Restoring Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times

Hong Kong Apostasy


This is the latest chapter in ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’, a feature of ‘The Best China’ section of China Heritage that is devoted to the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill Protest Movement. Its author, the veteran journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯), was the founding editor of The Seventies Monthly 七十年代月刊 and he has been a prominent commentator on Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan politics, as well as the global scene, for over half a century.

This essay is translated from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, a column that Lee Yee writes for Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

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



  • Explications added by the translator are generally marked by square brackets [].


Other Essays by Lee Yee on the 2019 Hong Kong Protests:

On ‘Restoration’, ‘Revival’ and ‘The Light Returns’ 光復, see:

  • Peter Zarrow, After Empire The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012, p.213, quoted in China Heritage Annual 2017: Nanking

New China Newspeak: the Communist Party clichés of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuen-ngor, Chief Executive of Hong Kong


What’s In a Slogan?

Claudia Mo, a lawmaker in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislative minority, called Mrs. Lam’s administration “morally bankrupt” for failing to take responsibility for the unrest.

Mrs. Lam said on Monday that protesters had recently started to chant a slogan that challenged Beijing’s authority over the territory. But Ms. Mo said the slogan alone — “Revive Hong Kong, revolution of our times” — did not prove that protesters were demanding independence.

“A slogan is a slogan is a slogan,” Ms. Mo said. “If she thinks that is a problem, what is the solution to it? Well, we’ll advise her: Try democracy.”

Hong Kong Protests Spread, Leaving City Paralyzed
The New York Times, 4 August 2019


Revive Hong Kong,
Revolution of Our Times


Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


At her press conference on the 5th of August, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong government, asserted that the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China, to which the territory belongs, as well the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ political framework that underpins the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing are being directly threatened by the demonstrations that have rocked the city.

Lam claimed that some protesters are ways that have the potential to destroy the stability and prosperity of the city. In making these assertions, the Chief Executive declared unequivocally that such ‘radical elements have changed the nature of the protests’. Her evidence: the national emblem of the People’s Republic at the entrance of the Central Liaison Office representing Beijing in Hong Kong had been desecrated [when it was spattered with black ink on the night of 21 July]; moreover, others had torn the national flag down from a flagpole at Tsim Sha Tsui and cast it into Hong Kong Harbour. On top of that, an incendiary pro-independence slogan from 2016 was being chanted:

‘Revive Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.’

[Note: This slogan was formulated by Edward Leung Tin-kei (梁天琦1991-) following the February 2016 Mong Kok Incident, or ‘Fishball Revolution’. In June 2018, Leung was sentenced to six years in gaol for his role in that period of civic unrest.]

Lam continued in this vein:

‘Do we want to use the lives of seven million people and the future of Hong Kong as betting chips? This type of method – which some have described as “mutual destruction” – will push Hong Kong onto a path of no return.

‘We can see some actions challenging “One Country, Two Systems” and the country’s national sovereignty, and if I can even speak more boldly, they want to topple Hong Kong, to thoroughly destroy the livelihoods that 7 million people cherish.’

[Note: in Beijing the official response was:

‘The acts have seriously violated the National Flag Law of the People’s Republic of China and the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Their conduct has blatantly offended the state and national dignity, wantonly trampled on the bottom line of the “one country, two systems” principle, and greatly hurt the feelings of the entire Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots.’


‘The ugly flag-insulting acts by a very small number of radicals showed once again that they have gone far beyond the realm of free expression and slipped into the abyss of criminality, said the spokesperson [of the central government], stressing the acts must be severely punished in accordance with the law, without leniency.

— ‘Central government strongly condemns
flag-insulting acts by radicals in Hong Kong

Xinhuanet, 4 August 2019]


In my opinion, many Hong Kong people are probably of the view that the Extradition Bill [that Carrie Lam attempted to ram through the Legislative Council from March 2019, an act that led to the mass protest movement from June] itself as well as the ham-fisted actions of Lam’s government in response to the mass unrest that it incited, in particular the Yuen Long Incident of the 21st of July [during which thugs attacked protesters and innocent bystanders while the police took no action] were the very kinds of ‘violent incidents that changed the nature of the protests’.

Many people would perhaps share my view that the [2016] slogan ‘Revive Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’ reappeared in direct response to the manner in which Lam’s government has itself been endangering the One Country, Two Systems governing framework of Hong Kong. These are actions that in turn threaten to ‘jeopardise the city’s safety, security and prosperity’ [which Lam claims she is concerned about].

Carrie Lam’s adamant refusal to use the kind of formal legal terminology routinely employed by the Legislative Council to announce that her Extradition Bill is ‘withdrawn’ from future consideration has led protesters to believe for good reason that the authorities have left themselves sufficient wriggle room to pursue a despised piece of legislation that in its very nature signifies their willingness to sacrifice the basic legal rights of seven million Hong Kong citizens. In the process they are signaling that they themselves are willing ‘to use the lives of seven million people and the future of Hong Kong as betting chips’?

Carrie Lam’s obdurate behaviour has forced Young Hong Kong onto a path of no return. It is indeed one of ‘mutual destruction’, one that recalls the sentiment ‘We are determined to see you dead, and we will die with you if that’s what it takes.’

[Note: Lee Yee has previously discussed the expression予及汝皆亡 yú jí rǔ jiē wáng, the second part of a famous declaration that reads in full:

時日曷喪 shí rì hé sàng,
予及汝皆亡 yú jí rǔ jiē wáng
‘When will this sun [i.e., the tyrant Jie] finally set?
We will take you down and we will die together!’

See ‘Declarations of Tang’ in the Book of Documents《尚書 · 湯誓》.]

Carrie Lam’s demeanor has been disdainful and she has been utterly devoid of humanity when confronted by the acts of demonstrators who have laid their lives down to express their protest. She has similarly remained unmoved even when hundreds of Hong Kong young people have been injured and arrested. Instead, she has laid the blame for everything that has happened at the feet of the young people who have repeatedly taken to the streets to struggle for freedom and protect their legal rights. When facing the media [after a two-week silence on 5 August] nothing she said served to calm passions or dampen the flames of outrage. In fact, she achieved the opposite, for in her comments she has fanned the flames of protest and poured oil on the conflagration of indignation.


‘Destroying the national emblem, tearing down the national flag and throwing it into the sea’ — as I have previously noted cases in which the national flag is defaced, such as in the United States of America, have been determined by judges to be actions protected by constitutional provisions covering the freedom of expression. Or, ‘the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ If the desecration of China’s national flag can really ‘threaten One Country, Two Systems’ as Carrie Lam has claimed, then surely we must wonder isn’t it a perilously fragile governing framework?


‘The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force in motivating leaders like Patrick Henry, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln, schoolteachers like Nathan Hale and Booker T. Washington, the Philippine Scouts who fought at Bataan, and the soldiers who scaled the bluff at Omaha Beach. If those ideas are worth fighting for—and our history demonstrates that they are—it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration.’

Scott Bomboy, ‘When Supreme Court Justices Have
Disagreed About the American Flag’

Constitution Daily, 27 September 2018]


The nature of things has indeed changed, not because of the actions of the protesters, but rather as a direct result of the behaviour of the government and its repeated attempts to suppress protest.

During the mass Anti-Extradition Law demonstrations participated in variously by one and two million people, no one was heard chanting the slogan ‘Restore Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Time’. Following 21 July, however, during which both the local and the international media reported on the collaboration between local Yuen Long thugs and the police, and when the police in a purely perfunctory manner detained a number of suspects, it was clearly evident that the gangsters had openly assaulted people with weapons, yet they were released having been merely charged with illegal assembly. Meanwhile, demonstrators against there was only the most specious evidence of lawlessness, were detained on the serious charge of rioting [which carries up to a ten-year custodial sentence]. People who carried nothing more than the most flimsy of weapons were by contrast were not released from police custody and will remain in detention until hearings in September.

When we are confronting a political order — a regime — like this, are we still really dealing with the same Hong Kong that existed before? Is there not enough evidence to indicate that Hong Kong has indeed ‘fallen’?

In recent times the Mainland has chorused that it is ‘Renaissance China’, the problem is that no one is particularly clear about just what kind of China is being ‘reborn’ [re-naissance]. Is the aim to revive the Tyranny of the Qin Dynasty or that of Maoist Cultural Revolution? As for the slogan ‘Restore Hong Kong’, we know exactly what era we are talking about: that is a restoration of a Hong Kong in which basic human rights were protected, one in which our citizens enjoyed the full range of legal rights, one in which the police protected the populace and did not launch violent assaults on those who were using their legal right to express themselves freely. No matter if people wave the Union Jack or the American flag, what does matter is that no one is calling for the British or the United States to come and rule Hong Kong. What people are expressing by these acts is the desire for Hong Kong to return to the type of the free Anglo-American system in which people enjoy basic freedoms and rights.


‘Revolution of Our Times’ — a revolution of what we we may well ask? Well, ‘re-volve’ is literally about ‘turning things around’. In other words, people are agitating for a fundamental change in the direction in which Hong Kong is presently headed.

Revolution does not have to be about replacing a dynasty or overturning a political regime; nor is it necessarily about violence and bloodshed. After all, both the Industrial Revolution and Technological Revolution were revolutions. Then again, the Cultural Revolution was imposed by the government of the day on itself. Although the 1911 Xinhai Revolution brought an end to the Manchu-Qing dynasty [and led to the founding of the Republic of China in 1912] it was not particularly violent or bloody; as a matter of fact, some historians are of the opinion that it was less violent and bloody than the Japanese Meiji Restoration [of 1868].

‘Revolution of Our Times’ in Hong Kong is about a fundamental change in the political direction of the city that is presently being imposed by the Beijing and Hong Kong Communist authorities; their direction is moving against the agreed One Country, Two Systems political arrangements in the territory.


When the Anti-Extradition Bill protests began, Hong Kong people had not planned to agitate for such a basic change of direction as such. The events of the 21st of July, however, led the majority of people to believe that our city is now under the control of a gangster regime [that is a government that condones, if not encourages, an alliance between the police and triad gang thugs to create a new form of rule by intimidation and terror]. As a result, now as people continue to demonstrate in the spirit of ‘inclusive, rational and non-violent’ protest, they have also taken up Edwin Leung’s [previously highly controversial] 2016 slogan:

‘Revive Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’!

‘The nature of things changed’, to quote Carrie Lam’s own words. Indeed, but they changed because of the Yuen Long Incident of the 21st of July.