02 August 2016

Zhongxiao, Who Has Abandoned You? 中校,你被誰拋棄?

Last week, a Shenzhen district court sentenced Wang Jianmin (王健民), the 62-year-old publisher of Hong Kong-based political tabloids Multiple Face (《臉譜》) and New Way Monthly (新維月刊》), to five years and three months in prison. His editor-in-chief, 41-year-old Guo Zhongxiao (咼中校), received two years and three months. Their crime? Selling magazines on the mainland without state approval.

The sentencing of the two Hong Kong journalists drew immediate comparison to the abduction of the five booksellers earlier this year. Events that would have been dismissed as isolated incidents now look increasingly like a pattern. They form part of a broader context in which these and future crackdowns on the city’s press freedom must be analyzed.

Yet, did we let the jailed journalists’ domicile temper our public outrage?

Guo (right) and Wang

I met Guo five years ago on social media. At the time, he was a staff editor for the Hong Kong news magazine Yazhou Zhoukan (亞洲週刊or Asia Weekly). His Facebook posts, alternating between commentaries on Chinese politics and selfies from his hiking exploits on the MacLehose Trail, caught my eye. In a city where people were never more than three degrees of separation apart, we quickly became friends.

Every once in a while, ZX – which was how I addressed him – and I would meet up for lunch to share thoughts on politics, blogging and digital journalism. A Hubei native, he would speak Putonghua to me and I would respond in Cantonese. We communicated just fine – only on rare occasions did we resort to scribbling Chinese characters on restaurant napkins.

ZX was something of an Internet celebrity in China. The blogger-cum-social activist got his big break in 2002 when his blog article “Shenzhen, who has abandoned you?” (《深圳,你被誰拋棄?) went viral on social media on the mainland. The 10,000-word manifesto, which criticized city officialdom for not doing enough to maintain Shenzhen’s competitiveness, earned him a meeting with the mayor. In Chinese politics, that’s about as rare as a hunk of mutton-fat jade.

Using his blogosphere stardom, ZX went on to co-found Interhoo (因特虎), an online think tank that advised government officials on economic policies. In 2003, he was named “Netizen of the Year” and one of China’s top 10 citizen journalists. His claim to fame landed him a coveted job offer a year later from the prestigious Asia Weekly in Hong Kong.

ZX's book, published under an alias in 2003

ZX’s success story inspired me to write a short story titled “Going South”, published in an English-language anthology in 2012 – roughly a year after we first made our acquaintance on Facebook. In April that year, I booked him for lunch near his office in Chai Wan to give him my new book. In return, he gifted me a signed copy of his book Shenzhen Shuipaoqileni, which was written under an alias and based on the blog article that had started it all.

It might have been at the same lunch that ZX told me his plan to leave his job to become editor-in-chief of two young political tabloids, Multiple Face and New Way Monthly. After spending eight years cutting his teeth at Asia Weekly, he was ready to flex his muscles elsewhere.

The two magazines specialized in exposés on the Communist leadership. The intense power struggles among rival factions and the often salacious private lives of high-level party members – the same topics covered ad nauseam by the publishing house operated by the missing Hong Kong booksellers – made for sensational reading. The spectacular downfall of erstwhile political superstar Bo Xilai (薄熙來) in early 2012 had further fueled the demand for tabloid journalism and played a part in persuading ZX to seek greener pastures.

But ZX’s career change wasn’t the only move he had in mind. The mainland expatriate had just become a permanent resident of Hong Kong and could not wait to move back to Shenzhen with his wife and newborn child to save on housing expenses. His newly-minted Hong Kong ID would allow him to commute between the two cities with relative ease. Always a skeptic, I reminded him of the risk of living on the mainland and writing so liberally about it. Still, he was willing to take his chances.

A 2012 edition of Multiple Face

If life is a gamble, then my friend had rolled the dice and lost. If he ever thought that writing for a magazine was less risky than running one, or that a Hong Kong citizen working on the mainland enjoys the same relative immunity as do his Western counterparts, then he had been grossly mistaken.

In May 2014, less than two years after his move, ZX, along with the magazines’ publisher Wang, was taken away by Chinese authorities. Upon learning about their disappearances in the news, I tried contacting my friend by phone and by email but to no avail. I asked for assistance on social media and reached out to a number of pan-democratic lawmakers, but nothing came of that either. Pleading with the Hong Kong government to intervene diplomatically seemed out of the question.

My call for help had largely fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps the capture of two mainland-born journalists – who have decidedly mainland-sounding names and who can barely speak a word of Cantonese, despite their permanent resident status – did not give the matter a sufficient nexus to Hong Kong for local politicians or journalists’ groups to act.

Or perhaps playing the dangerous game of tabloid journalism while living on the mainland was so patently unwise that they were considered “fair game” by mainland authorities. Among the people I talked to, there was a palpable sense of “What were they thinking?”

Shenzhen Police sent out a tweet on 30 May
2012 announcing Guo's arrest

It was not the only time that the domicile of an arrested person mattered in public opinion. The disappearance of Lui Por (呂波), a Shenzhen resident and the first of the five Hong Kong booksellers to go missing, was a virtual non-event in the local news cycle. The incident did not gain traction with the media until two months later, when his Hong Kong-based colleague Lee Po (李波) was believed to have been abducted in Hong Kong by Chinese authorities.

Apathy can also be easily rationalized. People I approached for help cautioned that making a lot of noise south of the border might hurt more than help, considering that the accused were already in Chinese custody and at the mercy of their captors. Besides, Communist operatives were not known to bow to public pressure in Hong Kong and it was advisable to let the legal process run its course.

With that, the case faded into oblivion. In the intervening months, so much had happened in Hong Kong and abroad that depressed and distracted us: the Occupy Movement, the rise of localism, terrorist attacks in Europe, Brexit, Donald Trump. If it weren’t for the easy comparison to the missing booksellers saga, the journalists’ sentencing last week wouldn’t have even registered a pulse in the press.

ZX is due to be released as early as the end of this month – he gets credit for the 26 months he has already served while in detention. When he finally regains his freedom and somehow manages to make his way back to Hong Kong, I will tell him how immeasurably sorry I am about his ordeal. I will tell him how utterly absurd it was for a magazine editor to be convicted for running an illegal business. I will also tell him what happened to him may just as easily happen to any of us, and that our collective inaction was short-sighted, if not altogether shameful. And I hope he can find it within himself to forgive me and all those who have failed him.

Protest in support of the missing booksellers


This article also appeared on SCMP.com.

As posted on SCMP.com

15 July 2016

Unfit for Purpose 健身中伏

Twenty years ago, a Canadian entrepreneur walked down Lan Kwai Fong and had a Eureka moment. Eric Levine spotted an opportunity in gym-deficient Hong Kong and opened the first California Fitness on Wellington Street, a few steps away from the city’s nightlife hub. Business took off and by 2008 the brand had flourished into two dozen health clubs across Asia. There was even talk about taking the company public on the Hong Kong Exchange.

Then things started to go south. The chain was sold, broken up and resold a few times over. Actor Jackie Chan got involved and exited. The Wellington Street flagship was evicted and shoved into an office building on the fringe of Central, while key locations in Causeway Bay and Wanchai were both lost to rival gyms. What was once the largest fitness chain in Hong Kong began a slow death that preceded the actual one that stunned the city this week.

It needs a corporate workout


This article appeared in the 16 July 2016 print edition of the South China Morning Post. You can read the rest of it on SCMP.com.

As posted on SCMP.com

02 July 2016

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a full-time lawyer, a published author, a contributor to The South China Morning PostTimeOut, EJInsight, and Hong Kong Free Press. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant and movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond.

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form his Hong Kong Trilogy” that tracks the city's post-colonial development. Jason's short stories have appeared in various anthologies. He is a member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club and the Hong Kong Writers' Circle.

Jason has been featured at, among others, the Hong Kong Book Fair, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, the Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival, the Singapore Writers Festival, the Cooler Lumpur Literary Festival, and Raising the Bar (HK). He has been featured in the New York TimesSouth China Morning Postthe Apple Daily, City Magazine, TimeOut Hong Kong, TimeOut BeijingMing Pao Weekly, Stand News, Hong Kong Free Press, RTHK Radio 3, the Taipei Times, Epoch Times, GB Times, the China Daily, and the Volkskrant. He has been interviewed or cited by the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, BBC News, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, the Voice of America, Radio France, Breitbart News, and the Dagens Nyheter. He speaks frequently on television and radio and at universities and cultural events.

Jason earned his double degree in finance and electrical engineering from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a Juris Doctor and M.B.A. from the University of Toronto. He is admitted to the New York and the Massachusetts State Bars. In 2015, Jason was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches international securities law for the Master of Laws (LLM) program. He has given guest lectures and talks at Columbia University, New York University, University of California Los Angeles, the University of Toronto, York University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Hong Kong Baptist University.

Jason is also a social activist. He is an ambassador for Shark Savers and an outspoken advocate for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and the rights of foreign domestic workers and other minority groups. 

Jason’s day job and personal interests make him a frequent traveler. Over the years, he has visited over 100 cities in more than 35 countries. He speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin and has working knowledge of Italian and French.

In addition to being a writer, Jason is an English teacher, classical singer and amateur photographer. His other interests include alpine skiing, mountain climbing, classical music and home cooking. In 2011, he was bestowed the title Man of the Year by Elle Men magazine for his diverse interests and balanced lifestyle. In 2013, Jason was the keynote speaker at the Harvard Club Book Prize awards ceremony.

Jason lives in Hong Kong and can be contacted at info@jasonyng.com. For more, visit www.jasonyng.com.

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Jason makes frequent appearances on the literary circuit and university campuses. If you would like him to speak at your school or organization, please contact him by email.

01 July 2016

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events

Interview with the China Daily
Article: TBD by Basu Chitralekha
Publication date: mid-August

Talk at Raffles Institution (visiting from Singapore)
Topic: Student activism and the Umbrella Movement
Venue: TBD
Date: 12 September
Time: 12:30 - 2:00pm

Talk at Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University
Topic: Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong's Largest Pro-democracy Movement Explained
Moderator: Professor Janjira Sombutpoonsiri
Venue: Thammasat University, Prachan, Bangkok
Date: 15 September
Time: TBD

Topic: TBD
Moderator: TBD
Venue: Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, Lumpini, Bangkok
Date: 15 September
Time: 7:00 - 8:00pm

Talk at Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
Topic: Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong's Largest Pro-democracy Movement Explained
Moderator: TBD
Venue: Chulalongkorn University, Pathumwan, Bangkok
Date: 16 September
Time: TBD

Book Talk with the Hong Kong Literary Group Book Club
Venue: TBD
Date: 24 September
Time: 3:30pm 

Talk at Chi Sun College, University of Hong Kong
Topic: "Stay Young, Dream Big" 
Venue: Jockey Club Student Village III, University of Hong Kong
Date: 26 September
Time: 7:30 - 8:30pm

Book Talk Presented by University of Hong Kong Libraries (HKUL) Reading Club
Venue: Main Library, University of Hong Kong
Date: 17 November
Time: 6:30 - 8:00pm 

2016 (to date)

Featured Author in A Hundred Readers《百人閱讀》by Muji 無印良品 x City Magazine 號外
Release date: 17 August

Panel Judge at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program Co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Aeteno University
Venue: Migrants Empowerment Resource Center MERC, Central
Date: 14 August

Speaker at Department of Journalism, Chulalongkorn University (visiting from Thailand)
Topic: The role of new media in the Umbrella Movement
Venue: TBD
Date: 4 August
Time: 12:30 - 2:00pm

Interview with the Associated Press
Publication date: 22 July

Featured in Beijing-based Literary Site Five Books
Publication date: 7 July

Interview with Epoch Times
Publication date: 20 June

Interview with The Guardian
Publication date: 17 June

KEE Club Book Talk Presented by the Hong Kong International Literary Festival
Title: Umbrellas in Bloom
Moderator: Nick Thorpe
Venue: KEE Club, Central
Date: 7 June

Interview with Epoch Times
Publication date: 7 June

Singapore Book Launch of Umbrellas in Bloom Presented by Select Centre
Moderator: Professor Ian Chong
Venue: TheatreWorks, Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore
Date: 2 June

Featured in Stand News立場新聞
Publication date: 30 May

Umbrellas in Bloom Featured in Southside magazine
Issue: May 2016

Featured in Books4You《讀書好》
Issue: 104 (May 2016)

Lunch Talk Hosted by Latham & Watkins
Topic: Reflections on the Umbrella Movement
Venue: One Exchange Square, Central
Date: 10 May

Talk at Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC), University of Hong Kong
Topic: Tips on feature writing
Moderator: Professor David Bandurski
Venue: Eliot Hall, Pokfulam
Date: 24 April

Second printing of Umbrellas in Bloom
Date: 24 April

Book Talk with the Serious Book Club
Venue: Blue Place Cafe, Wanchai
Date: 20 April

Featured in the South China Morning Post
Publication date: 16 April

Interview with The Guardian
Publication date: 10 April

Commencement of Spring Term at Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, LLM Program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Cheng Yu Tung Tower, Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 8 - 29 April

Hong Kong Book Launch of Umbrellas in Bloom
Venue: Bookazine, Lyndhurst Terrace
Date: 6 April

Interview with D100 Radio
Show: "Running the race 對沖人生路" with presenter Edward Chin
Broadcast date: 5 April

Interview with RTHK Radio 3
Show: "123 Show" with presenter Noreen Mir
Topic: "Umbrellas in Bloom"
Broadcast date: 5 April

Featured in Portuguese News Agency Agência de Notícias de Portugal, SA (LUSA)
Publication date: 3 April

Featured in the New York Times
Publication date: 24 March

Featured in Hong Kong Free Press

Publication date: 13 March

Featured Author at 2016 Bookworm Literary Festival
Panel 1: "The future of Hong Kong" moderated by Guardian reporter Tom Phillips 
Panel 2: "Umbrellas in Bloom" moderated by Los Angeles Times Beijing Bureau chief Julie Makinen
Venue: Sanlitun, Beijing
Date: 12 - 13 March

Release of Umbrellas in Bloom
Date: 9 March

Guest Speaker at Rotary Club
Topic: "Writing about Hong Kong -- A Decade On"
Venue: Hong Kong Bankers' Club, the Landmark
Date: 1 March

Interview with TimeOut HK
Publication date: 24 February

Joined EJInsight as a Contributor
Date: 22 February

Featured in TimeOut Beijing
Article: "8 must-see talks at the Bookworm Literary Festival" by Helen Roxburgh
Publication date: 12 February

Article Reproduced in the Wall Street Journal
Date: 10 February

Interview with Radio France Internationale
Publication date: 10 February

Interview with the Los Angeles Times
Publication date: 5 February

Volunteer Lawyer for Helpers for Domestic Helpers

Start date: 3 February

Master of Ceremony at a 1,500-guest Corporate Annual Ball

Co-host: TVB actor/present Kelly Cheung
Venue: Hong Kong Convention Centre, Wanchai
Date: 23 January

MC'ing at the annual ball

Shooting of Hollywood/UK documentary
Venue: Pokfulam
Date: 22 January
Release date: end of 2016

2008 - 2012

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If you would like Jason Y. Ng, bestselling author of Umbrellas in BloomNo City for Slow Men and HONG KONG State of Mind, to speak at your school or organization, please contact him at info@jasonyng.com.