Mainland Chinese residents, activists and writers have watched with dismay as Hong Kong – a city that was once a haven of free speech and political expression – becomes more like those across the border as China cracks down on dissent.
Three months on from the launch of Beijing’s national security law, several have shared advice, empathy and thoughts through letters to their counterparts in Hong Kong.
‘They are turning you into the people you hate’
Dear Hong Kong,
On 24 September Joshua Wong was once again detained. A group of journalists followed him, their cameras flashing. As leaders of the democracy movement, their stories always make headlines.
I worry scenes like this are now disappearing in Hong Kong. The police have revised rules who constitutes the media. It is the same control over press cards as in mainland China. Soon the arrests of Hong Kong activists will be the same as those on the mainland – Liu Xiaobo, Ilham Tohti and Ren Zhiqiang. They will disappear without a mention in the news. Posts on social media and anything that is not official will be deleted.
Fear is in the air in Hong Kong. My friend Zhang Jieping, a senior journalist in Hong Kong, wrote: “When fear strikes, speech is the first to retreat.” After the national security law, those who were hesitant to speak before will now no longer speak.
Even silence is not enough. Living under totalitarianism requires you to live among lies, to hate those who bring danger, to praise your leaders, to feel happy, to hate democratic countries and love your autocratic motherland.
In recent years, Hong Kong’s annual 4 June vigil has caused controversy. The reason is that some Hong Kong people dislike the way that China is now, with mainlanders rushing to Hong Kong to buy up milk powder and real estate.
In fact many of these people or many of their parents were on the streets of the mainland of China 31 years ago calling for democracy and freedom. It is not that Chinese people are cowards and incapable. All are under totalitarian rule, struggling between lies, fraud, betrayal and conscience.
If I have any exhortations to the people of Hong Kong as someone who has lived and resisted under the totalitarian power of the Chinese Communist party for so long, is it this. First, see and face this rapidly deteriorating situation – which may still be worse than you think. Second, do not believe that this is the life Hong Kong people should be forced to live.
You must see that totalitarianism turns you into the kind of person you hate. A lot of people around you will be like that. Most likely, you will have to live that life in part but do not give up hope.
Even if everyone around you is silent and activists like Joshua Wong, Jimmy Lai and Agnes Chow disappeared from public view the way Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong did – do not believe this is real life. As I have written before:
‘No matter your role, do not be drowned by the tide of history or let your independence be washed away. In these important times, you must be strong although insignificant. You must be a free dancer in the carnival night.’
– Chang Ping, 52, Chinese writer and journalist
‘I continue to be inspired by the spirit of resistance’
About this time a year ago, I was in a detention centre in Shenzhen suffering physical and psychological humiliation inflicted on me by the Communist party police.
This was because I expressed support for the peaceful and democratic struggle of Hong Kong people. Last July, I crossed the border into Hong Kong to attend a demonstration. After returning to Shenzhen, I was detained for 10 days. Out of great fear I chose to flee and I am now living outside of China.
I never thought my first time abroad would be as an exile. It is not easy for me to come to a strange country where I do not speak the language and have little money. Everything I once relied on has disappeared.
But that is all. I am lucky to still be alive. From June last year to today, countless young people in Hong Kong that are my same age have been subjected to violence by the puppet Hong Kong government and the Communist party of China. They have been beaten, detained and worse.
Today when I see ordinary young people in Hong Kong on the internet begging for the world’s attention I feel sad. Sometimes I cry. I can imagine their fear and sense of helplessness.
The world has seen and witnessed the epic and heroic struggle of Hong Kong people to defend democracy and freedom. They have endured, sustained by their commitment to justice and freedom, love for their homeland, respect for humanity, dedication to what is right, their love for their brothers and sisters and the next generation. They are now facing the brutal, hypocritical and inhumane Chinese communist empire. I can only watch from afar. The whole world is just standing by watching.
I continue to be inspired by the spirit of resistance in Hong Kong. This idea: “You can kill me but you cannot defeat me.” The resistance has not ended. The Communist party’s cruel bullying is also not ended. Hong Kong today is an island like West Berlin besieged by the Soviet Union, calling and waiting for help. Hong Kong’s struggle was never just about Hong Kong people. It affects everyone.
A year ago, I walked from the Chinese mainland to the streets of Hong Kong tremblingly, stealing away to avoid detection by the police. I stood shoulder to shoulder with protesters outside the West Kowloon high-speed rail station. A year later, I hope the people of Hong Kong can see that we have not forgotten. Justice will prevail. Glory and freedom will surely belong to Hong Kong.
I write this letter to the struggling people of Hong Kong and to all the freedom-loving people in the world. In order to protect my family and friends, I can only choose anonymity.
This is a letter of thanks and encouragement. It is also a letter asking for help from world, a plea from an ordinary young man who lost his freedom and was forced to leave his home. Please save Hong Kong people.
– Freedom Lu, 26, a Shenzhen resident now overseas
‘You have shown the people of the world your courage’
Once beautiful Hong Kong and lovely young people of Hong Kong, are you OK?
At this moment, I am extremely sad writing this letter. Since 9 June 2019 you have shown the people of the world your courage. You have paid with years of your life and freedom.
As someone who resisted in the mainland, I have nothing but respect and heartache for you. At times that I have felt desperate and pessimistic, your protests and the sound of your songs heartened me, and helped me pull myself together to fight again.
In the face of demons of violent means, our actions are like throwing an egg against a rock. Even still, you kept going for more than a year. I believe your bravery and perseverance will inspire even more people to stand up and fight.
It doesn’t matter if I am from mainland China or you are from Hong Kong. In the face of demons, we are all brave rebels. For the sake of freedom, we should unite, standing side by side, relying on each other and helping each other.
Although eggs are weak they have within them life. There will be a day when we use our blood, youth and life to push down that wall. I believe the final victory belongs to us.
Freedom in Hong Kong! Freedom in China! Victory of for the revolution of our time! May it come soon!
– Hua Yong, 51, a Chinese artist in exile in Thailand
‘God is with us!’
I am a Hongkonger in Hunan province.
Over the years, I have been closely following the situation in Hong Kong and praying for Hong Kong. Someone asked me: why should we pay attention to Hong Kong? To support democracy in Hong Kong is to support democracy in the mainland. Hong Kong people’s resistance is paving the way for democracy in China.
We earnestly hope that Hong Kong will realise genuine universal suffrage as soon as possible. It will become another example of democracy after Taiwan. Now that the people of Hong Kong are pursuing democracy in such difficult circumstances, all Chinese people with a conscience should support them.
There are many people in Hunan who support Hong Kong people. Across the country even more people are supporting Hong Kong democracy. Although some people have been imprisoned for supporting the people of Hong Kong, no matter what crackdown, all just people will continue to support Hong Kong.
With respect to the great people of Hong Kong! God is with us!
– Chen Siming, 59, an activist in Hunan province
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