Living and Learning in Hong Kong 2019

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Hong Kong Apostasy

 

Students of elementary Chinese are taught a simple rhyming saying:

活到老,學到老,
還有三分學不到。

The longer you live the more you learn.
Even then, you’ll never know it all.

The vocabulary is basic, the syntax rudimentary, but these lines convey a timeless message.

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This is the latest chapter in ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’, a feature of ‘The Best China’ section of China Heritage that is devoted to the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill Protest Movement. Its author, the veteran journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯), was the founding editor of The Seventies Monthly 七十年代月刊 and he has been a prominent commentator on Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan politics, as well as the global scene, for over half a century.

This essay is translated from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, a column that Lee Yee writes for Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
29 July 2019

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Other Essays by Lee Yee on the 2019 Hong Kong Protests:


LIHKGDaily or Freedun Daily on Facebook

Winners & Losers

Some are asking: Can the Hong Kong protesters win? My answer is that if they persist, they cannot lose. This is a struggle over human values — freedom, justice, dignity — and in that realm the Hong Kong people have already won. Yes, if they give up, then the machine will take over. But while a brutal dictatorship might outlast them, it can never “win.” It is human nature to have ideals and to put them into action. A dictatorship cannot change those facts. Its defeat is only a matter of time.

— Ai Weiwei, trans. by Perry Link; quoted in
Lee Yee, ‘Hong Kong Cannot Lose’,
Apple Daily, 26 July 2019


Living and Learning
活到老,學到老

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

In an essay that I published some four months ago, I announced that, henceforth, I would be cutting back on writing columns about current affairs to focus on memoirs. My thinking was not so much my readers; nor was it born of any particular urge to pass on ‘precious life lessons’ to the young, or readers far in the future. Rather, it was really just about myself. You see, as I get older my energies are sapping away and I felt I had to get a few things down while I still could.

四個月前,我說在這個專欄將減少寫時評,而較多寫自己過往的人生。不是為了讀友,不是要對後輩或後後輩嘮叨些老人的甚麼「寶貴經驗」,而是為了自己,為了年事已高,精力不繼,怕再過些時候就寫不出來了。

But after only a month of publishing reminiscences, as the political tumult in Hong Kong escalated I found that I had to put that plan aside. Hong Kong is the place where I have lived for over seventy of my eighty-three years. Over the years, it’s a place that has given me numerous opportunities and it is a place that I have loved and cared about for my entire adult life.

Since 1979, when the future of Hong Kong was first cast into doubt, I have focussed my energies on thinking about and expressing my concerns for the political life of this place. Over the past few months, Hong Kong has, on a daily basis, challenged both my previous understanding, as well as lifetime of experience. Throughout this period a famous line from the May Fourth-era writer Lu Xun has repeatedly occurred to me:

‘While it is true that I constantly dissect and analyse others with a critical eye, I am, in reality, even more unsentimental when I apply the knife to myself.’

但開始了不到一個月,就被香港的激烈政治動盪把我寫回憶的計劃擱置了。這裏是我生活了70多年、給了我許多機會的一生關愛的地方,從1979年出現前途問題以來,香港的政治變化日夜都掀動我的思想與情懷。而這幾個月,更是每天都挑戰我的認識與經驗,這些日子我常想到魯迅的話:

「我的確時時刻刻解剖別人,然而更多的是無情地解剖自己。」

The day before yesterday, I was obsessed with what was happening on the streets of Yuen Long in the New Territories. It was my view that the protests planned for Yuen Long on the 26th of July [in response to the attacks of the previous week during which pro-government thugs had indiscriminately attacked local people] should be about sending a message en masse, one that declared in no uncertain terms that the people would not be intimidated even though the authorities had made it clear that they were in cahoots with those organised street toughs.

I naïvely thought that it would be more than enough for people to march in a demonstration of solidarity; equally, I felt it important that the demonstrators avoid hanging around what was essentially a dangerous spot any longer than necessary. That’s why it was a relief to read a notice on the LIHKGDaily [or Freedun Daily] Facebook site declaring: ‘Those on the front line have decided that we will all withdraw at 7:30pm!’ But that’s not what happened at all. The declaration that everyone would leave together was not what the demonstrators on the front line who were confronting riot police had decided at all. Instead, they were motivated by the ideas to do with ‘Retake Hong Kong, Revolution in Our Time’ [a slogan of the previously controversial political grouping Hong Kong Indigenous].

If the government was adamant in its refusal to respond to the [protesters’ five key] demands each new demonstration would simply up the ante both for the authorities and for the police. The protesters made it clear that their approach is: ‘faced with riot police we will hold our ground; when the opportunity arises we will advance our cause.’ They are mentally prepared to be beaten and arrested; their sentiment is summed up in the words ‘Revolution can only be achieved through sweat, tears and blood.’ People are now aware that they are not going to get what they want merely by marching in the streets. They also know that personal safety, or avoiding injury cannot be their paramount concern … …

前天下午我盯着元朗街頭。我一直認為行進元朗的活動,是要對政府勾結黑社會表達不被恐懼嚇倒的訊息。我希望市民表達了意願就好,不要在危險的地方多停留。在「連登日報」發出「前線決定,七點半一齊走!」的時候,我好像放下心頭大石。但原來事情不是這樣。真正面對防暴警察的前線示威者沒有作出「七點半一齊走」的決定,他們秉持着「光復香港,時代革命」的意向,在政府不回應訴求的情況下,每一次示威都要讓政府和警方覺得比上一次更難對付。他們說,有防暴就守,守完就攻,已經「預咗」被打被捕,「革命要用血汗換回來」。不要以為走出馬路就可以得到想要的東西,不要只想着安全第一,不受傷……。

These young protesters aren’t in sympathy with the familiar approach of oldsters like me who have always argued along the lines that ‘as long as there is life there is hope’. Generally, we have felt that it was enough to express our views in a free and unfettered way. These protesters, however, believe that they must go further. A friend of mine encountered a group of ‘Black Clothes’ [the signature outfit of protesters, all the more so since the street thugs of Yuen Long dressed in white] on a bus and observed that looking into their eyes they detected a steely determination, a roiling anger, as well as a sense of tragic hopelessness.

在年輕一代的抗爭者心中,我們老一輩的「留得青山在」想法與他們不能契合。我們覺得表達了自由意志就好,他們認為必須走前一步。有朋友在巴士上遇到一群黑衣人,感到他們眼神帶着堅持、憤怒與絕望。

Since the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests began [in late March 2019], actions launched by ‘Young People of LIHKG and Telegram’ have repeatedly challenged me. They include:

  • The siege of LegCo on the 12th of June;
  • Repeated thoughtful public written declarations;
  • The appeal to the international community to boycott [that is, to cancel the passports or rescind the citizenship of] individuals who are selling out the interests of Hong Kong;
  • The crowd-funded ‘Stand with Hong Kong at G20’ advertisements published in the international media on the eve of the 2019 G20 Osaka Summit [held on 28-29 June];
  • The storming of the Legislative Assembly Chambers on 1 July; and,
  • The assault on the Central Government Liaison Office on 21 July… …

[Note: For a chronology of the 2019 protests, see here.]

Many of these things have been beyond my experience and they have exceeded my understanding of what is possible. At this point, although the Extradition Bill has been put on hold [although not withdrawn entirely], its existence has become the flashpoint for the whole range of popular discontents among people of all groups and a way for everyone to engage in collective resistance. The protests have also attracted international attention and elicited broad-based support. For their part, however, the Hong Kong authorities have demonstrated just how divorced they are from what is actually taking place. They have proven themselves to be politically discombobulated and show signs that their governance is careening towards total disarray.

送中以來,連登仔一波又一波的行動,都挑戰我的過往經驗。6.12衝擊,一連串文宣,要求各國抵制賣港賊的聯署,眾籌於G20在世界各大報刊廣告,7.1衝擊立法會,7.21衝擊中聯辦……。許多行動都超越我經驗中的可能性,而至少現在不僅送中暫緩,而且凝聚了香港幾乎所有不同派別的抗爭民氣,爭取到國際最廣泛的關注與支持。而特區政府則出現上下離心,管治渙散,接近潰不成軍的局面。

On 19 July 2019, The Stand online news site published an interview with the organiser of the Telegram group called ‘We’ll Go Down Together’ [who goes by the name Finn]. In total this group have launched eight successful actions on the basis of an overriding principle summed up in the expression 攬炒: ‘we’re gonna take you down with us’. They sum up their attitude with a line taken from [Katniss Everdeen,] the hero of the 2014 film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1:

‘If we burn, you burn with us.’

[Note: 攬炒 means to throw ingredients into a wok and stir fry together; or, ‘if we are being cast from the frying pan into the fire, you’re gonna burn with us.’]

It’s a sentiment that you can also find in the ancient Book of Documents [the early Confucian classic on history] that reads: ‘時日曷喪, 予及汝皆亡’, literally, ‘When will this sun ever disappear? We are determined to see you dead, and we will die with you if that’s what it takes.’ This was an oath sworn by people who were involved in the greatest slave revolt in Chinese history, at the end of the Xia dynasty [of the second millennium BCE]. Jie, the tyrannical ruler of the Xia, had compared himself to the sun and the rebels swore to snuff him out, even if it meant that they too would perish.’

[Note: 予及汝皆亡 yú jí rǔ jiē wáng: a famous line from the Book of Documents. The full sentence reads 時日曷喪 shí rì hé sàng, 予及汝皆亡 yú jí rǔ jiē wáng: ‘When will this sun [i.e., tyrant Jie] finally set? We will take you down and we will die together!’ See ‘Declarations of Tang’ in the Book of Documents《尚書 · 湯誓》; see also the notes to Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility — Part IChina Heritage, 31 January 2019.]

《立場新聞》訪問了一個連登群組「我要攬炒」的真身,他們連續發出八波有效的攻勢,依靠的只是一個信念,就是「攬炒」,他們引用電影《饑餓遊戲》中主角對白:「If we burn, you burn with us.」也就是中國《尚書》所說的「時日曷喪,予及汝皆亡」。這是夏朝爆發的歷史上規模最大的奴隸起義時奴隸發出的誓言。針對夏桀自比為太陽,奴隸誓言是:「這個太陽為甚麼不消失?」「我就和你一起死吧!」

But what chance do they have of success? Finn told the journalist:

‘Now they may be but vague and distant hopes. However, up until now there was only a 0.1 percent possibility of any success; now that’s increased to one percent. That means the potential has increased tenfold.’

And that’s why they persist.

成功的機會有多少,「攬炒」真身說:「家機會都好渺茫,但以前可能是0.1%,家去到1%,個可能性係十倍增長」。這就要做了。

The attitude of this ‘Dare-to-Die’ group is that they have turned a situation in which ‘everything is impossible’ into one in which ‘anything is possible’. They have forced older people like me who think of our experience as a kind of ‘capital’ to realise that all we really have is debts.

Why does Young Hong Kong have this ‘daring do’ mindset, and how, against all expectations, has their belief elicited such widespread resonance? The reason is that, since the failed opposition to the express railway link between Guangzhou and Hong Kong in 2009, the Chinese Communists have been emboldened to encroach on Hong Kong step by step; they have worked hand in glove with the Hong Kong Communist government. As a result, Young Hong Kong feels that there is no escape, but also no retreat. Forbearance [and the Leftard group’s advocacy of] social inclusiveness, non-violent and rational action have served to highlight the impotence of our traditional modes of resistance, as well as showing up our profound hypocrisy.

After all, it is because people on Mainland China have no choice but to demonstrate forbearance for the status quo on a daily basis they live in a society that is ever more shameless and unprincipled.

Hong Kong cannot tolerate the situation any further; to do so would mean we surrender ourselves to the power-holders and give them license to impose their moronic ideas, allow them to unleash their boundless appetite for abasement. We would be reduced to the status of a Fallen Society, just like that on the Mainland.

「攬炒」意識,使無能變成無所不能,使我們老一輩視為「資產」的經驗竟然發現其實是負債。為甚麼年輕人中有「攬炒」意識,而這意識居然逐漸被廣泛認同?因為從2009年高鐵抗爭以來,中共對香港的步步侵凌,和港共政權的無極限無恥,使香港年輕一代覺得退無可退了。忍讓,和理非的同時,也暴露了我們傳統抗爭的無能以至偽善。大陸社會就是因為天天說要包容,社會才變得越來越不要臉。香港絕對不能在包容、給掌權者機會這些愚蠢觀念中,縱容無恥,讓社會變得與大陸一樣墮落。

I’ve learned a great deal over the past few months; I’m also profoundly ashamed. I’m ashamed because I now realise that if, in the past, we had had the courage that Young Hong Kong has today, we would not be in the present predicament. That’s simply the truth.

幾個月來,我學到很多很多,也非常慚愧,如果當年我們有現在年輕人這樣的勇氣,香港不會變成這樣。這是真的。

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