Lee Yee on the Demise of Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily

Hong Kong Apostasy

‘Apple Daily said on Wednesday that it was closing less than a week after the police froze its accounts, raided its offices and arrested top editors, as the government’s escalating campaign against dissent takes aim at the city’s once vaunted media freedoms.

‘The forced closure of Apple Daily struck a blow to the unique character of the city itself. The paper churned out stories on celebrity gossip and lurid scandals, as well as hard-hitting political news and analysis, always with a decidedly antigovernment slant and an irreverence antithetical to what the Communist Party would allow in the mainland. Even in the face of advertising boycotts, assaults on its journalists and firebomb attacks, the paper persevered and thrived, remaining one of the most widely read newspapers in the city, living proof of the freedoms Hong Kong enjoyed despite its return to Chinese rule in 1997.’

— Austin Ramzy & Tiffany May, ‘Forbidden Fruit’: Apple Daily,
Pro-Democracy Newspaper in Hong Kong, Is Forced to Close
The New York Times, 23 June 2021


The following is the first of a two-part written as an envoi to Apple Daily 蘋果日報 and it’s abiding spirit by Lee Yee 李怡, an acclaimed Hong Kong journalist, editor and essayist whose work has frequently featured in our series ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’. (For part two, see Apple Daily, ‘The Four Noes’ & the End of Chinese Media Independence’China Heritage, 24 June 2021.)

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 fifty years. His position has gone from that of being a sympathetic interlocutor with the People’s Republic during the 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 by Lee Yee that we translated and published in China Heritage from July 2017 to March 2021 were from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, the regular column Lee wrote for Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

On 31 March 2021, Lee Yee told his readers that the changed circumstances in Hong Kong, and his advanced age, had led him to decide to cease publication of ‘Ways of the World’. From mid April, Lee began writing a new series of interconnected essays under the title Reminiscences of One of the Defeated 失敗者回憶錄. This series was also appeared in the pages of Apple Daily, until its demise on 24 June 2021.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
23 June 2021


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I have always thought I might one day be sent to jail for my publications or for my calls for democracy in Hong Kong. …

As far back as July 2003 and that earlier attempt at passing national security legislation, under Hong Kong’s own Basic Law, the Chinese Communist Party was already working at undoing the city’s unique freedoms.

And back then, like today, even as China represses Hong Kong, it tries to convince the world that it is acting legitimately and openly; it invokes process and procedures, laws and regulations. This is a charade, and it has long ago been dismissed by most Hong Kong people.

Yet the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine rolls on, offering a few talking points to Beijing loyalists and a semblance of cover to compliant governments and an international business community that seem convinced, wrongly, they can keep making money in China without being sullied by its politics.

Jimmy Lai, 20 August 2020

The lead of Lee Yee’s final column in Apple Daily, published on 23 June 2021, preserved on his Facebook page


The Successes and Failure of Apple Daily

Lee Yee 李怡

a chapter in Reminiscences by One of the Defeated

translated by Geremie R. Barmé


As things presently stand, virtually everyone realises that there is only the slimmest chance that Apple Daily could have survived until Saturday this week. With its demise, my own series of recollections — Reminiscences by One of the Defeated — will also be interrupted.


I have been involved with Apple Daily from the time of its first appearance in 1995. Initially, from the end of 1995, I had a regular column every Saturday. Then, in 2005, I became the editor of its opinion pages and continued in that position until 2014. Over the years, I also wrote various columns for the paper and, from 2016 until late March this year, Apple Daily was home to my regular column, ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生.

For some twenty eight years I was an editor-in-chief, first of The Seventies Monthly, then The Nineties Monthly.Thereafter, for the next twenty five years or so I was a writer and an editor at Apple Daily. Nearly half of my writing life has been involved with Apple Daily. In the prefatory comment to Reminiscences by One of the Defeated, I observed that, be it in terms of my career, family or life in general, I have been anything but one of the defeated or a ‘loser’. ‘However’, I wrote, ‘looking back at the ideals that I have held dear over the years, I must admit that I have repeatedly experienced disillusionment and mourned as treasured values were defiled.’ So, in that regard, there’s no question that I have indeed been a ‘loser’.


I started publishing this final series of essays during the twilight of Apple Daily. Being able to write about my sense of being a ‘loser’ has, at most, allowed me to steal a march on what has been inexorably unfolding. As an editor at Apple Daily for a quarter of a century, and as a reader for twenty-six years, I must admit that it too has, from the perspective of the kind of ‘loser’ I defined above, a failure. However, we should not forget, that among the plethora of Hong Kong’s newspapers, from its very inception, Apple Daily has been the most successful. Its trek from that ongoing success to this final failure has covered an era during which print media around the world has experienced precipitous decline, while online news sources have burgeoned. That’s simply the objective reality of the situation; then, of course, various subjective factors have also been at play. In the end, Apple Daily had no choice but to cease publication but, as everyone knows, that’s because the totalitarians are now in command; Hong Kong’s values and virtues put to the sword; basic human rights are no longer being upheld; and, the rule of law is but a fiction.


Liu Binyan, who was a celebrated author and former People’s Daily journalist, once remarked that a newspaper presents the face of its editor-in-chief to the world. But, in a free society in which there is real competition, it is more accurate to say that a newspaper reflects the features of its actual owner. Most media owners in Hong Kong interfere in the editorial direction and tenor of their papers. Their papers, in turn, reflect the experiences, views and latitude of those owners.


Before his foray into the newspaper business, Jimmy Lai made a name for himself in the clothing industry. Then, when founding Apple Daily, he paid top dollar for the best editorial team he could assemble. Even then, he wasn’t entirely confident and that’s why he personally chaired a brainstorming session every day involving not only editorial executives but also a select number of everyday readers. Together they would mull over and critique every report that had appeared in the previous day’s paper, as well as every headline and every article. As Jimmy often remarked: we’re publishing a paper for all of our readers and there’s only one boss who is truly in charge of the show — the advertisers aren’t the real boss, nor are the managers the actually bosses; the real bosses are our readers.


Although he had a wealth of experience in business, Jimmy Lai had never run a media enterprise. Deidre N. McCloskey, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has observed that in a market-oriented society with equal opportunity of access, business people ‘grow in ethical soil’. She goes further to declare [in her books on ‘bourgeois virtues’] that ‘the market supports the virtues’, including the ‘courage to venture on new ways of business, faith to honor one’s own community of business’ and a belief in a market economy that operates under the aegis of the rule of law.

黎智英沒有辦報經驗,但是,他有從商經驗。伊利諾大學經濟學教授Deirdre N. McCloskey曾經提到,在機會平等的市場經濟社會,從商是以美德為基礎,並能在從商者身上催生幾種美德,其中包括創新的勇氣、誠實買賣的公正和對法治下市場社會的信念。

When Apple Daily appeared in the media landscape of Hong Kong it took everyone by surprise. It wasn’t the creation of a particular editor-in-chief for it presented a face to the public of a businessman who had proven himself by satisfying the needs of his customers.

‘Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.’ [as Otto von Bismark put it.] If a person relies solely on their past experience, they will never be able to create something that is truly new and innovative.

Jimmy started with Next Magazine and Apple Daily, followed by a slew of other publications both here and in Taiwan [that is:《壹本便利》、《忽然一周》、《飲食男女》], all of which were successful because they broke the mold. With his failure to acquire China Times in Taiwan in 2008, and with the disaster of Sharp Daily in Hong Kong, added to by the loss-making venture of Next TV in Taiwan, I never could work out if it was all because objectively social attitudes had undergone a change, or whether following initial successes and over expansion, these all flopped because they were out of sync with the direction society was moving?




For quite some time leading up to today, there was a lot of speculation about how long Apple Daily would be able to survive until the gate of darkness snapped shut. Now that it has, there is widespread sympathy for the paper and ever greater contempt for the power-holders.


Regardless of how it has all ended up, there is no doubt that the advent of Apple Daily in Hong Kong represented something significant in the history of Chinese newspaper publishing. It showed that a businessman could actually run a news enterprise more successfully than the usual kind of literati figure. Perhaps, I dare say, its success could be compared to the glory days enjoyed by L’Impartial [aka, Ta Kung Pao] under the editorship of Zhang Jiluan [張季鸞, 1888-1941] from 1926. ‘The Four Noes’ editorial principle that Zhang championed — No to giving in to unquestioning political bias; No to accepting government money or patronage; No to serving narrow vested interests instead of the broader society; and, No to following fashion, promoting conspiracies, mass sentiment and popular prejudice  — became a model and guide for Chinese media.

The owner of Apple Daily might not have known about ‘The Four Noes’ but, then again, he only ever managed to put some of them into practice.




  • 李怡, ‘失敗者回憶錄:《蘋果》的成功與失敗’ , 《蘋果日報》, 2021年6月23日 (no longer available); for a copy archived on Lee Yee’s Facebook page, see: https://www.facebook.com/mrleeyee/

The ‘Four No’ Editorial Policy of Zhang Jiluan





《本社同人之旨趣》, 1926年9月1日


A timeline of decline