On Monday 18 December 2023, Jimmy Lai (Lai Chee-ying 黎智英, 1947-), a former pro-democracy media tycoon went on trial under a Beijing-imposed national security law. Lai has been in custody since December 2020 and, on 8 December, he had turned seventy six. The proceedings had been delayed by a year of legal wrangling. If convicted of the charges levelled against him, Lai faces a possible life sentence. See:
- The Passion of Jimmy Lai, 21 April 2023
Below we reproduce an essay by Jimmy’s son, Sebastien, and feature an artistic protest created under the aegis of Mark Tarrant. We preface both of these with a Christmas message from Chris Hedges, one of our spiritual guides.
Hong Kong Apostasy, a series devoted to the rebellion and fall of the former British colony that was subsumed by the People’s Republic of China in 1997, features work originally published by Jimmy Lai’s media outlets, all of which are now regarded by the Beijing-Hong Kong authorities as ‘seditious materials’.
Lai, a Christian, will spend his third Christmas in a Hong Kong jail. This ‘foreign festival’ is rejected by Chinese patriots. In 2023, zealots suggested that 24-25 December should be classified as a national celebration since, on that day in 1950, American-led UN forces engaged in the Korean War retreated from the territory of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Officially at least, Beijing and Pyongyang have enjoyed a ‘teeth and lips’ — 唇齿相依 chún chǐ xiāng yī — level of political intimacy ever since. In the process, for over seventy years they have reinforced each other’s barbarity.
Mark A. Tarrant, a lawyer in Sydney who grew up in Hong Kong, thinks that abandoning Lai means surrendering to evil, and says it in so many words in the streets. He designed and commissioned a life-size neon sign “Jimmy Lai in Chains” that Melbourne neon artist Steven Cole produced in his workshop.
He also co-designed with Sydney graphic designer Michael Davies a silk screen print of a poster of “Jimmy Lai Behind Bars.” Tarrant posted it along Melbourne and Sydney Commercial Business District (CBD) streets in late September  to mark Lai’s 1,000 days of incarceration in Hong Kong. Starting on the evening of the 14th, local time, the neon sign was displayed at the Sydney Town Hall public space in what became an event. “We handed out apples in a nod to the ‘Apple Daily,’” Tarrant told “Bitter Winter.” “We had a violinist play ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ and the main theme from ‘In the Mood for Love.’” This is a 2000 romantic drama film written, produced, and directed in Hong Kong and France by director Wong Kar-Wai, who was born in Shanghai, but emigrated to at-that-time British Hong Kong at a very early age.
— from Marco Respinti, Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai Has Been in Jail for 1,000 Days: An Australian Lawyer Invented a New Way of Supporting Him, Bitter Winter, 18 October 2023
Over the years, we have noted the endemic malice of China’s party-state. Since the imposition of Beijing’s National Security Law in Hong Kong in July 2020, the authorities have pursued a form of exquisite revenge on those who dared to defy them. On a broader scale, it is a revenge that will be exacted on many who settled in or fled to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong after 1949 to ‘flee the chaos of the times’ 避秦時亂 bì Qín shí luàn, as the ancient expression puts it. They will, given time and an opportunity, continue to do so for generations. As the old saying goes:
We dedicate this chapter in Hong Kong Apostasy to Lee Yee 李怡, who passed away in October 2022, and to Huang Yongyu 黃永玉, who died in June 2023, as well as to the indomitable spirit of Jimmy Lai himself. See:
- Huang Yongyu, Lee Yee & Jimmy Lai, 22 June 2023
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
Christmas Day, 2023
- The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom
- 2023 Hong Kong Neon: Jimmy Lai in Chains
Also in China Heritage:
- Xi at XI — More Mao Than Ever, 23 December 2023
- The Passion of Jimmy Lai, 21 April 2023
- A Bitter Aftertaste — Let Them Eat Coronation Quiche!, 6 May 2023
- Huang Yongyu, Lee Yee & Jimmy Lai, 22 June 2023
- Lee Yee on the Demise of Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily, 23 June 2021
- Apple Daily, “The Four Noes” & the End of Chinese Media Independence, 24 June 2021
- Hong Kong Apostasy, 2017-
- Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium, 2022-
- Marco Respinti, Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai Has Been in Jail for 1,000 Days: An Australian Lawyer Invented a New Way of Supporting Him, Bitter Winter, 18 October 2023
- Brian Kern, Liberate Hong Kong: Stories from the Freedom Struggle, London: Bui Jones, 2023
- Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink, New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2022
- Louisa Lim, Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2022
For the Crucified of the Earth
… the actual story of Christmas was driven home to me when I was in a refugee camp in Honduras for Guatemalans who had fled the fighting in the early 1980s. And so these were all peasants, very poor, living in mud, in tents provided by the UN. And they were all hanging up strips of colored paper, because they said that in the evening they were going to celebrate what’s known as the Day of the Holy Innocents. So that’s the moment when Herod, in order to prevent the birth of the Messiah, according to the Bible, slaughters the children of Bethlehem; but Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus are warned, and they flee.
Now, that’s a story I—it’s from Matthew—I could recite by heart. I heard my father read it in Christmas services every night; we lived in a small farm town in upstate New York. But I asked them, well, why is that such an important day? And they said, well, because that’s the day that Christ became a refugee. And I realized the power of that story for somebody who had to flee with their children from the murderous rampages of the Guatemalan army and the death squads. It had a whole different import than it did to somebody who lived in relative comfort in a farm community in upstate New York.
And so I think—and James Cone, the great theologian, I think has driven home this point: that the gospel was written, in his words, for the crucified of the earth, and that they see in these stories of persecution, and finally crucifixion, a message that is lost on people who don’t suffer from that kind of oppression.
— Chris Hedges, 24 December 2021
My father, Jimmy Lai, may be on trial. But it’s Hong Kong’s future that is on the stand
19 December 2023
Sebastien Lai is the son of Jimmy Lai and leads the international campaign to free his father.
In 2020, the Hong Kong government accused my father, Jimmy Lai, of charges under China’s national security law, including “colluding with foreign forces” and sedition. The truth is much less convoluted. For almost three decades, my father published Apple Daily, the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper, and was one of Beijing’s most outspoken and dauntless critics.
For this, the authorities are putting on an elaborate show to discredit and silence him.
On Monday morning, when his sham trial finally began after more than 1,000 days of pre-trial detention, sniffer dogs patrolled the street outside of West Kowloon Court, and police officers deployed to secure the area – 1,000 of them, according to reports – scanned passing cars for bombs. Law enforcement dwarfed both press presence and the crowd queueing to witness the trial. Local media have reported that the same show of force will be deployed every day for the duration of my father’s 80-day trial.
The tight security, like the trial itself, is a co-ordinated performance to paint him as a dangerous man. But, in reality, it betrays something else: how terrified tyranny is of defiance, and how insecure Beijing and its puppets are in the face of a man who stands up for freedom and speaks truth to power, whatever the cost may be.
My father turned 76 years old earlier this month. It was his third birthday behind bars – yet another year we cannot celebrate with him. I have not seen or heard my father’s voice since 2020. The cost of my father’s decision to stay in Hong Kong and stand up to tyranny could be that I never will again.
But he understood that the cost of not standing up for human rights and dignity – of bowing to a dictatorship, instead – is even more dire. He named his newspaper Apple Daily in reference to the forbidden fruit of the Bible that revealed the knowledge of good and evil. Like the apple, his newspaper delivered the truth about China, and by doing so, poked holes in the regime’s lies.
My father understood the truth of living in an autocracy. He fled the hunger and deprivation of Communist China in the 1960s, and as a 12-year-old on his own in Hong Kong, he carved a life for himself – first as a factory worker, and later as a clothing and media entrepreneur. To this day, he remains deaf in one ear from his years spent working the thundering factory machinery from a young age. He used to tell us that despite the hardships of being a child labourer, he never felt poor, because the freedoms he found in Hong Kong granted him the opportunity to live and thrive. He knew that without these freedoms, he had nothing.
The outcome of his trial is already predetermined. There is no jury – only a panel of three judges hand-picked by the government. The city’s security minister has boasted of a 100-per-cent conviction rate for national security charges. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson last week called my father “one of the most notorious anti-China elements.” Before his trial has even begun, Beijing has already decided he is guilty.
But Hong Kong authorities must also be aware of the cost of perverting the city’s legal system to incriminate my father. The international community is watching closely. Last week, in a moving show of solidarity, Canada’s Parliament and Senate unanimously called for his release; Britain, of which my father is a citizen, has closely followed suit.
My father is not the one being put on trial. What is on the stand is his dismantled newspaper, the values it championed, and the millions of readers that believed in their right to have a say in the future of their home.
But ultimately, how Hong Kong’s court rules will only be an indictment of Hong Kong. The outcome of this show trial will reveal to the world what it thinks of free speech, the free press and other fundamental rights that underpin the rule of law. The city’s global reputation and its place as an international financial centre will hinge on the decision.
Sixty-four years after landing on its shores, my father is now in court defending the freedoms Hong Kong gave him as a child. The Chinese Communist Party has again caught up with him, but this time he has refused to flee. It is now up to those who enjoy these freedoms across the world to remind Hong Kong that the pursuit of freedom is not a crime.
- Sebastien Lai, My father, Jimmy Lai, may be on trial. But it’s Hong Kong’s future that is on the stand, The Globe & Mail, 19 December 2023