Hong Kong Apostasy
The leader of the Chinese People’s Republic, Xi Jinping, came of age at a time when political struggle not only suffused every aspect of the nation’s life, it was advocated, glorified and reveled in by the rulers.
The leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, was not only an advocate but he was also a masterful practitioner of continuing revolution and violent struggle. His ‘thought’ was a melange of ideas grounded in Leninist-Trotskyite theories, as well as cultural fantasies inspired by traditional fiction, histories and dynastic-era peasant rebellions. This toxic mix fed a quirky, paranoid and vengeful personality that was itself forged by decades of power struggles and violent warfare.
On the eve of the celebration of the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth, 24 December 2013, the official media reminded Party members and cadres of his militant spirit. In an article titled ‘Thoughts Inspired by a Quotation from Chairman Mao’ 一句「毛主席語錄」引發的思考 the author told the faithful that they needed ‘more calcium’ 補鈣 to strengthen their backbones and that they should ‘recharge batteries’ 充電 depleted by an era of laziness and luxury. ‘It is the right time to reacquaint yourselves with some Red Classics’ 紅色經典, the writer said, in particular people should mull over a famous inscription that Mao Zedong wrote for himself in 1917 titled ‘Struggle — A Reminder to Myself’ 奮鬥自勉:
Find boundless joy in the struggle with Heaven;
Find boundless joy in the struggle with Earth;
Boundless too the joy you’ll find in Human Strife.
Today, Party commentators prefer to interpret the last line of this exhortation to mean that one should unite with one’s comrades to pursue the struggle for the Party’s enterprise. But Mao’s life was often anything but that and he gloried in the wars he waged with his opponents, both real and imagined, whether they were outside or inside the Communist Party. Today, despite a constant refrain about social harmony and peace, the Communist Party remains a political organisation founded on and engaged in ceaseless travails 奮鬥 and conflict 鬥爭.
‘Struggle’ 鬪/鬥 dòu, or 鬪爭 dòu zhēng, lies at the heart of China’s revolutionary history. And the word 鬪 dòu encompasses all forms of struggle, fighting and contestation — battling for survival; fighting military opponents; doing battle with one’s comrades. For some 鬪 dòu evokes the German word Kampf.
With a genius for summing up complex ideas in a lapidary form, Mao summed it up in the line:
‘With a population of eight hundred million struggle how can you help but struggle and fight.’
This quote was first published on 16 May 1976 marking ten years since the formal inauguration of the Cultural Revolution. During those long years of civil war (Mao’s term) the propagandists summed up the nation’s mission with similar brevity:
‘Constant struggle will create a new world.’
It is that new world that tempered Xi Jinping’s personality and, in his rise to power since 2007, he has repeatedly shown himself to share Mao’s obsession with the rhetoric, as well as with the advocacy of aggression and violent struggle. As the Politburo man charged with overall security during the 2008 Olympic Year, Xi orchestrated the militant long march of the Olympic Torch Relay, turning what by all rights should have been a global celebration into an ugly advocacy of Han-Chinese nationalism (for more on this, see my comments in ‘Torching the Relay’, The China Beat, 4 May 2008).
Today, commentators foreign and Chinese alike may fixate on Mao-like features of Xi’s rule such as his amassing of power (although Xi has more titular positions and greater real power than Mao) and a rather shoddy personality cult (the focus of which, as we have previously noted, is relatively ‘personality-free’), but what perhaps is more significant is his obsession with conflict and struggle, in particular, his helping to foment and prosecute a series of civil wars. Instead of being part of a concerted effort to address the social and economic issues that contributed to the violent uprising in Tibetan China in 2008, Xi and his colleagues purposefully turned a conflict that had been simmering since the protests of 1988 into an ongoing state of emergency. (That earlier period of repression in Lhasa was a factor in the political trajectory rise of the local Party boss, Hu Jintao, just as the crushing of student protests in Shanghai in late 1986 enhanced the career of that city’s satrap, Jiang Zemin, following the 4 June 1989 Beijing Massacre.)
The advocacy of a unitary ‘China Story’ since late 2012 is aimed at reimposing a dull national homogeneity, one that is subservient to the cyclops-like vision of Party. It also contributes to Xi Jinping’s ‘forever war’ on history, truth-telling and political and social diversity.
More recently, Xinjiang has fallen under the deadly sway of Xi’s aggressive centralising authoritarian vision and, for the foreseeable future, the territory will remain in a state of high tension and quasi civil conflict. Meanwhile, Xi’s Communist Party’s ‘war on people’ — that is. the marginalised and disadvantaged, social activists, independent religious figures, free thinkers, writers, etcetera — continues unabated. And then there is Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that, even before Xi Jinping’s autarchy, was a locus of civilian unrest. Now it is a city in open rebellion.
The constant refrain heard in Communist China may talk about the need for social stability and unity — policies first articulated by Deng Xiaoping in the early post-Mao era — but official thinking and language never strayed that far from the campaign-style, militaristic origins of the Communist Party (for a discussion of China’s militant language, see On New China Newspeak 新華文體). Under Xi Jinping, it has been evident since late 2012 that the leader’s Maoist origins and obsession with struggle as the core value of political and civilian life have come to the fore as he has consolidated his rule over China.
The watchword of those who oppose this alarming situation is ‘to resist’ 抗爭 kàng zhēng, or kong3 zaang1 in Cantonese.
In a speech to the incoming class of Party cadres at what is sometimes coyly referred to as China’s National Academy of Governance (aka, The Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party) on 3 September 2019, Xi Jinping managed to outdo himself by using the term ‘struggle’ 鬥爭 over fifty times, breaking the record he set in January in a chilling New Year’s Address to the nation.
We introduce this chapter of ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’ by revisiting warnings issued by Tsinghua professor Xu Zhangrun about the imminent threat of Xi Jinping’s ‘philosophy of struggle’. Significantly for our ongoing discussion of the Hong Kong Uprising, Xu emphasises that the social and political impasses faced on Mainland China themselves can only equitably be resolved by creating an independent judicial system, democracy and ensuring individual rights, or ‘freedom’. These are the same concerns expressed by hundreds of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong and they have repeatedly taken to the streets and formulated innovative ways to resist the erosion of these self-same values.
We conclude this chapter with the insights of Joseph Yi-Zheng Lian (練乙錚, 1951-), an economist, academic and veteran journalist, on the ‘protracted people’s war’ in Hong Kong. This is part of a civil war that, under the auspices of Xi Jinping, is unfolding on three different fronts: in Hong Kong, on Taiwan and on Mainland China itself.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
14 September 2019
- The Editor and Others, Homo Xinensis Militant, China Heritage, 1 October 2018
- The Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 Archive, China Heritage, 1 August 2018-
- Zhang Qianfan 張千帆, ‘Universal Suffrage and Elections Are the Key to Resolving the Chaos in Hong Kong’ 普選是破解亂局關鍵, 《信報》, 2019年9月4日 (Chinese)
- Yi-Zheng Lian, ‘Hong Kong, Carrie Lam Didn’t Do It for You‘, The New York Times, 4 September 2019
- David Bandurski, ‘The Party is Struggling’, China Media Project, 6 September 2019
- Lee Yee 李怡, ‘Pitiless Struggle’ 殘酷鬥爭,《蘋果日報》, 2019年9月9日 (Chinese)
- Lily Kuo, ‘I’ll take the blow for them’: the volunteers protecting Hong Kong protesters, The Guardian, 13 September 2019
- Ian Johnson, ‘What Holds China Together’, The New York Review of Books, vol.66 no.14 (26 September 2019)
Of course, in the process of waiting it out, you find yourselves burdened by the dead weight of a sclerotic system, and you end up throwing millions of innocent lives into the ditch, part of a grotesque human sacrifice. The root cause of all of this: again, it is your refusal to accept the kind of sustainable political legitimacy offered by constitutional democracy. Your only response to any and all political crises is to make economic concessions [to the population] while employing increasingly repressive measures, and by indulging in blatant deception. Under no circumstances are you willing to concede power to the people.
— from Xu Zhangrun, ‘On China’s Red Empire’, January 2019
‘Struggle’, Xi Jinping’s Signature Term
Excerpts from the Writings of Xu Zhangrun
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
Since 2016, Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 increasingly alerted his audiences and his readers to the autocratic revanchism under Xi Jinping’s rule. Although his concerns were widely shared from 2013 — and also articulated by other writers — Xu further raised the alarm in a series of elegant and powerful essays, a number of which have been published in annotated translations by China Heritage (see The Xu Zhangrun Archive). The Tsinghua law professor was particularly alarmed by Xi Jinping’s obsession with what he called ‘the mantra of struggle’ 鬥字訣.
In his now-famous July 2018 Jeremiad directed against Communist Party rule under Xi Jinping, Xu Zhangrun observed that:
In recent years, the gunpowder-like stench of militant ideology has become stronger. It reeks of what is [fashionably termed] ‘Taking the Lead to Achieve Discursive Hegemony’ [that is, the right of the voices of those in power to speak over all others], although in reality it is a perverse use of the public to impose ideological punishment [on private citizens]. … This state of affairs is also increasingly hindering exchanges between China and the outside world. … Such an approach is a betrayal both of our traditions and of our present aspirations. In this day and age one would have thought it to be unthinkable: but this vile totalitarian mien brings to mind the barbarism of the Cultural Revolution. … …
Ultimately, ‘Economic Development as the Core’ should by all rights evolve towards a core desire to pursue a constitution-based rule of law, and it is on that basis that politics and the economy should work together to build a truly modern nation; thereby the two will be like joint handmaidens at the birth of modern China. However, in the present circumstances, what is necessary is for the former [that is economic development] to be maintained unstintingly; it is unthinkable that other plans should be afoot or that anyone could be considering a volte-face.
…memories of a political model that was based on constant, pitiless Struggle [under the Communist Party itself from 1949 to 1978, and in reality during the mini-purges of the 1980s — in 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1989, and beyond] remain fresh and the concern that it could well be reimposed on China is real.
… It was assumed that the old mantra of ‘Ceaseless Struggle’ had lost its power. But these years it seems as though, yet again, we are moving in the opposite direction [from the recent past]. Not surprisingly, there is widespread alarm.
Some five months later, in January 2019, as part of his powerful warning about the threat of China’s party-state becoming a ‘Red Empire’, Xu Zhangrun observed:
At this crucial juncture, and just as I was writing this, the Peak [Leader, that is Xi Jinping] has repeatedly pronounced on the need for ‘Constant Struggle’, thereby sending out a dark message. At the start of the new year of 2019, numerous articles in the main official media touted headlines featuring the words ‘Constant Struggle’ and ‘Military Struggle’, causing widespread consternation. [For example, at a meeting of the Party’s Central Military Commission on 4 January 2019, Xi Jinping emphasised ‘the need to prepare for military struggle’ 做好軍事鬥爭準備工作].
In fact, talk of ‘The Great Struggle’ has been a particular feature of official discourse since the Nineteenth Congress of the Communist Party [in October 2017], although not in such an extravagant and repetitious fashion as now [the timing of such militaristic talk was not accidental; it is part of the psychological warfare Beijing continues to wage on Taipei. Only days before the meeting of the Party’s Military Commission, Xi made a key speech on Taiwan]. It is a major issue deserving of considered analysis, in the first place because of its impact on China’s domestic political scene; but, at the same time, it also has an impact on the nation’s interactions with other countries and global politics in general.
People should not forget that for over thirty years the power-holders imposed a pitiless philosophy of class struggle through constant political movements. During those decades not only were the butchers themselves sacrificed on the altar of ideology — ‘mourned in turn after others had been mourned for’ [a quotation from the Tang poet Du Mu’s 杜牧, ‘The Great Palace of Ch’in — a Rhapsody’ 阿房宮賦] — but more importantly the countless multitudes of China were caught up in the maelstrom. It feels like only yesterday that bloody violence swept the land. Having barely survived that calamity you can just imagine how people must be reacting to the renewed drumbeat of war. The word ‘Struggle’ weaves through this threnody. People can only imagine the worst, for the drumbeat signals an end to all the talk of peace, and rather presages civil war. At times of crisis, a state of emergency is the Red Empire’s default posture [such a crisis being the economic problems besetting the country in 2018-2019]. It’s the ‘killer app’ they turn to in response to any major threat.
The calls to ‘Liberate Taiwan’ or ‘Resolve the Taiwan Issue’ are like a Sword of Damocles hanging over us all; once chanted the domestic atmosphere tightens overnight, international relations become strained as the sword may be drawn from its sheath — but these are merely the basics of the ‘Philosophy of Constant Struggle’. As I have said in the above: China has not been, needs not become, should not and cannot itself be a Red Empire. And that’s why it must not allow itself to be sidetracked yet again and return to the path of the past.
The reality is that in any normal society or political environment contradictions and clashes, complaints and clamour are commonplace. The true art of politics is knowing how to deal with such things in a peaceable manner that can bring people together. Clashes that unfold around [irreconcilable issues of] political contestation invariably lead to violence and rivers of blood flow in their wake. Time and again we have seen that only constitutional democracies have the stable political wherewithal to resolve conflicts peacefully.
[In China] If only after the ‘First Year of Popular Rights’ [that is, the year 2003, when there was a glimmer of hope that a modicum of political relaxation might presage gradual reform] that already marked the first peaceful transition of Party power [with the ‘selection’ of Hu Jintao as Party General Secretary, the first time in China since 1949 that the political succession was not determined by a coup or a purge], a few more such transitions occurred and their format regularised so that a normal style of political contestation could mature within the framework of constitutional democracy ensuring that ‘the people are sovereign, the public vested with power’. If people were confident that a kind of Chinese-style stable and gradual transition would unfold, they could have understood and been willing to wait.
Tragically, instead we had ten long years of ‘Harmony’ [under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, that is from 2003 to 2012], years in which the political mantra was ‘drag it out’; nationwide demands for significant change were simply delayed. That window of opportunity available during those years that offered a space for some form of political uplift or historical advance was, time and again, ignored. Instead the power-holders blathered meaninglessly and played a game of ‘passing the [political] parcel’. The backsliding originating in those years was only a prelude to the kind of vast backsliding that we have witnessed over the past five years [from the Third Plenum of the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2013 to now]. Although time has passed in impotence, the [urgent and existing socio-political] dilemmas have not disappeared along with it; on the contrary they have only been further exacerbated. Nonetheless, at least everyone is aware that no matter what happens, China cannot return to the past state of civil war [on the occasion of his seventy-third birthday — 26 December 1966 — Mao congratulated himself on the fact that the country was in a state of ‘all-out civil war’ 全面內戰]. No more ‘mucking around’ [折騰 zhéteng; a colloquialism used, uncharacteristically, by Hu Jintao with the meaning of ‘side-tracked’, ‘to be unsettled’. For a discussion of this term see Heritage Glossary]!
Although [the leaders of the Hu-Wen era] didn’t have the internal fortitude to forge forward politically, at least they weren’t stupid enough to behave too outrageously. For their part, they were happy to operate their ‘Nine-man Oligopoly’ [at the time the Standing Committee of the Politburo had nine members] while the Red Gentry divided up the spoils of the nation among themselves; at the same time they gave license to the masses to pursue their petit-bourgeois dreams, thereby ‘filling the belly and softening the will’ [實腹弱智, short for 實其腹, 弱其志, from a famous line in Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經: ‘The Taoist rules by Emptying the Heart-and-Mind/ And Filling Belly,/ By softening the Will to Achieve,/ And strengthening the Bones’ 虛其心, 實其腹, 弱其志, 強其骨 — trans. John Minford]. People on both ends of the spectrum conspired, dreaming their different dreams despite sharing the same bed. Who would have thought that in the nationwide frenzy of corruption they actually managed to paper over the gimcrack structure [of the party-state]; it even flourished and generated a level of ‘moderate prosperity’ which, however, was ‘all appearance and no heart’.
And now, in the blink of an eye, the first five years [of Xi Jinping’s rule] have passed during which an Anti-Corruption Movement has been used to shake up the bureaucracy and deal with the problems that accumulated over the previous years. It might have been brutal yet it can claim a measure of success. But overall, things have gotten worse and that is because there has been a steadfast refusal [by the leaders] to engage with political mechanisms that rely on democracy and the rule of law. They have consistently rejected the fundamental aspiration of the age, that is to allow people to express themselves politically via the ballot box. There has been a trenchant dismissal of pluralism and [a refusal to allow] the expression of divergent opinions. And, furthermore, it is this very state of repression that has made it possible [for the Party] to abandon ‘the peaceful transfer of the throne’ [禪讓 shàn ràng, an ancient term denoted orderly power transitions between rulers, used here to describe the handover of party-state power first between Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao and, again, a decade later with the retirement of Hu Jintao and the elevation of Xi Jinping, although the latter did involve a power struggle with Bo Xilai and a dramatic political purge].
And now, here we are, reciting the mantra of ‘Constant Struggle’ again. Even now, that same window of opportunity [mentioned above] exists even if in only the most tenuous sense. It could be slam shut in a flash and its loss could even hasten the further deterioration of things, so much so that it could hasten the reinstitution of the mechanisms of terror germane to that ‘philosophy of constant struggle’. And, along with that, the murderous machinery that kept it all running would once more come into operation. If things really unfold in that way, the common people will be reduced to being mere spectators as the party-state becomes embroiled in its own internal power struggles. But the people are also hostage [to the system] and despite all of the hard work they have done to ensure themselves a happy life, ultimately won’t they also then end up as a kind of human sacrifice that ends up being buried along with it all!?
So, what’s brought about the present situation? Of course, the personality of He-Who-is-in-the-Driver’s Seat [again 當軸, that is, ‘the drive shaft’, or Xi Jinping] is a factor, but the crucial thing is the system itself. That is to say, a system that insists on maintaining a ‘Five-in-One’ dominance [that is, by the merging of party and nation 黨國一體, party and government 黨政一體, economy and government 經政一體, army and government 軍政一體 and army and ruler 君師一體]. For such a system that has squandered all leeway yet is determined to undertake a draconian purge [of its own corruption] means that those in power [orchestrating the purge, that is Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan] must devote themselves entirely to maintaining the kind of high-pressure environment that in turn threatens the stability of the whole system [and the minute they let up, the inertia of the system will reassert itself].
The irony of the situation is that for the system to be maintained, harsh measures amounting to nothing less than a purge [of the kind witnessed during the Anti-Corruption Campaign] have been necessary, yet even then there is no viable way ahead, in particular rational alternatives that could contribute to any kind of modern political transformation [discussed at length in the previous essays] have been rejected. An irony certainly, but also a reality.
Once more we are contemplating the same kind of contradiction [that existed over a century ago] regarding the ‘Great Qing Dynasty’ and ‘China’ [that is, as the dynasty reformed people debated was the dynasty ‘China’ and was ‘China’ the same as the ruling Qing dynasty? Or, to cast the paradox in today’s terms: is the Communist Party’s party-state coterminous with China itself, and vice-versa?]. We find ourselves moving along knowing full well that what lies ahead is a dead end. We have no choice but to wait until we reach the end, and no one knows when that might be. It’s the kind of knotty problem eventually faced by all of the totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century. It was the kind of dilemma faced in the end by Soviet Russia, a hopelessly impossible situation that could only be resolved, or at least ameliorated, by the introduction of constitutional democracy [and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and re-assertion of Russia].
To do otherwise means you simply keep on going until it all comes apart at the seams. Of course, in the process of waiting it out, you find yourself under the dead weight of a sclerotic system and you end up throwing millions of innocent lives into the ditch, part of a grotesque human sacrifice. The root cause of all of this: again, it is your refusal to accept the kind of sustainable political legitimacy offered by constitutional democracy. Your only response to any and all political crises is by making economic concessions [to the population], by employing increasingly repressive measures and by blatant deception. Under no circumstances are you willing to concede power to the people. But here you are today: the size of the economic cake is smaller [and you don’t have the wherewithal to offer further state largesse, economic concessions, incentives, tax bribes, etc, to bribe people] and competition for every slice is more intense than ever. You are left with only the other two choices [that is, increased repression and deception]. So, let’s just see not only what will do, but what you can do.
— from Xu Zhangrun, China’s Red Empire
China Heritage, 16 January 2019
The People’s War Is Coming in Hong Kong
How and why have Hong Kongers managed to keep going for months, and in such large numbers, waging wave after wave of protest to oppose encroachment from China, despite the vast differences among them?
One major point of contention concerns whether to resort to nonpeaceful action and how close to skirt with violence. Take the occupation of the Hong Kong airport early last week. The sit-in, supposedly a peaceful initiative, devolved into clashes with the police and was marred after some protesters roughed up two mainlanders they suspected of being infiltrators sent by China. (One of the two turned out to be a reporter with the much-disdained Global Times, the hard-line media face of the authorities in Beijing.) Amid fears that the movement’s unity might unravel, some protesters then apologized, saying they had committed inappropriate acts in the heat of passion.
But the turnout at a student-led rally on Friday and then at another more traditional and peaceful huge march on Sunday proved those concerns wrong.
The rally, at which I spoke, was organized by the student unions of a dozen postsecondary schools, in conjunction with an influential internet protest group whose name in Cantonese slang translates ominously as “I Want to Perish Together” (meaning together with my powerful oppressor). The name reflects the prevailing sentiment, especially among the younger generations, that Hong Kong has just about exhausted all peaceful means to defend itself against China’s systematic efforts to chip away at the city’s semi-autonomy. The rally’s organizers called on the British government to declare that China, in so interfering, is violating a 1984 treaty with Britain that anticipated Hong Kong’s special status after Britain handed it over to China in 1997. They also urged the United States Congress to pass a law that would punish Hong Kong officials who blatantly violate the democratic and human rights of the city’s citizens, by freezing their assets in the United States and denying them visa privileges.
The Sunday march, for its part, focused on recent police brutality, such as the point-blank use of rubber bullets against retreating protesters. (A paramedic volunteer at the front line of a recent protest was hit in the eye by, it is widely believed, a projectile shot by the police.) Again and again, participants in Sunday’s march would cry out, “Wicked police!” and the crowd would respond, “Pay back the eye!” None too Christian, perhaps, but entirely understandable.
Ahead of these two events, worries had grown that a longstanding cleavage within the pro-democracy movement would reopen and might blunt or even derail it. After the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the so-called courageous-militant camp, a younger and more radical group with strong separatist sentiments but few adherents, split from an older and more traditional group, the so-called peaceful-rational camp, formerly known as the pan-democrats. For several years, the split was so bitter that some members of the peaceful-rational camp suspected leaders of the courageous-militant camp of being agents provocateurs paid by Beijing to sow discord.
It was easy to demonize the radicals when their numbers were small, as in 2014, but their ranks have grown enormously since. Suspicions about the courageous-militant camp began to subside when post-2014 repression disproportionally fell on it.
Now the two camps have reconciled.
When front-line protesters stormed the Legislative Council on July 1, there were hundreds, even thousands, of young supporters right behind them, acting as a buffer against any police intervention — and there have been in many not-so-peaceful street actions since.
Over the course of the summer, the older camp has realized that these more militant youngsters are their sons and daughters. A group of elderly Hong Kongers even organized a rally of the “silver-haired tribe,” as they called themselves, in support of the younger vanguard.
Sharing the goal of wanting a free and democratic Hong Kong has created a unity across methods, outlooks and generations, and this is a major reason the protests are enduring and will continue to.
There are other reasons as well. The courageous-militant camp has burned the boat with its daring street actions since July: If the movement cannot succeed in forcing the government to fully withdraw the unpopular extradition bill — which it has only suspended — and the bill eventually passes, frontliners could be among the first to face extradition to the mainland. And so they must fight on.
Many members of the movement also hope that at some point their perseverance and resistance will persuade the international community to come to its aid. With the embattled Hong Kong police apparently struggling to gain the upper hand against the more radical protesters, the Chinese authorities in Beijing have indirectly threatened to let loose the People’s Liberation Army on Hong Kong. That prompted President Trump — who until then had seemed unmoved by the protests — to warn last week that any violent intervention by China would complicate efforts to strike a trade deal. Leaders and officials in Britain, Canada and Europe and at the United Nations have issued similar statements.
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has also promised to give Hong Kong protesters humanitarian assistance, including by granting them refuge, if necessary. (Upward of 30 protesters reportedly had sought and been granted entry into Taiwan by mid-July.) That pledge, too, may encourage more Hong Kongers to fight harder and longer.
A shabby mixed bag of practiced remorse and callousness
Last week, in the midst of intensifying police brutality against the protesters, Mrs. Lam met with a privileged group of businesspeople and told them, off the record, that she would quit “if I have a choice.” Her talk was recorded on the sly, leaked and disclosed on Monday. On Tuesday, she told journalists that she had never tendered her resignation to Beijing and had not considered doing so. …
Now was no time for self-pity, she said, and yet she went on to lament, choking up at times, that she no longer dared to go out for shopping or to get her hair done, for fear of being met by throngs of young people in black T-shirts and black masks (black is the protesters’ preferred color). All this she said even as hundreds of police officers in full riot gear have been let loose these days, bashing the skulls and breaking the teeth of protesters and innocent bystanders alike, pulling off the underwear of a young woman they arrested and deliberately crushing hands under their boots. The chief executive can’t visit her coiffeur? Big deal.
Mrs. Lam is heard saying in the recording, “for a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable.” Quite so. Especially since “havoc” is a gross euphemism for what Mrs. Lam has done. She has undermined constitutional guarantees and political freedoms. She has politicized what was once a professional police force and turned it into a tool of oppression that acts at the behest of Beijing. She has given the police unheard-of license to make arrests in hospitals and bully patients, and to mistreat — my euphemism this time — protesters and reporters at the front lines. The special governance system that Beijing had promised would govern Hong Kong and keep it distinct from the mainland until at least 2047 has been thoroughly trampled. …
She said that she had gotten clear hints from Beijing that no matter what happened in the streets of Hong Kong, China would not send in the People’s Liberation Army; Beijing just wouldn’t risk damaging its “international profile,” which took so long to build, as “not only a big economy, but a big, responsible economy.” There is unintended mercy in cold calculus, apparently.
But this also means, in the words of Mrs. Lam, that the authorities in Beijing are “willing to play it long,” and “so you have no short-term solution.” Put another way: China’s strategy is essentially to play a game of attrition, conceding as little as possible while expecting the Hong Kong government and the local police to hold out longer than the protesters, despite the risk of imposing significant costs on the city in the meantime.
— from Yi-Zheng Lian, ‘Hong Kong, Carrie Lam Didn’t Do It for You’
The New York Times, 4 September 2019
As they do, the Hong Kong government will struggle to stop the movement by decapitation, a strategy it employed in recent years — for example, by sending them to prison or forcing them into self-imposed exile, the leaders of organizations or parties calling for full-fledged independence for Hong Kong. On Tuesday, Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, suggested that she wanted to open a dialogue with the protesters as soon as things calm down. But with whom exactly would she communicate since the movement has no recognized representatives?
That an apparent weakness such as a lack of leaders could be an asset must be a thrill for protesters. So, too, must be holding one’s own with minimal, often homemade, equipment against police officers armed with sophisticated anti-riot gear and now three new huge water-cannon vehicles.
Back in 1938, Mao called for a “people’s war” against the imperialists — for the broad and, if needed, protracted mobilization of the people in the countryside, with whatever makeshift means, to support his ragtag collection of Communist soldiers. Today the protesters in Hong Kong are using the same idea and trying to garner strength in preparation for Oct. 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist regime in China.
So in the weeks ahead, expect the peaceful-rational wing of the protest movement to keep up the pressure on the Hong Kong authorities with low-attrition activities — such as industry-specific rallies or strikes and international lobbying — while the courageous-militant wing takes a break to strategize and organize.
The people’s war is coming again, with a surreal, postmodern twist: this time, in one of the world’s leading financial centers and against a Communist juggernaut.
A New Long March
Baak Bing 白兵 (‘White Warrior’)
It’s just great that everyone has enjoyed a few days’ break, but Mid Autumn Festival [on Friday 13 September] is over now. The Dirty Cops are still arresting people, including young girls, and who knows whether they’ve been spirited off to [the secretive detention centre at] San Uk Lang [near the border with the Mainland]. So, that’s why it’s time for everyone to throw themselves into the Struggle of Resistance once more:
- Work on Posters and Protest Imagery
- Demonstrate in the streets
- Launch civil disobedience actions
- Engage in ‘Be Like Water’ struggles
- Participate in the crowd-funding advertising campaign to ‘wish the Communists happy birthday’ [for 1 October 2019, see above], etcetera
- Continue all these actions in every way you can think of
Remember, the ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019’ [which is still before the American Congress] has yet to be passed; keep up the pressure!
I have faith in the People of Hong Kong. Everyone, Keep on Keeping on
— from LIHKG, 14 September 2019