Like Water, Boiling Water

Hong Kong Apostasy


Canny Leung Chi-Shan (梁芷珊, 1968-) is a well-known Hong Kong businesswoman, investor, songwriter, author and philanthropist. She is the CEO of Maxi House 萬事屋 as well as being a board member of the Hong Kong Football Association.

The essay below — the latest chapter in our series ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’ (for more details see The Best China section of this site) — was published on Leung’s Facebook page on 14 August 2019 and reprinted by Apple Daily 蘋果日報 the following day (see ‘敢言梁芷珊fb發長文:初心不變,我不割蓆!’, 《蘋果日報》, 2019年8月15日).

Here we offer Canny Leung’s reflection on ‘Frogs in Boiling Water’ in the context of the exquisite tactics employed by participants in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement. Those tactics were, in part, inspired by the Bruce Lee (李小龍, 1940-1973):

‘Be Water, My Friend’

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee

As Nicholas Atkin, writing for South China Morning Post, noted:

Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan may be Hong Kong’s two most famous martial arts sons, but the kung fu superstars are like chalk and cheese to the protesters taking part in historic marches against the city’s extradition bill.

Enter The Dragon star Lee’s famous “Be water, my friend” saying has become a clarion call among the young protesters demanding Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor withdraw the unpopular legislation which would have allowed for the transfer of fugitive suspects to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal.

Lee’s words have also inspired a new form of guerilla tactics that has outfoxed the police and given the government headaches, with protesters moving in unexpected waves, rolling from one spot to another.

Nicholas Atkin, ‘Hong Kong protests embrace Bruce Lee but reject
Jackie Chan in tale of two martial arts heroes’,
South China Morning Post, 29 June 2019

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
15 August 2019



  • Explications and notes are marked by square brackets [], although amplifications have also been made to the text for readers who are unfamiliar with the political issues touched on by the author, or who might benefit from the highlighting of important cultural and historical references.

— The Translator


Related Material:

Canny Leung 梁芷珊. Source: Apple Daily, 15 August 2019


My Intent Remains Unchanged,
Solidarity with the Protesters!


Canny Leung Chi-Shan

Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé


Things have reached such a pretty pass now that people respond to every image of the protests that they see both in completely different and extreme ways. In my case, everything I have seen during this Protest Movement has, up until now, made me even more resolute in my support for the demonstrators.


My ‘Original Intention’ remains today as it was before. I will not distance myself from them. Those who advocate Reasoned, Rational and Non-violent Protest, as well as those who have become more assertive in their behaviour during the demonstrations are, to my mind, all on the same side.

[Note: ‘Reasoned, Rational and Non-violent Protest’ 和理非 is a strategy advocated by many protesters in the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’. At the time, it was contrasted with more militant, confrontational and violent actions that were summed up as germane to the ‘Militant Faction’ 勇武派, which we translate here as ‘Bravehearts’.

In 2014, the tactics of the two groups clashed, with the former ‘disassociating themselves’ 割蓆 (that is, ‘refusing to sit on the same mat’) from the latter. One of the features of the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill Protests has been the united front among protesters of various backgrounds who favour markedly different tactics. This inclusive approach is summed up in the expression ‘no disassociation’, or ‘no excommunication’ 不割蓆]

As for what I mean by my ‘Original Intention’, well, that requires some explanation:

Back in 1989, when we here in Hong Kong witnessed on TV the unfolding Tiananmen student protest movement, regardless of the actual images or how it was all depicted, we hoped that their Democracy Movement would, eventually, be victorious.

I was still a student at the time and I went out into the streets to show my own support for those students up in Beijing. In the end, however, what we saw was advancing tanks… then our screens went black.

[Note: ‘Original Intention’ 初心 is a hallowed Buddhist term hijacked by Xi Jinping and the Communist Party as a key expression in their 2017 slogan-cliché: ‘Forget Not the Party’s Original Intention, Carry On to Complete Our Mission’ 不忘初心,完成使命. On 10 June 2019, a nation-wide ‘rectification’ or mind-melding campaign was launched in the name of ‘Original Intention Education’ in the latest effort to inculcate support for Xi Jinping and his policies among all Party members. For details, see here]



Like me, my ‘Original Intention’ has stacked on some weight over the years. After all, it was thirty years ago.

I’m Hong Kong born and bred, a Hong Kong Person through and through: I grew up here; I pursued my studies here; I work here. But let me say this:

Hong Kong Women like me are pretty damned naïve, or at least I was back then. During all those eight years from 1989 [up until when the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997] would you believe that I was actually confident in the spirit and letter of the ‘Sino-British Joint Agreement’? That I honestly believed that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ governance framework was for real? That I was certain that, just as they told us, there would be ‘No Change for Fifty Years [to Hong Kong’s legal system and government]’? I was absolutely sincere in holding on to those beliefs. That’s why, back in the day, I didn’t apply for UK residency, and over all those years I never applied for any other foreign passport either. I simply felt that everything would be ‘OK’.



Following the 1997 Handover, however, people like me gradually came to appreciate what that expression ‘The Boiling Frog’ really meant. That’s because it had now become our lived reality.


Over these years, the Frogs of Hong Kong have all been in one big pot and the water temperature has gradually been rising. Early on, some Frogs jumped out of the pot; others have struggled to cope with the increasing heat; and then there are the Frogs who have gone mad in their death throes — nothing I’m saying should be surprising; it’s simply the way things have unfolded.

However, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m one particularly dim-witted Frog. You see, I’m one of those Frogs that was oblivious to what was happening around me. I have done nothing about it, and in particular I haven’t done anything to shield the next generation from what’s been going on.


We’ve all been in that pot of hot water for twenty-two years. Now and then, they suddenly turn up the heat to see how the Frogs will react. If we don’t struggle too violently they know they can apply more heat next time around. That’s why it’s been getting hotter and hotter and the heat has been turned up with ever greater frequency. They’ve even got me jumping up; like, now, it’s on my agenda!


The Frogs of Hong Kong really are schmucks. Just look at us mature adults — because of those long years we’ve had stewing away in the pot our skin has become so thick that we can’t feel anything any more. Then take a look at all those tender Young Frogs — see, the second you throw them into the boiling water by their very nature they bounce up and resist. They are resisting because what’s happening is about Hong Kong’s future. If they are successful this time around, we will all enjoy the benefits; however, if it ends in defeat, this time it will be nothing less than Hong Kong’s ‘Fourth of June 2.0’.

It will be another defeat for the People — people who just want democracy.


The Bravehearts on the front line display the kind of courage that none of us ever had! On top of that, they have a strategic understanding of how to take advantage of opportunities as they arise; they are making progress with each passing day. Some are willing to give up their all — their lives and blood — to achieve something for all of us. Shouldn’t we take pause and just say Thank You’? And, after having done that, we should continue to offer our support.


If you ask me how I evaluate what’s happened on the front line in the movement up until now, I’d say: ‘So far so good’. Now that the protests have reached this point, now that both sides have shed so much blood, now that so many rounds of teargas have been fired, now that all of those dirty tricks have been exposed, and now that the government has repeatedly demonstrated its cunning true mien — we see that it has revealed itself to be a creature that is unjust, inhumane, callous and illicit.

Anyone who now claims to be ‘non-partisan’, ‘neutral’ or ‘non-committal’ is, in effect, standing on the side of tyranny. They have all their excuses — I seek a better future by being disengaged; the vulnerable have been isolated; there are injustices taking place; best witness it all from the sidelines; prefer not to comment on any of it.

你問我,我會說,今次運動中,前線的表現so far so good。抗爭來到這一步,當雙方這麼多血流了,這麼多子彈發了,這麼多策略暴露了,而政府多次展露了不公義、不人道、不合情、不合法的狐狸尾巴,如果有人仍然說自己中立,就已經是站在暴政的一方,或是想獨善其身,或是要孤立弱勢,路見不平,袖手旁觀,不置可否。

This is a Resistance Movement. By its very nature it is like the Beijing Democracy Movement of 1989. This time, however, the bad news for all of us is that the battleground has moved south: it’s right here in our beloved Hong Kong.


We’re always lecturing our kids that they should realise how good they have it, to appreciate their good fortune. But what they are telling us is:

‘Mum and Dad, don’t be so stupidly naïve. We were born after 1997; Hong Kong no longer has it so good.’

Spot on — they’re right.



In the wake of the mass strike and siege of LegCo on the 12th of June, many middle-aged and older people were heard to ask:

‘What’s happening to Hong Kong?’

[Note: For details of the 12 June Strike and Siege, see here and here]


I want to tell them that what is happening to Hong Kong is inevitable. Any place that is controlled by the Chinese Communists, as well as any place over which the Communists want to exercise control, will invariably end up just like this, but only if people give in to their machinations and fail to engage in active resistance.


Back in the year, we were all profoundly moved by the images of the Tiananmen Square protesters that we saw on our TV screens. For thirty years now, Hong Kong people have gathered in Victoria Park to mark June Fourth 1989. But today, right now, many Mainland young people are online watching what’s happening in Hong Kong and heaping scorn on it. Can we blame them? After all, they’ve been denied the right to know, the right to the truth.


Those people who have voluntarily organised demonstrations in Tiananmen in support of the Hong Kong police, as well as the ‘freelancers’ who’ve come over here to beat people up — what they don’t know is that one of the reasons people here today are so resolute in their protests is that they were inspired by the struggle for democracy in Tiananmen thirty years ago. That struggle involved the older generation of the very people on the Mainland who are against us now.

發起在天安門舉行撐香港警察集會的,freelance 來港打人的,他們不知道,今天香港人這麼堅決,有一個苗頭,原是三十年前在天安門爭取民主的,他們的上一代。

Of course, pitiable though they may be, they are also hateful. … Above all, one thing is for sure, if the people do not say ‘No!’ to authoritarianism, they will end up in the same deadly place.


[Note: ‘他朝君體也相同’ is one of the lines in the couplet that adorns the entrance to Saint Michael’s Catholic Cemetery, Happy Valley, Hong Kong. The couplet reads in full: 今夕吾軀歸故土, 他朝君體也相同. It is a translation of ‘Io fu già quel che voi sete: e quel chi son voi ancor sarete’ (‘I was once what you are, and what I am you will become’), words that were originally inscribed on ‘Santa Trinità’ (The Holy Trinity), a painting by the Renaissance artist Masaccio]

Hong Kong has already lost so many bargaining chips in its struggle for democracy; now none remain. If you don’t go onto the front line as a Braveheart, or if you don’t back them up behind the lines as a supporter of the mainstream strategy of Reasoned, Rational and Non-Violent Protest, please don’t try to mask your indifference with rueful appeals to Heaven. One thing is for sure, you have no right to ask:

‘What’s happening to Hong Kong?’


After [the chaos and violence among protesters at Hong Kong Airport] yesterday, people have been wondering:

‘You can’t honestly believe that there are no violent thugs in the ranks of the protesters?’


[Note: For details of the protests at the airport, see Austin Ramzy, ‘Soul Searching Among Hong Kong Protesters After Chaos at Airport, The New York Times, 14 August 2019; and, Samuel Wade, ‘Anger and Introspection Follow Assaults by HK Protesters’, China Digital Times, 14 August 2019]

Let me make this crystal clear: this is a resistance movement, a struggle. During such a struggle, I am grateful to the people who are prepared to make sacrifices on our behalf. First and foremost, I want to say to those who are on the front line: ‘Thank you!’

再重申,這是一場抗爭。我感謝有人犧牲自己出來為大家抗爭,先向前線說聲thank you。

In the mêlée of struggle, who does what and how, how people respond tactically to the challenges that they face on the spur of the moment invariably mean that people on both sides will unavoidably violate some of the rules, even to quite a serious extent. Just don’t forget this: this is a competition between uneven opponents. More to the point, it’s a fight between kids and adults. On our side are the multitudes, but they are weak; on theirs is a government and their police force that might be stronger in material terms but they are morally bankrupt.


You may well think any time average citizens challenge the government they are misguided. But this movement has been going on a long time and those involved on both sides have their roles and responsibilities. When the Bravehearts taking the lead on the front line go overboard, supporters of the Reasoned, Rational and Non-Violent approach to protesting step forward to provide backup; everyone works together as the protesters regroup. That includes making donations, buying supplies and putting aside funds for legal cases.

On the other side, when the Special Tactical Squad [of the Hong Kong Police Force] opens fire indiscriminately on protesters their PR people step forward and try to explain it all away. All the while, they are acquiring more arms and preparing for the inevitable legal challenges (a particularly outrageous point since they are using public funds to do all of this). Would the authorities ever make a statement at one of their press briefings that they now wish to distance themselves from the excessive actions taken by their people?

[Note: The Special Tactical Squad, STS for short — 特別戰術小隊 — is known by the nickname ‘Raptors’ or ‘Speedy Dragons’ 速龍小隊. The STS is an elite paramilitary group formed by the police in response to the ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests in June 2014]


The line you hear the most of all is:

‘After all, breaking the law is just not right.’

It’s not! And that’s exactly why there must be an independent commission of inquiry into what has been going on [and why it is one of the key demands of the protesters].


They won’t allow us to have genuine general elections; well what about a referendum? Every permanent resident with a Hong Kong ID card should get a vote. People can cast a ballot to decide whether an independent commission of inquiry should be set up.


It’s late. I need to get out of this office, go home and get some sleep.


Keep It Up, Hong Kong!





Canny Leung’s desk, 14 August 2019. Source: Canny Leung’s Facebook page