Jimmy Lai, the Twilight of Freedom & the Dawn of ‘Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism’ 法日斯 in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Apostasy


International commentators, analysts, political scientists and students of contemporary China would be well advised to add the phrase ‘Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism’ 法日斯 Fǎ-Rì-Sī to their everyday lexicons. Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, the outspoken Beijing-based critic of Xi Jinping’s China, created the expression some years ago to describe China today, a country ruled by a form of social control that, as he put it, is ‘cobbled together from strains of traditional harsh Chinese Legalist thought [法 ; that is, 中式法家思想] wedded to an admix of the Leninist-Stalinist interpretation of Marxism [斯 ; 斯大林主義] along with the “Germano-Aryan” form of fascism [日 ; 日耳曼法西斯主義].’

Professor Xu used it again in his noted critique of Xi Jinping’s globally calamitous handling of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic, where he wrote:

‘Unlimited government budgets have funded technological developments that are turning China into a mega data totalitarian state; we are already subjected to a 1984-style of total surveillance and control. This state of affairs has enabled what could be called “WeChat terrorism” which directly targets the country’s vast online population. Through their taxes the masses are, in fact, funding a vast Internet police force dedicated to overseeing, supervising and tracking everyone and all of the statements and actions they author. The Chinese body politic is riven by a new canker, but it is an infection germane to the system itself. … Everyone knows that the online terror may readily escape the virtual realm to become overtly physical: that is when the authorities use what they have learned online to send in the police in real-time. …

‘As a result, the potential for meaningful public discussion [of issues of the day, including the coronavirus] is stifled. By the same token, the very channels of communication that should in normal circumstances exist for the dissemination of public information are choked off, and a meaningful, civic early-warning system that could play a crucial role at times of local or national emergency is thereby outlawed. In its place we have an evolving form of military tyranny that is underpinned by an ideology that I call “Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism” [法日斯 Fǎ-Rì-Sī].’

— Xu Zhangrun, ‘When Fury Overcomes Fear’
China Heritage, 24 February 2020


Post-1997!Hong Kong also has had its own history of ‘Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism’. It methods, along the mentality that informs them, have long lurked in the civic life of China’s avowedly Special Administrative Region.

On 1 July 2017, to mark the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong coming under the sway of the Beijing government, China’s party-state-army leader Xi Jinping delivered a menacing speech when reviewing troops of the People’s Liberation Army stationed in the city. He referred obliquely to the political unrest of recent years and made it abundantly clear that, in the view of Beijing, Hong Kong and its people could not afford to be sidetracked by such things or to deplete themselves with internal wrangling 經不起折騰,經不起內耗. The answer, he declared unequivocally, was unity, increased political education and indoctrination in schools and in all matters of principle deference to Beijing, the sole source of authority in China.

Xi also took the opportunity to tell the people of Hong Kong in no uncertain terms that whereas the slogan might be ‘One Country, Two Systems’ 一國兩制, the reality is that the country, China (i.e., the Communist party-state), and the will of Beijing, override everything else; two systems are merely the stuff of the one country.

‘This is the root’, he declared, and only when the root is firmly grounded can everyone benefit from the resulting growth of the tree. He darkly declared, therefore, any and all activities that contravened such an understanding or are deemed to have ‘crossed the line will in no way be tolerated’ 對底線的觸碰,是絕不能允許的。

China Heritage marked 1 July 2017 by reprinting ‘Cauldron’ 鼎, a poem by P.K. Leung 梁秉鈞, the last lines of which read:

May I abstain from the rich banquet menu,
eat my simple fare, my gruel, my wild vegetables,
cook them, share them with you?

Is there a chance
your pomp and circumstance could ever change,
into a new motif,
some new arabesque
of beauty?

— from P.K. Leung 梁秉鈞, ‘Cauldron’
Translated by John Minford and Can Oi-sum

When, three years later, the ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’ went into effect on 1 July 2020, no doubt was left as to what the ‘bottom line’ 底線 of party-state control really meant, and the answer to P.K.’s question was unequivocal.


On 10 August 2020, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying (黎智英1948-), founder of Apple Daily, was arrested. As the editors of The New York Times noted:

‘Early on Monday, the police in Hong Kong arrested Jimmy Lai, founder of the popular tabloid Apple Daily, on charges of collusion with a foreign country, one of the vaguely defined crimes under the anti-sedition law adopted this spring by Beijing. It was the latest and clearest signal that China intends to make full use of that sweeping new legislation to stifle free expression and undermine Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

‘Mr. Lai, an ardent critic of the Chinese Communist Party who had used his wealth to finance pro-democracy activities, knew it was coming. In an Op-Ed in The Times in May, shortly before the government in Beijing announced its intention to pass the law, he wrote: “I have feared that one day the Chinese Communist Party would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people. That day has come.” ‘

The Editorial Board, ‘Jimmy Lai Is Arrested in Hong Kong.
Freedom Loses Again.’
The New York Times, 10 August 2020


In the first instalment of our series on Hong Kong we introduced readers to recent commentaries written by the veteran journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯). 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 essays translated in China Heritage are from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, the regular column Lee Yee writes for Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
12 August 2020


Jimmy Lai on ‘60 Minutes’, CBS, 13 October 2019:

Related News Reports:

Further Reading:

Source: Apple Daily, 12 August 2020


Martyrs for a Cause


Lee Yee 李怡

Translated and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé


The night before last, a Mainland friend sent me a message; it consisted of two images. One was the screenshot of the story that had just shaken Hong Kong, sending a shock around the world. The other was a copy of a statement made by the protagonist of the day’s news:

‘I came to Hong Kong empty handed. Everything that I have achieved comes from the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong. Today, I’m honoured to pay for that freedom, even with my life.’

To this, my friend added:

‘Each and every one of us should try to protect freedom! I am grateful to have a compatriot who has been fighting on the front line with selfless courage.’

Instead of writing a reply I simply sent my correspondent a thumbs-up emoji.



There are countless oft-cited quotations about ‘Life’ and ‘Freedom’. Those that most readily come to mind are a line from the eighteenth-century American political figure Patrick Henry — ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!’ — and the words of the Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi:

‘Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
My life.
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
My love.’

生命與自由,不知有多少名言說過了。許多人記得18世紀美國政治家Patrick Henry的話「不自由,毋寧死」,和匈牙利詩人裴多斐的詩:「生命誠可貴,愛情價更高,若為自由故,二者皆可拋。」

Of course, everyone talks about the importance of freedom in the abstract, but everyday reality is an entirely different matter. After all, more often than not you’ll see people willing to sacrifice freedom for the sake of survival; even more commonplace are instances where people will place a greater value on such evanescent things as material possessions or professional advancement than the possibility of living life in freedom.

‘I came to Hong Kong empty handed. Everything that I have achieved was because of the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong.’ — this is a hard-won statement based on lived experience. The statement is all the more powerful when you think about the slave-like conditions that he fled [from on the Chinese Mainland in 1960 during the vast government-induced famine of the Great Leap Forward] and how, like a fish taking to water, he quickly adapted to Hong Kong to make his fortune [after starting out in a garment factory as a penniless child laborer]. That’s why we can really appreciate the spirit of sacrifice that he is expressing here; it’s a willingness to be martyred for the sake of the precious freedoms of Hong Kong, even if that means paying such a high price, even the ultimate price.



Martyrdom — 殉教 xùn jiào — is usually about people who are persecuted or killed because of their religious beliefs. However, the term ‘殉道 xùn dào’ [which is used in the Chinese title of this essay] contains the term 道 dào, which means ‘The Way of Heaven’, that is the concept of right-and-wrong, or things ‘reasonable principle’ [or ‘a higher cause’]. Confucians celebrate those they call ‘the righteous who devote themselves to The Way’ 士志於道 [an expression that first appears in The Analects, 4.9]; in other words, those learned individuals who focus on matters of principle and the big questions of life. The word 道 dào also features in the expression 道統 dào tǒng — ‘An Unbroken Tradition of Upholding the Way’. Over the last year, countless Hong Kong people have been martyrs, people who 殉道 xùn dào, that is, sacrifice themselves for a higher cause; they are persecuted because they advocate freedom.


Although [, like Jimmy Lai,] I came to Hong Kong at the age of twelve, I had no experience of the enslaved society on the Mainland. [Note: Lee Yee’s family moved to Hong Kong in 1948, shortly before the establishment of the People’s Republic.] Yet I too made my own way and achieved something by taking advantage of the freedom of speech possible here in Hong Kong. If, however, I had embarked on life as a writer under Mainland authoritarianism, I simply cannot imagine what would have become of me. Anyone who has the opportunity to achieve things in a free environment should rightfully be grateful [as Lai himself remarked upon being arrested].


I would, however, hasten to add that Jimmy Lai has always been opposed to Localists and the advocates of Hong Kong independence. He’s a champion of ‘Great China chauvinism’. [Note: 大中華膠 dà Zhōnghuá jiāo, literally, ‘Great China Rubber’, a term cognate to 左膠 ‘leftard’. It is used to disparage ‘glued-on nationalists’ who denounce independents as splittists and traitors. Dà Zhōnghuá jiāo is also a homonym for ‘the Great China Religion’, or cult.] In his support for the pan-democracy camp, and despite the fact that he has never produced any evidence, he has repeatedly accused Localists [who favour Hong Kong rights and even independence] of being Communist agents [clandestinely undermining support for the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ governance framework].

Although I disagree with a many of his views, I have nothing but respect for a man who is willing to sacrifice everything to protect that most precious freedom of all: freedom of the press. Despite his consistent support for ‘One Country, Two Systems’ as a patriotic Chinese, Jimmy Lai has been repeatedly vilified and attacked. [Note: In August 2019, during the Anti-Extradition Protest Movement, Chinese state media named Lai as one of ‘The Gang of Four Destroying Hong Kong’ 禍港四人幫. The other three were Anson Chan, Martin Lee and Albert Ho.]

This latest move [of arresting Lai] is incontrovertible evidence that the imposition of the National Security Law [announced on 30 June and implemented on 1 July 2020] really has nothing to do with the so-called threat to Hong Kong posed by independence activists, or by those who supposedly want to dismember the Fatherland. What it is really about is the brutal and overt repression of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong as a whole.


Regardless of how many young Hongkongers reject Jimmy Lai’s views and even some of his actions, they cannot deny the fact that this immensely wealthy individual has shown himself ready to sacrifice his well-being for freedom no matter what the ramifications may be for his family or indeed for his own safety. He has done so to protect the media freedoms that are under clear and present threat from the Hong Kong Communist government. By attacking Lai and persecuting his family all the Hong Kong Communists have managed to do is to enrage the freedom-loving citizens of this city.


Two days ago [following the arrest of Jimmy Lai on 10 August] we witnessed two unprecedented events in this city. The first was the skyrocketing of the value of the stock price of Next Digital Limited [Lai’s company, which is the largest listed media group on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange]. Normally, when either the owner or executives of a major company are arrested the market value of the company drops precipitously. But, by the end of trading yesterday [11 August] the value of Next Digital stock, which had started out at HK$0.09, had shot up to HK$1.1; the previous average daily volume of trade of over 20 million had, by yesterday, hit 4.265 billion HK$. That’s more than a twenty-fold increase in market value. According to reports, 73% of the trades have been made by small investors. A report in Bloomberg News observed that supporters of democracy in Hong Kong had found a new platform for their protests: the stock market.


Source: ‘Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital Soars 344% After Arrest, Police Raid’, Bloomberg News, 10 August 2020

The second of the two unprecedented developments I mentioned is in relation to yesterday’s sales figures of Apple Daily itself [the flagship print and online newspaper published by Next Digital Ltd]. From an average daily circulation of 70,000, overnight sales jumped to 550,000 copies. One online image shows a pile of Apple Daily newspapers at the entrance to a 7-Eleven convenience store with a note saying: ‘These are already paid for. Feel free to take one!’


Both of these phenomena reflect widespread popular opinion in Hong Kong; heavy handed government behaviour only spurs on the citizenry to protest. Ever since the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests [starting in March 2019], Hong Kong citizens have, time and again, shown that they will not simply relinquish their freedoms. In so doing, they too have repeatedly demonstrated a spirit of sacrifice and willingness to be martyrs.


The Taiwanese writer Joyce Yen [顏擇雅] wrote on her Facebook page:

‘Observing the international media focus on Jimmy Lai I was particularly struck by the unyielding and resolute stance he took when they arrested him. I think there’s a real possibility that he could be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. No media tycoon has ever received the prize; it certainly would send a very strong message to the media worldwide.’


Not all that long ago, many young Hongkongers would have bristled at any suggestion that Jimmy Lai might ever be up for a Nobel Prize. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Hong Kong Communists, they would probably think he deserves it.