Hong Kong Apostasy
Kitty Hung Hiu Han (洪曉嫻, 1989-) is an educator and writer. During her undergraduate years with the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies at Hong Kong Chinese University she was active both in the university’s Tolo Poetry Society 吐露詩社 and the student newspaper. She has participated in the editorial collective of Fleurs des Lettres 字花 magazine and has hosted various radio and television programs focussed on young people. A middle-school teacher as well as being a much-published poet, novelist and essayist, Kitty Hung has published work in Ming Pao 明報, Literature Hong Kong 香港文學, Initium Media 端媒體, Stand News 立場新聞 and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine 聲韻詩刊.
The following essay was published in Stand News 立場新聞 on 17 August 2019.
The author’s reflections bring to mind the on-going debate about the Chinese national character and modern politics. It is a debate that has raged since the late-Qing dynasty — from Tan Sitong 譚嗣同 and Sun Yat-sen 孫逸仙, on to Li Zongwu 李宗吾 and Lu Xun 魯迅, as well as, in more recent decades, from Bo Yang 柏楊, Li Ao 李敖, Lung-kee Sun 孫隆基 and Lung Ying-tai 龍應台 to Liu Xiaobo 劉曉波, Li Jie 李劼 and Yu Jie 余杰.
My thanks to Victor Fong 方金平 for checking my translation of the flyer for the 18 August Victoria Park protest.
— Geremie R.Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
18 August 2019
- Explications and notes are marked by square brackets , although amplifications have also been made to the text for readers who are unfamiliar with the issues touched on by the author, or who might benefit from the highlighting of cultural and historical references.
- For more chapters in the series ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’, see The Best China section of China Heritage.
— The Translator
- Anon., ‘Letter to Mainland Compatriots from a Hong Kong Protester’, 《香港抗爭者告內地同胞書》, 品蔥, Summer 2019 (Chinese)
- chenglap (無想流流星拳), ‘很多人建議武力鎮壓香港 你們知道嗎?’, MOPTT, 16 August 2019
- ‘Hong Kong: The clock is ticking’ 緊急狀態, We Are Hongkongers, Youtube, 17 August 2019
- Antony Dapiran, ‘The 2019 Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong’, BBC Sounds Weekend Programme, 17 August 2019 (from 14’27”)
- Kitty Hung 洪曉嫻, Facebook page
- Lee Yee 李怡, Facebook page
- Canny Leung 梁芷珊, Facebook page
[Note: On the use of bedeviling Cantonese romanisation, which is commonly used for text messages, to 捉鬼, ‘catch ghosts’ or smoke out pro-Communist agents provocateurs and online trolls, known as ‘ghosts’ or ‘gwei’ 鬼, see Char Ying-lam 查映嵐, ‘Is anyone who can’t read Cantonese romanisation a ghost?’ 唔識粵語拼音就係鬼?, Stand News 立場新聞, 18 August 2019; and, Victor Mair, ‘Women’s Romanization for Hong Kong’, Language Log, 17 August 2019]
Some Chinese Ask:
‘What Gives You Hong Kong People the Right to Resist?’
Kitty Hung 洪曉嫻
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
I had to go to China in late July, but I was worried that they might refuse me entry if they checked what was on my phone [for evidence of material related to the Protest Movement]. Anyway, because of what was happening in Hong Kong, I had no particular desire to go. Regardless, I decided to ‘streak through’; so what if they blocked me?. In the event, I passed through customs without incident.
Before setting off I’d kept telling myself: no matter what you hear, whatever you do just try and stay calm. I’d also read some of the nasty stuff circulating on WeChat — including such things as the claims that the Hong Kong protesters were just a pack of illiterate Vietnamese refugees.’ (Sigh: I know our Cantonese characters confuse people.) But, I guess I just lack the necessary fortitude. On the high-speed train going there I overheard two young Chinese guys sitting near me spout all this bombastic garbage about how ‘chaotic’ Hong Kong was:
‘You know, that damn foreign interference is really something. They’re dead set on throwing Our China into turmoil!’
‘Yeah, those protesters have completely screwed the Hong Kong economy.’
‘It’s just that those Hong Kong kids are given too much freedom. They need to be taken in hand.’
I couldn’t hold back and I heard myself challenging them in a very loud voice:
‘They aren’t rioters! How could they be rioters — don’t you know that the protests include public servants, lawyers and all kinds of professionals?’
I immediately regretted having challenged them and suddenly wondered if I might not be ‘disappeared’. I thought to myself: what these fellows had said — one of them was particularly annoying — gave me pause, in particular after the event, though not in the way they might have hoped. Then came the retort:
‘Yeah, you’re right — you’ve got two million people supporting you in the streets of Hong Kong, but don’t forget we’ve got 1.4 billion backing us.
‘Hong Kong isn’t yours, it belongs to China! And just what makes you Hongkongers think you’re so much better than us?’
‘But [, I replied], aren’t Chinese people scouring the planet in search of decent milk powder for baby formula? Don’t they come to Hong Kong to get their children safely inoculated? So where’s your right to resist when your children are poisoned by tainted milk powder or when you’ve fallen victim to fake medicines?’
‘We don’t need all that “outside freedom” [both outside of China and beyond the Great Firewall of China],’ came the response.
‘We don’t need to know the so-called ‘real news’ [about what’s going on in Hong Kong]. What matters to me is that I’ve never had any of that tainted milk, nor have I been injected with phony medicine. You don’t know how hard we really have it here. What makes you think you have the right to protest?’
With that I decided to hold my tongue, although I was seething for the rest of the trip. I simply stopped fighting with them. Anyway, those two probably thought I belonged to what they call in China ‘Garbage Hong Kong Youth’, a rioter brainwashed by all those ‘Inimical Foreign Forces’.
Not long after that, [some Hong Kong] entertainers declared themselves to be ‘proud flag bearers’ [in a performative-patriotic response to protesters having thrown the flag of the People’s Republic of China into Victoria Harbour] and online Chinese dirt-mongers started ‘whistle blowing’, that is, pointing the finger at any famous person who they thought supported Hong Kong independence. Then there were incidents involving Chinese students studying overseas who disrupted demonstrations supporting the Hong Kong protests.
It all brought to mind a trivial incident from a few years ago.
From when my daughter was six months old we started ‘baby-led weaning’: she picked finger-foods for herself and we adults stopped spoon feeding her. She grabbed whatever she wanted so, of course, food ended up being mushed all over her face and hands. Whenever my Chinese aunt saw this she remarked sarcastically:
‘Our Chinese children could never be allowed to do this; they’d never cope.’
I’d ask if that was because Chinese babies were particularly stupid? Or was it due to the fact that their parents had zero confidence in their own children?
[Note: For a discussion of this, see ‘The Dos and Don’t of Baby-led Weaning’]
我的女兒從六個月開始BLW（Baby Led Wean），從小自己動手吃飯大人不餵食，小嬰兒抓到滿臉滿手都是食物，我在中國的舅母每次見到都語帶諷刺地說：「我們中國的小孩絕對不可能這樣，他們做不到。」當時我的回應是難道中國的孩子特別笨嗎？還是中國的父母特別不信任孩子？
All of a sudden, this old exchange came to mind; I realised there was a connection between baby-led weaning and the argument I’d just had on the train.
In China, it seems to be the case that children always have to be ‘controlled’; they can only be permitted to do what their parents will allow them to do. They are ‘taken in hand’ whenever they overstep the mark. It means that that are confined to unfreedom from the moment they are born.
As for the ‘People’, aren’t they no better than children in the all-controlling care of a ‘Father-Mother Officialdom’ [a common traditional term now used for government bureaucrats and Party cadres]? This is the ‘unique national characteristic’ of that Nation of Big Babies [or, Children-Adults].
You can tell the chill of autumn is on the way when the first leaves turn. From the way children are treated all the way up to all that nonsense we are presently hearing about ‘Hongkongers are badly behaved children and the Fatherland is your daddy’. And then there’s Carrie Lam putting on the pose of ‘Kindly Mother’ that comes from the same place.
The Adult in the Child
Chinese Parents seldom encourage the development of their children’s personality. By contrast, Westerners foster their children’s independence. They encourage them to sleep on their own and to leave home when they are grown up. Western children have equal status with their parents. There is no obligation on their part to show filial piety.
In China, the older generation is only concerned for the physical well-being of the young. When a child’s concept of self is not yet well developed, that child needs his elders to look after him, to give him food, to put him to bed early, and to take general care of his health. But to treat adults in this manner is to fix them at a particular stage of deveIopment. Chinese adults, so it seems, still need others to remind them what to wear. They refrain from smoking or drinking, not as the result of a conscious moral choice of their own, but because they want to prove to their parents that they are still good children.
In a society where the purpose of life is to produce offspring and perpetuate the species, health is not a matter for individual choice but rather a social or moral problem. A Chinese person is responsible both for the procreation of the next generation and for the nourishment of the older generation. He is therefore never an independent unit. Upbringing is not only an investment, it is a way of controlling the personal development of the younger generation, so that they will resemble the old. Among Overseas Chinese, the older generation find it more difficult to control the young. But in the mainland, through the confessional ‘exchange of Hearts-and-Minds’ 交心, the government has total control, just as a father controls his son.
— from Lung-kee Sun, The “Deep Structure” of Chinese Culture
孫隆基,《中國文化的 “深層結構”》, 香港集賢社, 1982
trans. in Barmé and John Minford, Seeds of Fire
Chinese Voices of Conscience, 1988, p.164
On the social media site MOPTT one Netizen [Zheng Li 鄭立 — Stand News Editorial Note] offered the following explanation of why Chinese people will support the armed repression of the Hong Kong protests:
‘It’s because they are confronted by the fact that there are people who will not just surrender. You might wonder: Why don’t they join together so everyone can oppose the oppressors who are persecuting everyone? Because it is an affront to their sense of personal dignity.
‘Here in China, they think to themselves, we have a perfect situation in which everyone just puts up with the status quo without offering any resistance. Acquiescence is a staple of everyday life. But, if all of a sudden, you start offering resistance, what are in effect saying is that “I too can resist”.
‘But I don’t offer any resistance because the truth of the matter is that I’m a spineless coward. And here you go confronting me like this — how bad do you think that makes me feel?’
‘The generations of Chinese people who lived [as the writer Lu Xun put it in 1925] in “periods when we longed in vain to be slaves” or in “periods when we succeeded in becoming slaves for a time” [— he goes on to say: ‘These periods form a cycle of what earlier scholars call “times of good rule” and “times of confusion” ’ — trans. Xianyi and Gladys Yang]
The best footnote I can offer to that interpretation of the situation is that those who make a big noise about their patriotic fervour, are not particularly patriotic, nor are they necessarily particularly satisfied with the Communist Party. After all, in China there certainly are people who are unhappy with the state of things. But what can they do with their disgruntlement? If they protest they will be crushed. So, they prefer to make things easy for themselves by mocking us here in Hong Kong as ‘Running Dogs of American Imperialism’ and forcing us all to kneel in submission to the Celestial Empire.
Everything — all of it — must be blamed on ‘Inimical Foreign Forces’. It’s the same with how children are regarded — things are always their fault, they are never, ever, the fault of how they were brought up by their parents.
When my mother was trying to explain to her parents — my grandparents — why Hongkongers felt compelled to protest and resist, she burst out with the following:
‘It’s actually a cultural divide: they way you raised us was repressive; whatever parents said simply had to be taken at face value. But we’re living in another era now: children enjoy their own freedoms and they have their aspirations. I didn’t raise my children the way you brought me up.’
I was silently applauding on the sidelines and it was a further insight into how caged birds lost the ability to fly.
[Note: As Lee Yee has noted:
Someone who is long inured to living in a servile and submissive state learns from the very start that their existence is contingent upon the control of others. Or, as the Russian-Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky put it:
‘A Bird Born in a Cage Will Think Flying Is an Illness.’
Translator’s addition — The rest of the quotation is:
A bird is born to be free. Hence, if it is locked up in a cage, it will feel like its whole essence is being limited to a tiny slice. It is as if its wings were cut off, along with one of its most characteristic traits, its ability to fly.
— from Lee Yee, ‘We Are Hong Kong’
China Heritage, 22 July 2019]
To most Chinese people Hong Kong is not so much a place populated by compatriots, as just somewhere to shop — a city where they got a certain bag or a particular item of clothing. When the ‘brand’ starts acting up and isn’t obedient any more, they think they can simply roll out the 1.4 billion to crush us underfoot. The reality is that they’ve never given a damn about us or how we live our lives. I’d even go so far as to say that generally such people don’t give a damn about other Chinese either.
Nonetheless, I live in hope. You see, I know that we are not alone whenever:
- I get a private message from someone on the Mainland who says they want to do something to support Hong Kong;
- Chinese immigrant students [from the Mainland] that I’ve taught leave messages on Facebook calling for freedom;
- I see all those Chinese ID cards on which their owners have written words of support for Hong Kong;
- Those people who came over to Hong Kong to support the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests suddenly go missing;
- Chinese students studying in Hong Kong are arrested because of the demonstrations;
- The messages left on Pincong [品蔥, a popular online platform frequented by Mainlanders who have access to VPNs] that make me cry; as well as,
- Those countless people in China itself who are fighting hard for freedom and who pay the price with their lives when trying to reveal the truth about things…
In a world suffused in blood red, I know we are not alone.
When the darkness passes surely we will all be able to meet, even though I have no idea when that may be. But surely that time will come.
Let me end by saying: I’ll see you at Victoria Park on the 18th of August. Our crowds must make sure that the place is full to overflowing. We are our own best hope; we are also the hope for so many others in the dark.
There have been responses to that ‘Letter to Mainland Compatriots from a Hong Kong Protester’. Elsewhere on Pincong, someone left a message in the section devoted to that Global Times Reporter cum-Agent:
‘I feel ashamed about Hong Kong: they are still calling us Compatriots, but I know we don’t deserve that honour.’
These words bring tears to my eyes. I’m grateful that you’ve allowed us to hear a voice of dissent.
I’m both moved and supportive: may we one day meet in a place that is not shrouded in darkness. And don’t be too anxious about clearing things up in regard to all those accusations to do with Hong Kong Independence. After all, as a slogan it might have some minor impact on shaking run-of-the-mill people who have absolutely no clue about what is going on out of their complacency.
Regardless, in reality, even if they didn’t accuse you of agitating for Hong Kong Independence, they’d come up with other crimes. Don’t forget that the people who tried to find out how many students had died [as a result of faulty construction practices] in the Wenchuan Earthquake [of May 2008 in Sichuan] were accused of undermining state power with the aim of overthrowing the government?
There’s absolutely no use trying to clear your name with power-holders such as these.
In the free world, things like independence are open for discussion and debate. They don’t come burdened with some pre-condition that’s treated like an Original Sin.
In closing, stay focussed on what we can actually achieve.
- 洪曉嫻, ‘有中國人問我「憑什麼香港人可以反抗」’, 《立場新聞》2019年8月17日
As Lee Yee noted in his essay ‘Young Hong Kong’ (China Heritage, 16 July 2019):
People whose spirits are enslaved become inured to their benighted state; they crave personal wellbeing rather than daring to resist. Despite all of that, one Mainlander offered the following observation online:
‘This generation of Hong Kong young people will be remembered by history. They are confronting an impossible situation and they are facing down a pitiless foe. They have endured the indifference both of the Mainland and of Taiwan, as well as that of the international community. Yet they have continued their lonely struggle regardless; theirs is a kind of courage that chooses to be ‘like shattered jade rather than merely surviving as an undamaged adornment of coarser stuff’.
‘Our reactions as Chinese to their acts of resistance are fraught with contradiction. No one doubts that the Communists want to transform the people of Hong Kong in such a fashion that they end up being just like any other group of commonplace Chinese. But the people of Hong Kong demonstrate that they would rather be defeated in clamorous and glorious struggle than herded like pliant swine. Each time they go into the streets to protest, the people of Hong Kong relentlessly humiliate every single Chinese person — all 1.4 billion of us.’
Update on the 18th August Demonstration:
Organisers estimated that over 1.7 million people — nearly one quarter of the population — participated in a peaceful, day-long mass protest, despite heavy rain.
Protest rallies in support of Hong Kong, China’s global cultural metropole, were also held in cities around the world. Mainland ‘irate youth’ 憤青, or ‘patriot thugs’ 愛國賊 engaged in out various forms of disruption, including physical intimidation, luxury-car hot-rodding obscenity laden denunciations (see Iris Zhao, Bang Xiao, ‘「愛國護港」在多地舉行 「醜陋的」罵聲不絕於耳’, ABC Online Chinese Edition, 19 August 2019