legislative Council to conduct a formal investigation into the existing works of the Kowloon Emperor in public spaces, and accused the government of failing to properly protect his works. I made an appointment with her for coffee, the place was near that wall, and I told her the story of that wall. Her eyes immediately lit up and she expressed that she wanted to go and see it right away.
It had just rained that day, so the wall felt damp and warm. The weather was hot and humid, and the wall was almost steaming.
Regardless of the fact that she was wearing high heels and a white skirt with orange and pink flowers printed on it today, Chen Shuzhuang knelt directly on the sidewalk and leaned close to the wall to carefully examine the original work of the Kowloon Emperor. “There’s a word ‘big’ here,” she exclaimed excitedly, “and a word ‘day’! Interesting!” A group of businessmen in neat suits happened to walk by. They were busy talking on the phone, and when they passed us, they He slowed down and looked at the famous politician squatting on the ground with confusion, screaming at a bare and empty wall.
Chen Shuzhuang commutes between her office and the Legislative Council every day. She passes this wall countless times but has never noticed it. Central is the political and economic heart of Hong Kong. The Emperor of Kowloon was so capable of hiding his works in such a prosperous and eye-catching location. His legacy is deeply woven into the city and has become as much a part of the city’s spirit as those protest slogans. Whether his work is seen or not is no longer important.
“This work is part of Hong Kong’s history,” said Chan Suk-chuang, stroking the handwriting left on the wall. “It is part of us.”
In 2022, after an artist newly discovered Tsang Tso Choi’s works under a railway bridge in Hong Kong, some groups immediately started recording and preserving them. (Photography/ANTHONY KWAN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
In the years since we explored the wall together, Chen Shuzhuang’s life has changed a lot. She was elected as a member of the Legislative Council, but was later charged with public nuisance and other crimes for participating in Occupy Central. She was listed as one of the nine Occupy Central members along with Chen Jianmin and Tai Yiu-ting. However, because she had a brain tumor larger than a table tennis ball , needed surgery, so he was not jailed. Chen Shuzhuang once wrote a book titled “Walking, Eating and Fighting,” but later, this magenta paperback was suddenly removed from the library’s shelves.
Hong Kong implemented the severe National Security Law just before midnight on June 30, 2020, on the eve of the annual demonstrations commemorating the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland. Chen Shuzhuang’s books were the first victims. The new law bans sedition, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers, but there are no clear guidelines on how these crimes are defined. It overturned the current “mini-constitution” and the Basic Law, and also established a separate legal framework for crimes endangering national security, theoretically allowing suspects to be tried in mainland China. It was Beijing’s response to the massive protest movement in 2019. The fuse that sparked the movement in the first place was the problem of delivery.
Experts selected by the British Hong Kong government from all walks of life must be appointed by the Queen of England for a two-year term to question the bill.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration has been suffering for this. A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed it as a historical document without any practical significance. However, this time, before the National Security Law came into effect, no Hong Kong person had read the content, not even Carrie Lam herself. This law is listed directly in the annex to the Basic Law, allowing Beijing to completely ignore Hong Kong’s system and the due process they require.
People say that this is the second handover of sovereignty and the real handover. What Hong Kong people fear most has finally happened. Beijing has been waiting for Hong Kong to formulate its own national security law for 17 years since Hong Kong people protested against the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law. Now they have lost patience. Immediately after the bill came into effect, China’s terrifying national security agencies commandeered a hotel late at night to serve as the office of the Central People’s Government’s Office for the Maintenance of National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. On the first day that the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law came into effect, 10 people who participated in the July 1st parade were arrested on suspicion of violating the National Security Law, including a 15-year-old girl waving the Hong Kong independence flag and a person behind a motorcycle. A knight hanging a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times”. The motorcyclist later became the first person to be convicted under the National Security Law. Since that day, what was once a popular protest slogan has become illegal, and the few remaining Lennon Walls have been hastily demolished. I once saw people holding up white paper in protest on the street. There were eight people standing in a row on the sidewalk, each holding a blank piece of paper in their hand. That scene has always been deeply etched in my mind. These people can only express their dissatisfaction with the censorship in this way, because this is the only way they can safely “shout” the eight-character slogan. Language also began to be lost.
A few days later, the library’s books also disappeared, including Chen Shuzhuang’s books. She didn’t know the reason, but she suspected it had something to do with the Chinese title of the book “Walking, Eating and Fighting.” “Is it because there is a problem with the word protest, or is it because of my name Chen Shuzhuang, or is it because my entire existence has become a problem after the National Security Law? I have no answer.” The ambiguity in the law makes it impossible for people to protect themselves. More and more people have the same worries as her:
“You don’t know when you will step into these traps, or even when you will touch these red lines, because red lines are everywhere and they are constantly moving.”
There is a wall in a certain university called the “Democracy Wall,” but it is blank and surrounded by plastic barricades. The symbolism is chilling. Democracy has actually become a forbidden area. This void is growing larger and larger, devouring not only words and books, but also ideas and people’s ways of thinking.
Beijing’s ultimate goal is to gain full control. It has torn off its false mask and done things that are destroying the one country, two systems plan it proposed. Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law has in one fell swoop undermined the high degree of autonomy it had promised to Hong Kong, sidelined Hong Kong’s judiciary and abolished the city’s rule of law. It’s like a construction worker not only tearing down the entire house but also plowing the ground beneath the foundation to fix a leaky pipe.
Next, the government banned gatherings of more than two people on the grounds of epidemic safety and postponed the Legislative Council election for one year, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2019 district council election in which the pan-democrats won an overwhelming victory. The Hong Kong government has sped up arrests and the law has sometimes been made retroactive. Just shouting protest slogans will be regarded as “publishing incitement”. Lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China will be charged with “colluding with foreign countries or external forces.” At times, the authorities appear to be waging a war on language itself, and the battleground is global; Beijing insists it will enforce the national security law around the world, even charging non-Hong Kong residents or activists who are not even in Hong Kong.
The impact of this move was dramatic and immediate. I used to be part of dozens of Telegram groups. Hong Kong people communicate and plan protest actions in these groups. The message notifications never stop. My phone is buzzing all the time, but now, everything is quiet. People are so fearful of China’s online surveillance capabilities that they are closing their accounts and asking their contacts to delete their chats. They worried that what they posted on Facebook and Twitter was illegal and began deleting the posts. This is worse than self-censorship. In this digital age, large-scale self-cancellation behavior has begun to occur.
Tougher things are yet to come. Hong Kong government officials have long been considered colorless but capable bureaucrats. They are highly respected and trusted, and their excellent efficiency allows the city to run smoothly. But today, top-level officials often tell ridiculous, shameless, and obviously fabricated lies at press conferences. If the upper beam is not straight, it is no wonder that the lower beam is crooked.
The worst representative is none other than Carrie Lam. Every public statement she makes is full of lies. In December 2019, even though the police took action to ban people from holding demonstrations, she still insisted that Hong Kong’s freedoms had not been damaged at all. In September 2020, she even believed that Hong Kong’s executive, legislative and judicial powers were not the “separation of powers” but the “separation of powers.” Of course this is not what Hong Kong’s secondary school textbooks say, but Carrie Lam said these textbooks need to be rewritten to correct this misunderstanding that has persisted for many years. In March 2021, Beijing directly rewrote Hong Kong’s electoral system, not only significantly reducing the number of directly elected seats, but also allowing the National Security Department of the police to review election candidates. However, Carrie Lam herself believes that this is a move towards a more democratic goal. Hong Kong not only faces the dilemma of having its past history revised, but also the current reality that is actually happening.
She knew full well that what she was saying was not true, and she knew that everyone knew she was lying. Massive gaslighting unfolds in reality, a naked display of power that forces people to swallow apparently contradictory statements. And not only that, these actions are all attempts to confuse Hong Kong people’s understanding of themselves and make Hong Kong people begin to doubt the nature of reality and knowledge. This is a tactic used by authoritarian governments, and history tells us it works. In the past, the Chinese Communist Party rewrote the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989. Now a similar situation is happening, which is really horrifying.
At that time, the CCP launched a series of large-scale propaganda activities in an attempt to change the narrative step by step. First of all, the Communist Party continued to propagandize to the public that that night was not a peaceful protest, but a counter-revolutionary riot. Even though a large number of people witnessed the reality with their own eyes, it still tried to rewrite the memory of that moment. Then as time went by, the leaflets gradually disappeared from the library, and TV stations no longer broadcast scenes of arrests of fugitives. Silence dominates society, slowly eroding implanted memories and then erasing them entirely.
★Extended reading: “Exclusive interview with Lin Mulian: The CCP used the “forgetting technique” on June 4th. 30 years later, what people challenge is not the party, but the truth”
The party-state system has been so effective in this regard that many young Chinese have no idea what happened on June 4, 1989. When I was writing the book “Return to Tiananmen”, I was shocked to discover that a bloody crackdown also occurred in Chengdu on the same day. However, few people know about this period of history, and it has been erased just like the Six-Day War in Hong Kong in 1899. I know that this method of erasing history is common in communist China. But I never imagined that the same process would happen in Hong Kong. In particular, Hong Kong people are generally highly educated and interact frequently with the world. It is a very global city.
When the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement began, I didn’t originally want to compare it to the Tiananmen crackdown, but I kept seeing similarities. For example, at the beginning, Carrie Lam described most of the peaceful demonstrations as “riots,” which reminded me of the famous People’s Daily editorial in 1989, describing student protests as “riots.” These tone-setting behaviors are called “correcting names” in Confucianism, which means ensuring that an event has a correct name to express the correct political stance. When Hong Kong officials criticized foreign hostile forces as being behind the protests, I noticed that the term “black hands” came from the Tiananmen incident. Although there were no troops closing in and firing on people, the police beating protesters with batons reminded me of the horrific crackdown on protests in Chengdu. The protests in Chengdu that year did not end with tank suppression, but were violently suppressed by the “People’s Armed Police Force” holding batons and using high-pressure water cannons. On the streets of Hong Kong, the police have upgraded their weapons, using water cannons that spray blue chemical liquid, sonic cannons, and large amounts of tear gas. Although the weapons and equipment of the police are different, the tactics are exactly the same, and they will also violently beat the protestors.
One year after the anti-extradition movement was launched, I participated in the June 4th candlelight memorial held by the Hong Kong community in Melbourne. The organizers set up a screen to project a highlight reel, which flashed scenes of state violence in Beijing in 1989 and Hong Kong in 2019. I watched a Hong Kong policeman easily break the arm of a protester as he lay on the ground, and then the next scene was a scene of mass arrests, with rows of young men kneeling on the sidewalk, their hands tied behind their backs. And then you hear the clatter of sticks hitting flesh, as police are violently striking protesters in the head with their batons. That moment was really disgusting, but it was also at that moment that I suddenly realized that I had written about these scenes, and they were all things that happened in Chengdu that the witnesses I interviewed had shared with me. Now, the same scene is playing out in Hong Kong, repeating itself day and night for several months.
Hong Kong has always been the only place in China that can hold June Fourth commemoration activities. In 2020, Hong Kong’s June Fourth Candlelight Vigil was banned for the first time on the grounds of epidemic prevention. But despite this, there were still Hong Kong people present that day, because the annual collective mourning has become so ingrained that it has become an instinct, and they don’t know what else to do. They walked to Victoria Park, maintaining social distance in groups and sitting quietly on the ground; some also went to community parks together, where people from different places spontaneously gathered together to mourn. This is a huge change because in recent years many young people in Hong Kong have refused to attend the June Fourth candlelight vigil because they believe that what happened in China so long ago has no bearing on their lives. But now it is undeniable that what happened more than 30 years ago has become a terrifying wake-up call for Hong Kong people. Chen Jianmin told me: “Now we are facing similar repression. In 1989, it only took one night, but in Hong Kong, it took us 9 months to experience the repression. This is no longer just a history, but what is happening now. .”
At that vigil, I heard a new slogan for the first time: “Hong Kong independence! The only way out!” This movement is overturning all previous notions of sanctity. Few believe Hong Kong has a way to become independent, but the power of the words lies in their expression of solidarity, confrontation and rejection of communist China. In 2021, the authorities threatened those attending memorial services with five years in prison. But in fact, some well-known pro-democracy activists have already been sentenced to up to 10 months in prison for attending the 2020 Victoria Park June 4 candlelight vigil. My books were also classified as sensitive books and were removed from the shelves of public libraries and moved to reference libraries, where they are no longer available for borrowing by the public. 7,000 police officers were deployed on site to surround the park and prevent people from conducting any collective commemorative activities. This time, Hong Kong people are still unwilling to accept the threat. At 8:09 p.m., the time for lighting candles in the past, people spontaneously gathered outside the park and walked around the park. Some people still took out candles or raised their mobile phones high and turned on their mobile phone lights. New graffiti also began to appear on the streets, such as someone scrawling “June 4th” on the pillars of a building. Someone spray-painted a black outline of a candle on a salmon-colored wall, with the words “People’s hearts will never die” written underneath. Although the authorities later hurriedly covered the candle with a black plastic bag, it was still unable to completely cover up the graffiti on the candle, and the flame did not go out.
Sometimes I remember that I had lunch with a lawyer friend many years ago. When he mentioned a famous Hong Kong person, he used the term “dissident” to refer to him. But as soon as he said the words, he paused, Then he corrected his wording. “Not a dissident,” he said, “but an elected member of the public.” Various actions by China have turned many Hong Kong people into dissidents. These actions continue to create exiles, political refugees, and even more exaggeratedly, boat people. The first case involved 12 young people, the youngest of whom was only 16 years old. They were arrested on suspicion of participating in protests and tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat while on bail. These fugitives were intercepted by the Chinese Coast Guard on the way and sent to China to be detained for several months before being charged with illegally crossing the border. Hong Kong, once a refuge for Vietnamese boat people and Tiananmen student leaders, has become a place of escape.
It all changed so fast that we barely had time to record it before something worse happened. The fate of the Legislature is a case in point. Four moderate pro-democracy congressmen were stripped of their seats for “endangering national security” after they called on the United States to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for defending human rights. The remaining 15 democratic congressmen protested and subsequently announced their collective resignation. Just like that, the opposition disappeared and the Legislature was completely transformed. When Carrie Lam delivered her policy address, the audience in the parliament was unusually quiet. The members on the floor were all from pro-Hong Kong government factions. Some were dozing in their seats or looking at photos of others dozing. Some people even took advantage of their free time to order an expensive hairy crab dinner from a restaurant. Hong Kong politics is over, and the once vibrant Legislative Council has now become a rubber stamp. In order to be foolproof, Beijing has overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure that only “patriots” can run, requiring candidates to be vetted by the police’s National Security Division, and reducing the number of directly elected seats. One politician commented that Beijing was now “100 percent sure” that it could get the results it wanted in Hong Kong.
Soon, Hong Kong’s press freedom came to an end. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, who is in his 70s, appeared in court charged with endangering national security and other charges. Not only was his hands handcuffed, but there was also a chain wrapped around his waist. One of his charges is “colluding with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” The evidence is said to be his posts on social media and interviews with foreign media. In June 2021, a group of senior executives of Apple Daily, including the editorial writer, were arrested on suspicion of endangering national security. Later, the newspaper’s funds were frozen and it was forced to announce its suspension. The last newspaper it printed had a front-page headline that read: “Hong Kong people bid farewell in the rain, we support Apple.” Under the headline was a photo of a crowd of people rushing to the newspaper office, waving their mobile phone lights towards the building. Congratulations to the newspaper staff who are producing the “obituaries” inside. The city has a population of 7.5 million people. A total of 1 million copies of this last newspaper were printed and all were sold out. The next day, all the newspaper’s online information disappeared. Beijing’s use of force has firmly controlled the narrative, and alternative views or interpretations of history are now at risk.
Internet freedom is gradually tightening, and some websites have been closed on national security grounds. Civil servants now have to swear allegiance to the government, and the neutrality that was always cherished in the past has come to an end. Some school teachers have been sentenced to life-long bans from teaching. Some were accused of “distorting” history in the classroom, while others were accused of spreading “Hong Kong independence” messages in textbooks. All kinds of freedoms are not being nibbled away or eroded, but violently and greedily pushed down and trampled on. People are trying to find ways to exit en masse, while capital is also fleeing.
At the behest of the law, Hong Kong has been swallowed up by China’s overwhelming national security needs. A society that was originally quite liberal turned into an authoritarian one overnight.
Every day brought worse news. Friends and interviewees were arrested one after another at an alarming rate. It happened that more than 50 people were rounded up and detained in one day because they participated in the primary elections for the Legislative Council election held by the democratic parties. They endured a marathon interrogation that lasted all night, during which they were unable to eat. As a result, eight defendants collapsed and were rushed to the hospital. Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese legal studies, criticized this in an article as an “outrageous mockery of judicial justice.” The final result was that 47 people were charged with “conspiracy to subvert state power” and could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted. All this shows that in the eyes of the CCP, Hong Kong’s system and various freedoms guaranteed by the system have posed a threat to its national security, so it is trying to use the National Security Law to dismantle these freedoms.
Among the 47 people were Tai Yaoting, the initiator of Occupy Central, and Yang Yueqiao, a politician who had always stood between the police and protesters. Some of them continued to hold protest signs when they appeared in court. They have lost everything in this dangerous game except their freedom of thought, something that cannot be taken away even by imprisonment. In 2018, Dai Yaoting made a closing statement in the court of the Occupy Central Nine Sons case, which still applies to the new generation of political prisoners:
“If we are really guilty, then our crime is to dare to spread hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong. I am not afraid of going to jail, nor am I ashamed. If this cup of bitterness cannot be taken away, I will drink it without regrets. “
A member of the Legislative Council was found guilty of assaulting a police officer after he caused ear discomfort to police officers by shouting loudly. A bus driver who honked his horn at police during a protest was charged with “dangerous driving” and must perform 100 hours of community service. Five speech therapists were charged with “conspiracy to publish, publish, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publications” for publishing picture books including “Yangcun Guardian”. These accusations are sometimes ridiculous, but when I keep seeing familiar faces on the social media river, with blank and pale faces being escorted into police cars, I can’t help but laugh at all.
National security education is so popular that it tightly controls the curriculum planning of campuses at all levels. Even biology and geography have national security education curriculum frameworks. History books were rewritten, all the way to 220 BC, to emphasize that Hong Kong has been part of China’s territory since ancient times. Those teachers who had the courage to speak out and question the official position had their teaching qualifications revoked. Pro-Beijing politicians and business tycoons are increasingly calling for all courses to be taught in Mandarin, otherwise the world is developing rapidly and China’s economic development cannot stop waiting for Hong Kong. The Civil Rights Front, which participated in organizing the large-scale protest movement in 2019, announced its dissolution in 2021. The Commissioner of Police claimed that he would investigate whether his 2019 protests violated the National Security Law. However, the National Security Law only came into effect in 2020, and this law seems to completely ignore the context of time and space. This war against Hong Kong culture is in full swing, rapidly and violently attacking Hong Kong in an all-round way, completely destroying the will and ability of resistance of Hong Kong people.
Hong Kong is no longer a city where two worlds coexist at the same time, but a city where people flee collectively. In August 2021, Hong Kong’s new “Immigration Ordinance Amendment” will take effect, and the Hong Kong government can restrict anyone from leaving Hong Kong. Now even the freedom to leave is gone. For Hong Kong people, they face a series of losses, big and small, every day, but the most devastating among them is that they lose their future. For a long time in the past, Hong Kong has been a free-spirited city. As long as you can imagine it, it can do almost everything, and it is always developing, constantly reclaiming land from the sea, expanding outward, and constantly building high-rise buildings. Race against the sky. The same is true in politics. The political situation in Hong Kong has always been an impossible thought experiment, but it worked miraculously successfully for a while until it began to unravel. Growing up, we always thought we had the advantages of both the Chinese and Western worlds, but now we are trapped in a completely different universe. We imagined this impossible city and made it a reality, but today it is difficult to imagine what its future will be like. The journey home is disillusioned; home no longer exists.
Those days marching in the streets changed us. The summer heat is steaming, the midday sun is refracted through the glass windows of high-rise buildings, and we squeeze the six-lane expressway to a crawl. Everyone was sweating profusely and feeling the power of the collective imagination coming to life. Even if someone has already written the ending for us, we still bravely write our own stories. Looking back on those days of protesting in the streets, I feel like a fever dream, both beautiful and terrifying.
One day I found a souvenir in a box from one of my early marches. I unfolded it and looked at it, and the image in front of me shocked my heart. It was a cream-colored flag with a pattern of birds flying among blue-green clouds printed on it. In the center of the flag, black graffiti-style words read “100% Freedom.” In the lower right corner of the flag is written the English text “Let us stand up as Hong Kongers.” (Let us stand up as Hong Kongers.) I feel that this flag is speaking to me, speaking to my identity as a reporter. Stand up, not kneel or squat, or use a convenient shield during reporting. It is cowardly to blindly hold up the banner of neutrality when morality requires one to take a stand. Just like a fisherman who goes fishing at sea, it is impossible to remain neutral against the approaching typhoon; if he wants to save himself and his boat, he must find a way to prevent himself from being swallowed by the huge waves. However, only the closer he gets to the storm, the better he can describe the real situation, such as the howling wind, biting rain, and the rolling waves that make people feel dizzy and see the huge power that destroys everything.
When I worked at the BBC we often talked about the value of “standback pieces”. Reporters do not have any personal opinions and conduct interviews and reports in a detached manner.But no matter where Hong Kong people are, no one can stay away. Unable to escape, they could only watch in horror as their homes were destroyed. To stand idly by as Hong Kong’s political turmoil unfolds betrays my duty as a Hong Konger, but to stand up and take a stand betrays my duty as a journalist. Because carefully maintaining distance and maintaining neutrality are the professional ethics of a journalist. However, when it comes to which is the most honest way, I still choose to stand up.
At this moment, I had already given up on my original journalistic mission. After I embarked on the journey to pursue the Kowloon Emperor, those principles and issues that were once important to me became unimportant. I am still not sure whether the Kowloon Emperor was mentally ill, and I have absolutely no way of confirming whether his claim to own land is true or false. To me, the Kowloon Emperor’s declaration of land sovereignty is morally reasonable and highly symbolic. The content of his territorial claim is less important than how the fictional claim later became reality. Our crazy old emperor has an incomparable imagination. His imagination extends to places we often ignore, such as mailboxes, street lamps, curbs, and walls, helping us express the emotions hidden beneath our consciousness.
His imagination became ours as we transformed him into the monarch he dreamed of being. We wrote eulogies and obituaries for him, included him in poetry, and incorporated his work into wallpaper designs and whiskey brands. Even if it becomes a commodity, whether it is fashionable sneakers with his handwriting printed on it or fake calligraphy on the wall of Starbucks, his subversive ideas still whisper to us and continue to influence us.
The Emperor of Kowloon relied on his strong will to declare his sovereignty over Hong Kong, and we began to be forced to think about how we view sovereignty. But today our dreams are against the law, our anthems and slogans are banned, and our ideas are killed before they even sprout.Now all of us are the Emperor of Kowloon. We have been deprived of our identity and belonging, leaving only loss and melancholy.Having said that, the public actually still has different opinions on the work of Emperor Kowloon. Hong Kong’s M+ Art Museum, which cost millions of dollars to build, finally opened in November 2021. The first work of the first special exhibition is the graffiti of the Kowloon Emperor written on two large wooden doors. Curator Peng Qiyun said that the reason why these two wooden doors are on display is because they represent Hong Kong’s visual culture. The public relations release written to the media described the Kowloon Emperor’s work from a pro-China perspective as “an act of resistance to British colonial rule.” However, this interpretation completely ignored and disrespected the Kowloon Emperor’s lifelong assertion of territorial ownership.
Once, a few years before the protest movement, I visited a well-known Hong Kong artist who considered himself a follower of the Kowloon Emperor. He told me that the Kowloon Emperor was his hero. I asked him, what did he learn from the Kowloon Emperor?
“Determination,” he said, “as a person, not an artist. He was a man who acted for something he believed in deeply, consistently over the years. I don’t see anyone who can match him.”
Another follower of the Kowloon Emperor gave me a different answer. I asked him what he learned from the Kowloon Emperor, and he answered me:
“As a Hong Konger, I tell other people my story. I tell other people the story of Hong Kong.”
Thinking back to that afternoon, the afternoon when I picked up a paintbrush and joined in the procession of painting protest slogans on the hot roof, I was originally caught in a moral dilemma and finally figured it out.I haven’t violated any principles, I’m just another follower of the Kowloon Emperor. This journey to pursue the Emperor of Kowloon is doomed to be fruitless, but since I started on this path, I have taken over the thoughts of this old scavenger. Even though I still can’t figure out his mysterious life experience, his story still inspired me to write my own story, a story of resistance and loss, and the story of Hong Kong that I, as a Hong Konger, have witnessed.
Since returning to Australia, I have been thinking about what that follower said. I formed a reading group in Australia with a group of Hong Kong doctoral students to study Hong Kong identity. Melbourne has gone through a long period of restrictions on going out during the epidemic, and we agreed to discuss relevant academic papers on Zoom once a week. One time it happened that the National Security Law was promulgated. After that, we stopped having meetings, stopped reading papers, and completely stopped discussing the issue of Hong Kong identity. Even the apartment in Hong Kong that I had always planned to live in again was put up for sale the day after the law came into effect. Today in Hong Kong, people are at risk of being arbitrarily detained, and many countries will soon start putting Hong Kong on travel alerts; but the problem goes beyond that. My gut tells me that Hong Kong is no longer a good place to raise children. .
We had no idea that all of us would become exiles, even those of us who were still in Hong Kong. The topics our book groups studied became irrelevant. After all, how should one study something that could be a crime just by expressing it? The situation was so chaotic that it was difficult to concentrate, and one by one my friends applied for time off. They received calls from their parents warning them not to return home. After watching the series Unorthodox on Netflix, a friend posted a question in the group:
“Are we Hong Kongers the same as the Jews after the Holocaust? In order for us all to survive, does it become my responsibility to have children overseas?”
A few months passed, Melbourne finally came out of lockdown, and our research group started meeting again. We were eating sweet and sticky mango slices in the park. The sun was so bright that our eyes couldn’t adapt to it and they all squinted. The restaurant reopened for indoor use and we shared a table full of steaming dumplings. At Christmas, we threw lotus roots and fish balls into the boiling hot pot while listening to Cantonese pop music. Halfway through the meal, a new guest joined us, bringing warm chicken cakes. We passed the cake around like a sacrament to everyone in the room. Everyone carefully broke the few mouthfuls of soft and elastic batter, tasted the taste of hometown in small sips, and missed our own memories of Hong Kong. The sweet homesickness suddenly turned a little bitter.
In Hong Kong, there is now almost no room for imagining what it means to be a Hong Konger. The Lennon Wall has disappeared, and Internet surveillance has become increasingly strict. Protest stickers that were once everywhere have now become underground publications and can only be circulated secretly behind closed doors. Apple Daily no longer exists. For some time in the past, it has been a window of resistance. Hong Kong people expressed their support for the newspaper by increasing the newspaper’s revenue in some ways, such as buying shares in Jimmy Lai’s company or placing personal advertisements in the newspaper. These advertisements will be printed in different colors and arranged like a checkerboard, just like a newspaper version of Lennon Wall. I listened to people shouting over and over again “We really like Hong Kong”, this slogan is one of the few safer slogans nowadays.
One day, an antique jewelry store published a full-page advertisement with both front and back sides. The first side is almost completely blank, save for a photo of an old slide. The photo showed a gray brick wall. There had been writing on the wall, but it had been erased, leaving only four black stains. There is a sentence written above the photo: “No matter how dark the night is, it cannot block the light.” The other side of the advertisement is also almost blank, with four upside-down black graffiti Chinese characters in a mirror image in the middle. If you hold this piece of paper up to the sun, you will see the reproduction of the original work hidden by the Emperor of Kowloon: the sun penetrates the gray wall, and the four shadows that were originally painted black fade away, revealing the four shadows underneath. Big characters: “Hong Kong Chongguang”.
“Hong Kong Unyielding: A City That Cannot Be Erased”, written by Louisa Lim, translated by Liao Peixing, Eight Banners Culture
Under the “Second Transfer of Sovereignty”, it was not just words that were lost
Under the open lies of the system, it is not just the narrative that has been rewritten
Similarities between the Tiananmen Suppression and the Anti-Extradition Movement
Hong Kong is no longer a city with two worlds at the same time
Now all of us are Emperors of Kowloon