The Best China
In this latest instalment in our series ‘The Best China’, we offer a commentary cum exhortation by the veteran journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯) on the June-July 2019 Hong Kong Rebellion. Founding editor of The Seventies Monthly 七十年代月刊 (later renamed The Nineties Monthly) Lee Yee has been a prominent commentator on Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan politics, as well as the global scene, for over forty-five years. His position has gone from that of being a sympathetic interlocutor with the People’s Republic in the late 1970s to that of outspoken rebel and man of conscience from the early 1980s.
For decades Lee has analysed Hong Kong politics and society with a clarity of vision, and in a clarion voice, rare among the territory’s writers. The following essay is translated from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, the column Lee Yee writes for Apple Daily 蘋果日報.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
5 July 2019
- Cauldron 鼎, China Heritage, 1 July 2017
- Lee Yee 李怡, Playing by Peking’s Rules, Asian Wall Street Journal, 11-12 July 1986
- Lee Yee, ‘Hong Kong Outsiders’, China Heritage, 26 December 2018
- Leung Ping-kwan 梁秉鈞, ‘Terracotta Warriors on the Rhine’ 萊茵河旁的兵馬俑, trans. John Minford, China Heritage, 18 April 2019
- Chan Kin-man 陳健民, ‘A Hong Kong Farewell’, China Heritage, 24 April 2019
- Wang Ke’er 王珂兒, ‘Mother China, a Fatherland for Two Millennia’, China Heritage, 14 June 2019
- Samuel Wade, ‘In Tweets: Protesters Seize HK Legislature’, China Digital Times, 1 July 2019
- Louisa Lim, ‘Hong Kong Has Nothing Left to Lose’, The New York Times, 2 July 2019
- Stormtrooper 白兵, ‘The Fifth Power’ 第五權, 2 July 2019 (Cantonese with subtitles)
- Jiayang Fan, ‘The Disillusion and Frustration of a New Generation is Fuelling Hong Kong’s Protests’, The New Yorker, 3 July 2019
- Alvin Lum, ‘ “It wasn’t violence for violence’s sake”: the only unmasked protester at storming of Hong Kong’s legislature gives his account of the day’s drama’, South China Morning Post, 5 July 2019
- Regina Ip, ‘Hong Kong Is a Work in Progress’, The New York Times, 5 July 2019
- Amy Qin, ‘Hong Kong Protesters Take Their Message to Chinese Tourists’, The New York Times, 7 July 2019
- Stéphanie Giry, ‘The Extraordinary Power of Hong Kongers’ Solidarity’, The New York Times, 8 July 2019
Hong Kong Endgame
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
Martin Luther King said:
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.
When the events of 1 July unfolded many people, including me, asked: Is it safe? Politic? Popular? But the only thing that concerned those who stormed LegCo [the Legislative Council building that is the official seat of the Hong Kong government] that day was the issue of Right vs. Wrong. Was it a trap laid by the authorities? Was it led by blackguards who had insinuated themselves into the crowd of protesters? In the final analysis, these questions are meaningless. The determination of the majority of young protesters who regard the Anti Extradition Bill Movement as the Ultimate Battle, an Endgame, being fought between Right and Wrong is not something predicated on success, but rather it comes from moral awareness; they pose their questions about justice without a carefully calibrated consideration of the consequences. I’m afraid it is the kind of logic that simply eludes those ensconced in their comfortable sense of aloofness.
In the past few days we have seen the newspapers of the world publishing what amount to political advertisements for the young people of Hong Kong. Do you think that with their understanding and abilities they are incapable of telling if they were ‘infiltrated by enemy agents’ and merely doing their bidding? Do you imagine that with their courage and sense of rightness that they would simply fall into a trap set for them by the authorities?
These are individuals who share an unspoken understanding, they have come together in collaboration despite the fact that they are leaderless and are strangers to each other. But they share something that perhaps even the most powerful organisation lacks: a deep concern for each other, somewhat like the bond between brothers and sisters; it is an intimacy of the kind rare even among the closest of friends. A few days ago, people online were deeply affected by the declarations by some demonstrators who said that they would give expression to their independent political will in the most ultimate fashion: by taking their own lives. And their fellows have desperately searched for them — brothers in struggle whose names and identities were unknown.
In storming of LegCo, the seat of the Hong Kong government, protesters used the tactic long known in the West as a ‘Black Bloc’. Confronted with the collapse of political legitimacy and in an environment in which the police are deployed to act as a paramilitary force, protesters protect themselves by means of anonymity: they wear black clothes, don face masks, eye masks and helmets. The actions they chose are to block roadways, to surround or invade government buildings and even to use rocks, bottles, fireworks and Molotov cocktails as weapons. Black Blocs are not about plunder and they avoid hurting the innocent. Such militant actions are aimed squarely at the establishment and, naturally, the police are the main target.
A Black Bloc is a way of expressing opposition to the government and the establishment; their tactic of borderline violence invariably garners scant sympathy from the mainstream media, although they do benefit massively from social media since there is no way that the authorities can simply turn it off. Francis Dupuis-Déri, a professor at l’Université du Québec à Montréal [who is a noted activist and anarchist thinker, see his Anarchy Explained to My Father] is of the view that Black Bloc demonstrations are not directly related to the harming of innocent bystanders. He argues that it is important for people to consider the message of the Black Bloc rather than fixate on their actions per se.
像衝擊立法會的這類行動，西方社會早有名稱，叫Black Blocs，「黑塊」，或譯作「黑群」。那是在社會受壓者面對政治正當性蕩然無存而警察又趨軍事化的情勢下，用身穿全黑衣服，戴上口罩、眼罩、頭盔蒙面保護自己，採取佔領路面、包圍或進佔政府建築物，甚至掟石、掟樽、放煙火、汽油彈。黑群不搶掠，不傷害無辜者。勇武行動針對的是建制，警察自然首當其衝。黑群行動旨在表達對政府和建制的對抗，暴力邊緣的行為多不獲主流媒體支持，但受惠於社交媒體，使政府不能不關注。魁北克大學教授Francis Dupuis-Déri認為黑群示威與傷害無辜者的暴力沒有直接關係。他認為大眾要反思的是黑群帶出的訊息，而不是他們的行動。
Some online comments regarding the Hong Kong Black Bloc point out that to overthrow autocracy requires a multidimensional battle. The millions of demonstrators overwhelming the city are merely the foot soldiers; the student activists are akin to navy ‘SEALs’. They are the most courageous and they take the greatest risks. In relation to them, people shouldn’t hide their cowardice behind calls for ‘peaceful, rational and non-violent’ behavior. If you don’t have the courage to join in the charge, then take up a position behind the lines working on logistical support. Just don’t criticise the SEALS!
An authorised short film on the Internet features one of the last remaining demonstrators in the LegCo chamber who addresses the camera without a face mask off. He says:
‘Our movement excludes no one. The victory we seek is a victory for all; our loss will be a loss for years to come. We want a truly civil society one that cannot be overturned for years to come …
‘I have removed my face mask so everyone can know that there is nothing more that the Hong Kong people have to lose. …
‘If we lose this round too, that’s ten years, thinking about it — ten years in the short run, but our civil society will be completely lost.’
All-inclusive —冇得割席 — it means embracing those who are militant as well as those who are peaceful demonstrators in favor of ‘peaceful, rational and non-violent’ protest. The latest news is that young Hong Kong people who are ‘localists’ are no longer rejecting Mainlander participation. They have called for another demonstration on Sunday the 7th of July. It will start at Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui [frequented by Mainland shopper-tourists] and proceed to Hong Kong West Kowloon Station [symbolic as it is the terminal for the cross-border high-speed railway]. Along the way demonstrators will call out to passers-by [and Mainlanders arriving in Hong Kong who have been unaware of the protests] to join them in opposing the Extradition Bill.
The Communists have imposed a strict ban on news about the Hong Kong protests on the Mainland Internet; they are pursuing it with even greater stringency than that usually reserved for the constant flood of online criticisms of their authoritarian behaviour. I did, nonetheless, come across one snippet that had somehow managed to escape the censors:
‘Protesting against tyranny may well prove to be useless, but not to protest will definitely be meaningless. Freedom of speech might not be the same as democracy, but without even that freedom there will definitely be autocracy. There has to be a clear aim, one that must be achieved. This is the ‘Endgame’; it’s a ‘Crucial Campaign’. Good night, my dear Hong Kong!’
Not all Mainlanders are willfully unaware. In the Endgame between Justice and Evil, as many of them as possible should be embraced.
It’s important to March on the 7th of July!