Skip to main content

Hero’s Return 英雄歸來

It was supposed to be a slow news week. Chief Executive C.Y. Leung was away on holiday and his deputy Carrie Lam had just returned from a nine-day trip to America. The front page story was meant to be the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland Park and the bizarre sight of Mickey and Minnie dancing on stage in gold dresses. The headline? “Snow White spends new wealth on bling from Chow Tai Fook.”

Lam Wing-kee at the press conference

Then, a bombshell. 

Lam Wing-kee (林榮基), one of the five booksellers missing since last winter, came out of the woodwork on Thursday night with shocking revelations about his detention in the mainland. Like a POW who had escaped from enemy camps, Lam gave a blow-by-blow account of his eight-month ordeal in Ningbo, an industrial city south of Shanghai and 1,100 kilometers from Hong Kong. Throughout his captivity, he was never told his charges or given a phone call. He was put on suicide watch and forced to make a scripted confession before his release a few days ago. During the hastily-held press conference, Lam fought back tears and thanked Hong Kongers for their support. He also called on the city to “say no to tyranny.”

To the viewers watching on television or online, Lam’s testimony confirmed a few things about the city’s grim political reality – none of which they didn’t already fear and know.

First, much of the crime and punishment in China is overseen not by the gong’an (mainland law enforcement) but by an extrajudicial body called the “Central Special Unit” (中央專案組). It answers only to the Communist Party and allows operatives to bypass whatever limited due process that exists in the law books, such as access to legal representation and a maximum detention period. The unit is so secretive and powerful that Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok (黎棟國) nicknamed it the “Mighty Division” (強力部門).

The five missing booksellers

Second, in the event of an arrest in the mainland, citizens cannot expect the SAR government or the Hong Kong police to be of much help. The arrestee will have to either wait it out or agree to a false confession and a lifetime gag order in exchange for a release. During his involuntary confinement in Ningbo, Lam was all on his own. On the Legco floor, bureaucrats paid lip service by “expressing concerns” and promising to “reach out” to their Chinese counterparts. But like that snooty girl at the bar who fakes a phone call to look busy, they probably never picked up the phone or even knew what number to dial. 

Third, any remaining pretense that the “one country, two systems” framework is intact has been shattered. At the press conference, Lam confirmed that Lee Po (李波), one of his fellow abductees, had been taken away by force while he was Hong Kong, suggesting that mainland agents are not afraid to make a cross-border arrest if they so choose. No matter how vehemently Lee himself tries to deny that claim, he still hasn’t been able to explain how he managed to enter China without proper travel documents. Any sensible person can figure out which man is telling the truth and which man is telling forgivable lies to protect himself and his family.

Brave as it is, Lam’s decision to go public is fraught with enormous peril. Openly defying the Communist Party invites harassment and even physical assaults by hired thugs or secret operatives – just ask Next Media’s Jimmy Lai (黎智英) or Ming Pao’s Kevin Lau (劉進圖). Surely enough, Lam, who has now joined the ranks of high-profile whistleblowers like Edward Snowden – has become a fugitive in his own city. While traveling to China to visit his girlfriend is clearly out of the question, he has to look over his shoulder – whether at home or in countries like Thailand – for assailants and kidnappers. 

Then there is the psychological warfare to wrestle with. Since the press conference on Thursday, local newspapers like the Sing Tao Daily and HK01 have already published a slew of damning stories attacking his credibility. Three other previously kidnapped booksellers, including Lee Po, have gone on record to discredit his testimony. To avoid reprisals in the Mainland, Lam’s girlfriend in Shenzhen has called him a selfish lover and a con man. Every trick on the communist playbook, from character assassination to actual death threats, will be hurled at Lam in the coming weeks and months. It will take a heart of flint and nerves of steel to endure it all.

The smear campaign begins

Lam’s courage to come forward when so many others have stayed silent is not lost on his fellow Hong Kongers. Thousands braved the summer heat in a march this weekend to show their solidarity. Even the ever-cynical localist groups, who normally have a bone to pick with just about anyone, have been relatively muted (instead, they ridiculed citizens for attending a “feel-good” rally and berated the pan-dems for turning it into another fundraising event). For a few days, it seems, Hong Kong people have set aside their differences and united to commend Lam’s heroism. 

What’s more, the Democratic Party – the bane of voters ever since then-chairman Albert Ho’s (何俊仁) Faustian handshake with the Liaison Office sealed the fate of the 2010 electoral reform – appears to have found redemption. In his most desperate hour, Lam sought the help of neither Long Hair nor Joshua Wong. Instead, he went straight to Ho and clung to him like an exhausted child at the press conference. In so doing, he reaffirmed Ho’s status as the elder statesman within the pro-democracy camp. If the Legco election were to be held this week, the Democratic Party would have easily turned those brownie points into votes. It is a pity that election day is still 11 weeks away and by then much of that aura will have likely dissipated.

The missing booksellers saga has been a game-changer for Hong Kong’s relations with the mainland. It has triggered not only widespread anxiety but also a new wave of mass emigrations. Equally significant, Lam’s revelations have exposed the Communist Party’s blatant lies and dirty tricks. Half a century after the Cultural Revolution and nearly 20 years into the handover, little seems to have changed in the communist leadership’s strategy or mindset. This past week has made clear that no amount of gold or bling can mask the party’s stench or cover up its filth. In the meantime, Hong Kongers have learned to trust no one but themselves. Lam is right: what happened to him can happen to any of us. We are all in it together. 

Mickey and Minnie in gold
________________________

This article also appeared on Hong Kong Free Press as "All in it together: The bookseller's ordeal in China could happen to any of us."

As published on Hong Kong Free Press

Popular Posts

Book Review: "Generation HK" 書評:《香港世代》

Unpacking the young generation in Hong Kong is a tall order, not least because a singular, archetypical “Hong Kong youth” does not exist. The cohort is as diverse and divergent as it comes, from socioeconomic background and upbringing to education and exposure to the wider world, to values, ideals and aspirations. It defies stereotypes and generalisations.

Ben Bland, a British correspondent for The Financial Times, is in a unique position to take on that ambitious project. Whereas Bland’s extensive experience reporting in Asia—including stints in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar—has given him a broad field of view, his relatively short tenure in Hong Kong—just over two years—allows him to look at its people through a long-range lens.
It is that unadulterated objectivity and his unquenched curiosity that make Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow a discerning and refreshing read. Released last summer under Penguin Book’s inaugural “Hong Kong series” to mark the 20…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

As You LIKE It 人人讚好

Social media are the greatest invention of the 21st Century, not least because they provide ready fillers for life’s many dull moments. The virtual world is the perfect antidote to our real life drudgery. Bring on the mile-long taxi line, the interminable Monday morning meeting and even the deadly silent treatment from an upset spouse. All we need to do is whip out our phones, drop our heads and, with a flick of the thumb, wade through stream after mind-numbing stream of news feeds and tweets. In the parallel universe of restaurant check-ins, vacation selfies and baby videos, we are the celebrities and we are the groupies. No one wants to admit it, but many of us have started to reorganize our lives based on how the status update would look on our carefully manicured timeline.

It is therefore all the more important to observe proper online decorum and protect our virtual image. The idea that anything goes in Cyberspace, or that a random post is as consequence-free as tossing a bottl…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…