A Landscape Desolate and Bare


The Best China (X)


Since the abdication of the last dynastic house in 1912, China’s imperial canker has never been entirely eliminated. Of course, in today’s People’s Republic the state media offers up convoluted folderol and mind-numbing detail regarding the collective and consultative nature of the country’s political system. The reality is that it is authoritarian in nature; national life is organised in keeping with a top-down Bolshevik Party structure while the authorities pursue a range of hyper modern techniques welded to various charismatic elements of late-traditional statecraft; government mechanisms are rigidly hierarchical; and comrade-citizen-consumers are viewed as productive assets, unless they become white-anting nay-sayers. In everyday attitudes towards power and privilege, along with an official and private language that is steeped in un-democratic notions, an autocratic temper continues to suffuse the life of China’s party-state.

An overt embrace of the imperial era has been evident from the mid 1990s when, gradually, the Manchu-Qing dynasty — excoriated for most of the twentieth century as a non-Han, conquest dynasty that through political ineptitude and corruption had allowed Eternal China fall prey to foreign imperialist aggression — was incorporated into the Official China Story, that is the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist historical narrative delineating China’s fall and revival. As the party-state formulated ways to talk about the future in the new millennium, it selectively embraced what is thought of as the country’s last Golden Age in the eighteenth century; among other things, it did so by launching well-funded cultural projects and employing such dynastic terms as the Prosperous Age 盛世 to depict its own achievements. In this and in a myriad of other ways, the authorities long ago alerted attentive students of the Chinese world to the importance of understanding the gravitational pull of the past.

In defense of the abolition of term limits on state leaders, that is, with the granting of what I call ‘terminal tenure’ to the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, energetically supported by the country’s sham institutions of democracy, propagandists have energetically celebrated what is in effect a reactionary move as ‘political innovation’, what they hail as part of New Style Party Politics 新型政黨制度. Reaction masquerades as reform; the dangers of the past are repackaged as the hope for a sustainable future. China’s propagandists attempt thereby to nullify the claims of western liberal democracies that they alone offer an equitable, self-correcting system that, for all of its faults, can best fulfill the needs and realise the aspirations of modern humanity.


In this the tenth installment of The Best China we have selected three recent commentaries from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生 column written by the celebrated journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯) and published by Apple Daily 蘋果日報. They deal with the political drama unfolding in contemporary China, including Lee Yee’s reflections on the sombre fate of democracy in the Communist-controlled territory of Hong Kong.

In the first essay — which takes as its theme the Doppelgänger Yuan Shikai/ Xi Jinping — Lee Yee makes two references to the famous eighteenth-century novel The Dream of the Red Mansion (紅樓夢, also known as The Story of the Stone 石頭記). The first, in which he quotes from Chapter Five of the novel the expression ‘landscape desolate and bare’ 白茫茫大地真乾淨 appears in ‘The Birds Into The Wood Have Flown’ 飛鳥個投林, an epilogue to a series of twelve verses which contain clues about the fate of key characters in the story.

Like birds who, having fled, to the woods repair,
They leave the landscape desolate and bare.


The imagery of desolation in the Epilogue in Chapter Five is repeated at the end of the book, in Chapter 140. Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉, the protagonist of the work, has severed all worldly ties and disappears without explanation. Later, Jia Zheng 賈政, his father, catches sight of a mysterious figure with a shaved head wearing a crimson cape. From a distance the apparition — perhaps it is Baoyu? — pays its respects before vanishing in a landscape cloaked in snow — ‘a vast expanse of white’ 白茫茫一片好乾淨 (The Story of the Stone: Volume 5, The Dreamer Wakes, trans. John Minford, p.358).

Lee Yee’s second Dream reference — ‘truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true’ 假作真時真亦假 — recalls the famous couplet:

Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real when the unreal’s real.


The Story of the Stone, Volume I: The Golden Days,
石頭記, trans. David Hawkes, p.55


In his biography of Yuan Shikai, Jerome Ch’en notes that the first president of the Republic of China:

assured the nation of his lack of interest in personal power, for “an on old man of sixty has no ambition”. He was actually fifty-three… . His instructions to the Political Council clearly stated that the strength of a nation had nothing to do with whether the nation was a monarchy or a democracy. He was more interested in national strength than in republicanism. …

On August 18 [1913], the Council of State endorsed a suggestion that the presidential election law be amended; the Constitutional Compact Conference dis so on December 28. Under the new law, the president’s term of office was extended from five to ten years, with no limit on the number of terms. If the Council of State deemed it necessary, the president could even stay in office without going through the procedure of an election.

Jerome Ch’en, Yuan Shih-k’ai,
Stanford University Press, 1972, p.164

The ‘Yuan Shikai Dollar’, formally called the ‘Yuan Shikai Portrait Silver Coin with a Reverse Golden Harvest Decoration’ 袁世凱像背嘉禾銀幣, was first minted in 1914. Colloquially called ‘Fat-head Yuan’ 袁大頭 (the surname Yuan 袁 and ‘Chinese dollar’ yuán 圓/元 are homonyms) the coin continued to be minted up until 1951


In the second essay, ‘Chinese Dreams, Global Nightmares’, Lee Yee discusses ‘Humanity’s Community of Shared Destiny’ 人類命運共同體 as propounded by the People’s Republic in light of constitutional changes that presage Xi Jinping’s lifetime tenure as China’s leader. For more on the concept of ‘shared destiny’, one which has been used by the Chinese government since 2013, and its historical resonances, see All Under Heaven.


‘The Only Guide’, the third essay in this selection, was written on the eve of the 11 March 2018 Hong Kong by-election. In it Lee Yee quotes a speech made by the Beijing legal expert Cong Riyun 叢日云 to a student audience. Addressing China’s evolving political climate Cong issues a powerful appeal, one that recalls a famous, and poetic, statement about political apathy:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me —
and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller


A Red Letter Day: People’s Daily report on China’s constitutional amendment and an update on the activities of the ‘People’s Leader’, Chairman Xi Jinping

On 11 March 2018, of the 2,964 delegates attending the National People’s Congress 2,958 voted in favour of the twenty-one proposed changes to China’s Constitution, two voted against them, there were also three abstentions and one invalid vote. A People’s Daily editorial titled A Powerful Constitutional Guarantee for the National Renaissance 為民族復興提供有力憲法保障 published the same day praised the peerless wisdom of the vote. In the elementary school style of literary Chinese deployed to demonstrate the cultural fluency of Party propagandists, the editorial declaimed:

Good governance is realised when laws are in step with the age; great can be the achievements when governance is consonant with the temper of the times. 法與時轉則治,治與世宜則有功。

The success of the constitutional change was introduced with a long-winded flourish that, in keeping with our interest in New China Newspeak, I translate here:

The Nine Tripods [that in mythological times symbolised the unity of the state] can only be forged with tireless perseverance. The First Session of the Thirteenth National People’s Congress has voted to revise the Constitution. It is a decision that accords with the current of the times; it reflects a necessity at the heart of our enterprise; it is in accord with the wishes of the whole party and all the people of China; it is a step of enormous significance taken to advance the policy of achieving 360-degree legal governance in China, as well as being of enormous significance in advancing the modernisation of our governance structures and capabilities. This is a decision that also has a profound meaning for the continued pursuance and evolution of constitutional governance in the New Epoch of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. It is a decision of major significance for our present moment as well as having profound historical ramifications. As such it provides a powerful constitutional guarantee as we strive to fulfill the Dual Centennial Goals [of 2021 and 2049] on the path to realising the China Dream of Momentous National Renaissance.


In an essay on the constitutional vote in Beijing, Lee Yee observed that as usual Mainland Netizens had the measure of their leaders. They quoted Stalin’s famous dictum about Communist Party led democracy:

Those who vote decide nothing; those who count the vote decide everything.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
12 March 2018

Related Material:

Comrade Yuan Shikai

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé

The recent Internet blockade on the Mainland reflects the extreme anxiety of China’s party-state. You could say that, for the moment, there’s a ‘vast expanse of white’ [a line from the end of The Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢]. For a time, even the letter ‘N / n’ was treated as a sensitive word. It was said that this due to a fear that Netizens might use the expression expression ‘n > 2’ to made fun of the elimination of term limits [proposed to allow Xi Jinping unlimited tenure as China’s state leader]. Subsequently, ‘N / n’ was granted a reprieve. 近日來,大陸對網頁的封鎖,已到了風聲鶴唳的地步,網頁可以說是「白茫茫一片好乾淨」,曾經連英文字母「N、n」都一度無法搜索,據說是擔心民眾會用「n>2」來諷刺兩屆任期制的改變。不過,目前「N、n」已經被「釋放」了。

Last week the most popular and most frequently censored essay on the Mainland Internet was a piece titled ‘Commemorating the 101st Anniversary of Comrade Yuan Shikai’s Demise’ published under the name ‘Military Preparedness Clutch’. Although dated the 18th of January, it was only after the announcement of the elimination of fixed terms that the essay enjoyed wide-spread reposting, as well as feverish deletion. It’s an illuminating piece, so I’ll digest the argument here. 周前提到,被分享最多、也被刪除最多的,是一篇題為《紀念袁世凱同志逝世一百零一周年》的文章,作者署名「軍備圈」。此文寫於今年1月18日,但在取消任期制宣佈後才被瘋傳和不停被刪。文章生動,這裏作一個簡單介紹。

Yuan Shikai passed away on 6 June 1916. The Grand President of the Republic of China had ended his days with his mind set on founding a Chinese Empire with him as constitutional monarch. Roundly denounced Yuan died a broken man at the age of fifty-seven. 1916年6月6日,曾一心要成立中華帝國,準備行君主立憲政體的袁世凱大總統,在一片倒袁聲中憂憤成疾,在這一天合上了雙眼,享年57歲。

He had held supreme military power in the late-Qing dynasty but, following the 1911 Revolution, he pressured the Qing Court to renounce the throne and was a catalyst in transforming dynastic rule into a republican system. He himself became the first president of the new republic, ushering in the only [albeit short-lived] era of something approaching democracy in pre-1949 Beijing. 袁世凱在清末掌軍政大權,辛亥後對清廷逼宮,導致清帝退位,使帝制和平轉移為共和,袁世凱接着擔任大總統。任內開啟了一個在中國近代史上最接近民主的民國北京時期。

The author of ‘Commemorating Comrade Yuan’ observes that Yuan could have gone down in history as the man who brought an end to Chinese dynastic rule, instead his name lives on in infamy. Not only did he attempt to re-introduce dynastic rule, he failed to pay attention to, or simply didn’t want to hear, the clamorous opposition to his scheme.《紀念》一文的作者表示:客觀講,以袁世凱倒清所建立的不世之功,本來能夠青史留名,結果卻身敗名裂。其中主要的原因,他只看到擁護他恢復帝制的一面,卻沒有看到或不願看到反對他當皇帝的聲音。

People who publicly expressed loyalty for Yuan’s imperial quest were trying to make a deal. The most prominent was Yuan Keding, his son: he wanted to be anointed crown prince; and then there were those who wanted to keep their bureaucratic positions and be founding courtiers in a new empire. One high official summed it up: ‘If we are successful we might lose face [be ashamed], but if we fail, we’ll lose our heads. If we lose our heads, what face will we have to speak of?’ 但所有支持他當皇帝的聲音,都只是把表忠當成一筆生意,或者像他長子袁克定想當太子,或是想繼續當官,做開國功臣。有高官交底:「成,不要臉,不成就不要頭。頭之不在,哪有臉面?」大家選擇了要頭不要臉。

All kinds of people signed petitions in support of Yuan’s imperial bid: worker and merchant groups, self-interested foreigners, even prostitutes and beggars joined the parade. They were all out in public at the suggestion of those in power. In hawking there loyalty there was no lengths people would not go to, no absurdity which they would not indulge in, nothing they would not say in their shamelessness. 甚麼工商請願團、洋人請願團,甚至妓女請願團,乞丐請願團,都上街遊行擁護他做皇帝,這些烏七八糟的請願者都是經授意上街表演的。在表忠心這類勾當上,沒有最俗,只有更俗,沒有最荒唐,只有更荒唐,沒有最無恥,只有更無恥。

Voluntary expressions of loyalty were merely seen as a necessary transaction cost: when trading on power you need [as Li Zongwu 李宗吾 put it] ‘a face as thick as a city wall, and a heart as black as coal’ [臉皮要厚如城牆,心要黑如煤炭]. The louder you shout out your acclamation the more pleasing it is to the ears of the autocrats and the more readily your tarnished wares can be sold. Under normal circumstances, in a rational environment and according to common sense, there is no need for crude displays of loyalty; just as there is no need for children to constantly remind their parents about the depth of their filial sentiments. 主動表忠心,這是一筆生意。生意場上,臉要厚,心要黑,調門越高越動聽,越能把假貨劣貨賣出去。本來,按照常情、常理、常識,忠心不需要表,就如同兒女不需要對父母成天念叨自己孝順一樣。

To give voice to one’s loyalty in such a public fashion is proof of one thing and one thing only: you’re performing, putting on a show; you’re phony. Of course, such performances aren’t to be taken seriously; but, having said that, faking itself requires talent, for you must confound reality with your fakery. The only problem is that ‘truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true’. In the end, all that was left of Yuan’s imperial bid was the Emperor’s New Clothes, a second-rate fable.  要把忠心表出來,只能有一個解釋,他們是在表演,在做戲、作假。做戲當然不能當真;作假也講功夫,要做到以假亂真,問題是,假作真時真亦假。末了,一襲皇帝新裝,一個蹩腳童話。

Expressions of loyalty are a kind of commerce: ‘All-Under-Heaven joyfully rushes in at the mere hint of profit; All-Under-Heaven disperses noisily as soon as there is nothing to be gained’ [a quotation from Sima Qian’s Records of the Historian 史記 · 貨殖列傳]. There’s money to be made: let’s go for it! There’s no profit in it: we’re out of here! Of course, there are other factors: fear of the despot — one expresses undying loyalty for the sake of self-preservation. But protestations of loyalty, be they motivated by profit or expressed out of fear, are but like morning dew, they evaporate in sunlight. They are like a haze that is immediately dispersed in a storm. Or, they as worthless as dog shit, and as foul-smelling.  從本質上講,表忠心是一門生意,「天下熙熙,皆為利來;天下攘攘,皆為利往」,有賺頭,幹!沒利,散!另外就是懾於淫威,以表忠求自保。為利而表或為怕而表的忠心,如同露水,見陽光就蒸發,如同霧霾,遇暴風就吹散,更同狗屎,一錢不值,臭不可聞。

In the nineteenth century, Lord Acton had the foresight to observe that: ‘Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, [be it the advantage of a class, the safety of the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea,] the State becomes for the time inevitably absolute.’ To apply this now we could say: whenever a State only allows voices of loyalty to be heard, or makes loyalty the defining sound, the State is an abnormality. 阿克頓勛爵在十九世紀後期先知般地預言:「只要某個單一的目標成為國家的最高目的,這個國家走向專制就是不可避免的。」套用這句話,當一個國家只允許因而也只有表忠心一個聲音,或者把表忠心作為主旋律,這個國家,就處於一種不正常的狀態。

The ‘Commemoration’ ends with a dedication:

‘For Comrade Yuan Shikai, a man who was showered in expressions of loyalty yet lost everything.’ 文章最後是:「謹以此文,紀念因被表忠心而砸了鍋的袁世凱同志。」

The author calls Yuan ‘Comrade’ [同志, literally, ‘someone with similar 同 aspirations 志’], because today there is another man of his ilk in Beijing. 稱袁世凱為「同志」,當然因為現在又有「有志相同」者也。

Seal of Yuan Shikai


Translator’s Notes:

The full quotation from Lord Acton’s 1862 essay ‘Nationality’ is:

Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, be it the advantage of a class, the safety of the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea, the State becomes for the time inevitably absolute. Liberty alone demands for its realisation the limitation of the public authority, for liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition.

— see ‘Nationality’ in Home and Foreign Review (July 1862);
republished in The History of Freedom and Other Essays (1907), p.288

— 李怡, 袁世凱同志, 2018年3月6日
and, here

Chinese Dreams, Global Nightmares

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


The day before yesterday the People’s Daily published a commentary about Communist China’s ‘New Style Party Politics’. Not only has this new set-up been lauded by international opinion, it is also uniquely suited to China. The commentary claimed that ‘this is a major contribution to the political culture of humanity itself’! A few days before that, the same paper published an articles that claimed:《人民日報》前天發表評論,說中共國的「新型政黨制度」這種政治模式,不僅受到國際傳媒稱許,也符合本土情況,是「對人類政治文明的重大貢獻」。數日前,這份黨報的一篇專稿說:

Western-style democracy is faced with an unprecedented historical crisis. By eliminating fixed terms [for government leaders] … China has corrected one of the flaws of a dated, sclerotic Western system of competitive elections. It is a major step forward for Chinese-style politics, a contribution to the political culture of humanity itself. This is an inspiration and an exemplar for political systems throughout the world. 西方民選制度面臨難以為繼的歷史性危機,中國……取消所謂任期限制,就是對過時的、刻板的西方民選制度的最大糾偏,是中國特色政治制度的重大進步,也是人類政治文明的最新成果,對全世界各種政治制度都有啟發意義和示範作用。

Thereafter, some brown-nosing commentator remarked that this latest move reflected Communist China’s ‘systemic confidence and cultural self-belief’. On one hand, the Chinese authorities have been pursuing a scorched earth policy in an attempt to obliterate online comments from the country’s netizens, while on the other had it has been gilding the lily by boasting about ‘self-belief’. It would be fair to say that in the world of the propagandists ‘self-belief’ is little other than a synonym for ‘inferiority complex’. 繼續有馬屁精說這是中共國的「制度自信」「文化自信」。一方面把網民的議論進行恐慌性的刪除屏蔽到草木皆兵程度,一方面往自己臉上貼金,若這也叫做「自信」,那麼「自信」與「自卑」就是同義詞了。

If to allow rulers to be leaders-for-life is, as these commentators claim, ‘a contribution to the political culture of humanity itself’, one that is an ‘exemplar’ for the whole world, then this is no longer just about ‘Chinese characteristics’, it is tantamount to claiming the latest moves in Beijing represent the future of politics everywhere. 如果領導人終身制是「人類政治文明的最大貢獻」,對全世界都有「示範作用」的話,那麼它就不僅是「中國特色」,而且應該是人類政治文明的未來。

Traditionally, the Communists have excelled at using foreign opinion to shore up Chinese national pride, a tactic employed to divert people’s attention away from their own circumstances. During the Cultural Revolution, even thought the nation was on the verge of economic collapse, with cadres and the masses alike exhausted by political infighting and daily life increasingly impoverished, yet all the while the propagandists championed the fact that China ‘would be making a major contribution to humanity’. The ‘major contribution to humanity’ in the New Epoch of Xi Jinping is just the same, tired old claptrap. The eternal spirit of [Lu Xun’s fictional creation of a ‘Chinese Everyman’] Ah Q sanctifies this bloated sense of self-importance. 中共歷來最擅長以國際影響,來激發人民的民族自豪感,以轉移人民對自身處境的關注。文革時經濟已到崩潰邊緣,幹部和百姓被政治鬥爭搞到疲憊不堪,生活越趨貧苦,而中共仍然一直宣揚中國「應當對人類作出較大貢獻」。習時代的「對人類貢獻」論,也不過是老招式。但「橋唔怕舊,最緊要受」。阿Q精神千年不滅的中國民族,就是吃定了這一套。

The 2018 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will be held in Qingdao [Shandong province] in June. Its theme will be how best realise Xi Jinping’s vision for ‘creating a global community of shared destiny’ and develop the national ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy. 2018年上海合作組織會確定6月份在青島召開,會議主題就是落實習近的「建構人類命運共同體」,發展「一帶一路」戰略。

Community of Shared Destiny word cloud

There are numerous ‘communities of shared destiny’ all around the world. How can you limit them to only one? What are the criteria according to which such a unified community is to be ‘created’? Of course, it goes without saying, this new, unitary community can’t be constructed by imposing ‘a dated, sclerotic Western system of competitive elections’; what is required is the exemplary model provided by the Chinese political system that has done away with fixed terms for politicians.  現時全世界各有各的「命運共同體」,如何建構一個全人類的共同體?以甚麼準則去建構?不用說,當然不能夠以「過時的、刻板的西方民選制度」去建構,而理所當然地應該由「取消任期限制」的具「示範作用」的中國政治制度去建構啦。

If this is the fate of humanity’s ‘community of shared destiny’, then all nations should do away with democratic elections and the separation of powers [between parliamentarians, the executive and the courts], so instead they can be lead by a Great Party under a Great Leader. All countries should eliminate freedom of the press and freedom of expression and speak with the singular clarion voice of a Great Political Party. Bureaucrats should no longer have to answer to the people for they need only serve their superiors. In the end, the tenet that ‘everyone is born equal’ can also be done away with, for everyone will have a their own place in a fixed hierarchy and enjoy the privileges concomitant with that predetermined status. Each stratum will repress the stratum beneath it. The aim of human existence will be to struggle up the ladder to enjoy greater status; no more will people live for themselves and live in freedom, for they will be educated from birth to think that all they are and all they have belongs to ‘The State’. 倘若這就是人類「命運共同體」,那麼全人類各國家都要取消民選,實行三權合作,由一個偉大政黨和偉大領袖統一領導;各國都要取消新聞自由、言論自由,統一在偉大政黨領導下發聲;各國官員都不再需要對選民負責,而只需要對上級負責。而歸根結底是:不再有「人人生而平等」,而是把人分成三六九等,不同等級享受不同的待遇,一層踩着一層,人活着的目的就是往上爬;不再是人人為自己而活、為自由而生,而是生下來就被教育個人及所有的一切均屬於「國家」。

At the moment, the majority of nations have democratic electoral systems. Their leaders are constrained by the law and judicial oversight and people enjoy basic freedoms. Following the Second War the number of countries without elections and a leader-for-life was reduced in number from dozens to one. Now, another country is joining this boutique number, and the netizens of China have dubbed it ‘West Korea’. We know it as the People’s Republic of China. I wonder: just what countries and which people will truly welcome China’s unique ‘contribution to the political culture of humanity’? 但目前,世界上絕大多數國家都實行多黨民主選舉、領導人受立法司法監督、人民享有自由。世界上沒有民主選舉、領袖終身制國家,從戰後數十個一路銳減至一個,現在可望增加多一個,就是被大陸網民譏為「西朝鮮」的中國。世界上會有哪個國家和哪裏的人民,會接納這份「人類政治文明的最新成果」呢?

To offer a ‘political model’ to the world: is that the ‘China Dream’ or a global nightmare? 向世界作「政治示範」,是在發「中國夢」,還是給世界帶來夢魘?

— 李怡, 夢與夢魘, 2018年3月7日

The Only Guide

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


The only guide to man is his conscience.
Winston Churchill

Over the last number of days we have focussed on the political situation in China. Among  the messages I’ve received in response one reads: What you are saying is not only the state of China, Hong Kong is following closely in their footsteps. The Chinese Communists are imposing their ‘right of encompassing control’ on Hong Kong. The pro-Beijing camp controls the Legislative Council and most of the media have been bought off. As for the young people who resist, the government has used the courts to quash them, and whether it be in LegCo or in street demonstrations the Democrats seem to be completely listlessness. Given the precipitous decline of things in Hong Kong just how should a ‘woke’ individual like me, someone who does not simply want to go along with all of this, comport themselves? 連續多天談中國的政治變局,留言中就有人問:中國如此,香港特區政府亦步亦趨,中共對香港實行「全面管治權」,建制派控制了立法會,媒體絕大部份已歸邊,年輕人的抗爭被政府利用司法打壓得一蹶不振,民主派無論在議會還是在示威街頭都顯得有氣無力。在眼看香港急速淪落的情況下,一個清醒的、不願隨波逐流的香港人應該如何自處?

I haven’t been an optimist as such since the signing of the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’ [on 19 December 1984], and my perspective on the future of China is the same. But I’m not necessarily more pessimistic now than I was back then. For most people, over time and in accord with an individual’s demeanor, pessimism generally sours into negativity. Since the demands of the Umbrella Movement were frustrated, the enthusiasm of average Hong Kong people in participating in acts of resistance has been dampened. Those young people who resist — the individuals who have led calls for self-determination and Hong Kong independence — as well as the most feeble gestures of opposition have been mercilessly crushed by the Communists. Because some Democrats have disowned these young protesters, the enthusiasm and aspirations of Hong Kong people for democracy have also been undermined. The present state of things means that not only are hopes that people harbour to determine their own fate are being frustrated but even attempts to keep up pressure in favour of the 1997 promise that ‘Hong Kong people will govern Hong Kong’ are but a distant memory and fade into the void. 早在中英簽署《聯合聲明》後,我對香港前景就從來沒有樂觀過,對中國的前景也一樣。現在並沒有比那時更悲觀。通常人的悲觀,一定伴隨着行為的趨於消極。香港自傘運的訴求失敗以來,市民被引發的積極參與的抗爭熱情,等於被潑了冷水。年輕人的行動抗爭,被激發出的自決、港獨訴求,儘管極為微弱,但不只被中共港共無情打壓,也因為一些民主派的主動割席,給積極參與或支持民主的市民再潑一次冰水。整個形勢莫說香港人爭取命運自主,即使想維持九七之初的港人治港,也會越行越遠並可能無疾而終了。

Pessimism about the present state of affairs is hardly limited to Hong Kong; it has been the normal condition for most people during most of human history as people have struggled for human rights. After countless battles, and following seemingly an endless darkness, people in some places managed to win their rights, achievements gained little by little over time. In the depths of night, even those fighters and their supporters felt hopeless. 但形勢不樂觀不是香港獨有的現象,而是人類有史以來所有為了人權而抗爭的大部份狀態。在無數次、又不知多長久的黑暗之後,一些地方的人逐漸爭得應有權利,而且是一點一滴地取得的。在黑不見天的日子,抗爭者、支持者也都會消極。

So, then, who are humanity’s guides? Winston Churchill said: ‘The only guide to man is his conscience.’ 那麼,誰是人類的唯一引導者呢?邱吉爾說,「就是他的良心」。

Existentialism teaches us that human existence is absurd, pessimistic, that the more you know about humanity the less optimistic you can be. But Existentialism doesn’t not preach negativity; at all times the individual should actively engage with your existing state of being and to do the best you according to your conscience. It is irrelevant if one succeeds or not, what matters is morality and decency. 存在主義告訴我們,人類社會本質上就是荒謬的,悲觀的,對人類和人性了解越多,越無法樂觀。但存在主義不認為我們應該消極,而是每時每刻,都要積極掌握自己現有的存在,在良心引導下做我們力所能及的事。不問成敗得失,只問是非對錯。

[In a commencement address in 2013] Professor Cong Riyun of China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing said: 中國政法大學教授叢日云說:

If China experiences another Boxer Uprising or Red Guard Movement, or if the Chongqing Model became the China Model will you be able to be clearheaded and just say ‘No!’? 如果中國再來一次義和團或紅衞兵運動,如果重慶模式成為中國模式,你們能不能清醒地說不?

If you have neither the wisdom nor the courage to do so, can you at least try to be a non-committal observer? If you can’t always keep from being submerged in the raging torrent of filth, can you at least make the conscious decision to offer some occasional resistance? If you can’t put up a principled fight, maybe you can try various forms of passive resistance? If you lack the courage to speak out, maybe you’ll find some round-about way to express your opposition? If you don’t even dare do that, perhaps you can just remain silent. If you are not allowed the option to be silent and you are still forced to collaborate, can you perhaps just speak a little more quietly? 如果你沒有這個見識或勇氣,能不能至少做個無害的逍遙派?面對滾滾而來的濁流,如果你不能總是抗爭,你是否可以選擇偶爾抗爭;如果你不敢積極的抗爭,你還可以選擇消極地抗爭;如果你不能勇敢地表達,你可以選擇含蓄地表達;如果你也不敢含蓄地表達,你可以選擇沉默。如果你沒有選擇沉默而是不得不選擇配合,但你還可以把調門放低一些。

Whether you consciously decide to or are obliged to do evil, can you at least retain in your heart a skerrick of disquiet and guilt? That disquiet and shame will be evidence that you have not entirely lost your humanity. If you can’t or won’t resist, could you at least show a modicum of respect for those who do? If you don’t even have any respect for what they do, please try not to stab them in the back, for to do so will offer succour to the tyrants. 在你主動的或被迫地幹着壞事時,能不能內心裏還殘留一點不安和負罪感。這一點兒不安或負罪感,仍是人性未泯的標記。即使你不去抗爭,但對其他抗爭者,要懷着幾分敬重,即使沒有這份敬重,也不要在背後放冷箭,助紂為虐。[For the full text of Cong Riyun’s speech, see here.]

Given the wretched circumstances on the Mainland, the high-minded demands made on the individual are increasingly circumscribed. But depending on circumstances individuals can still follow their conscience, even if only in the most modest or decrepit fashion. 在大陸的惡劣環境下,對人的要求標準會越降越低,但不同的人在不同處境下還是會受些微的或殘存的良心引導。

As I said in the above, since the signing of the ‘Joint Declaration’ in 1984, even when the Democrats have won a major electoral victory I have not been overly optimistic. Instead, I’ve always followed my conscience; I do the best I can in the circumstances. 我前面說,在1984年簽署《聯合聲明》以來,即使民主派在選舉中獲壓倒勝利,我也沒有樂觀過,但我一直受良心導引,做力所能及的事。

In conclusion I’d like to say that if you’re a registered voter in a district with a by-election this weekend, you should cast a ballot on Sunday. 我這篇文章想說的是最後這一句:如果你是補選區的選民,這個星期天一定要去投票。

No need for tears, just act according to your conscience. 不必含淚,但憑良知。

— 李怡, 誰是我們的引導者, 2018年3月8日