Friday, July 30, 2021

Hong Kong Olympic joy threatened by killjoys unwilling to take advantage of golden opportunities to bring society together

Yet another emotional rollercoaster of a day in Hong Kong
There was more glory to Hong Kong at the Tokyo Olympics today thanks to swimmer Siobhan Haughey.  Just two days after becoming Hong Kong's first ever medalist in a swim event, she won another Olympic silver medal -- this time in the 100 meters freestyle final.  In so doing, she became Hong Kong's first ever Olympic multi-medalist.  Together with gold medal-winning fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long, Haughey also has doubled Hong Kong's historical medal count in the Olympics (as prior to these Olympics, Hong Kong's athletes had won a total of three Olympic medals – one gold, one silver and a bronze)!    
This morning also saw badminton mixed double players Tse Ying-suet and Tang Chun-man bid to garner Hong Kong more glory in the bronze medal match.  And although they were ultimately unsuccessful, I reckon they did Hong Kongers proud by putting up a good fight and pushing their Japanese opponents pretty much all the way in a contest that I can imagine would have been exciting to watch for neutrals as well as those of us with a vested interest in the results.
Even as I was watching the Olympic events (on TV) though, I must admit to feeling butterflies in my stomach: less so from what was unfolding in the sporting arenas and much more because the verdict with regards to Tong Ying-kit -- the first man charged and then put on trial under China's national security law for Hong Kong -- was scheduled to be announced at 3pm this same day.  At dinner last night with friends, a Mainland Chinese-born friend vouchsafed that, if the trial had taken place on the other side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border, Tong would be sentenced to life imprisonment.  In view of his only being 24 years of age (born in 1997 -- the same year as Olympians Haughey and Cheung, as it so happens), how absolutely tragic would such a sentence be.  
As it turned out, the judges for Hong Kong's first ever security law case look to have ignored the prosecution's suggestion to look to Mainland Chinese legal practices when deciding on the sentence to give out.  Even so, the six and a half years jail term for the incitement to secession charge and eight-year prison term for committing acts of terror is plenty harsh indeed; and this even after having Tong serve part of those terms concurrently makes it so that he will spend a total of nine years behind bars (in addition to the one year or so that he's already spent behind bars while awaiting trial).  
We're talking after all about a young man who is a first offender and also someone who volunteered as a first aider during the extradition bill protests.  Nicknamed "Heavy Armour", he is credited with having helped people and looked after injured folks hit by the police's pepper spray and blue dye (the latter from water cannons).  Also, look carefully at the photo of him on his motorbike -- with which he allegedly deliberately rammed into the police and you'll notice a red cross badge and related symbols on the bag strapped on him.
The sentence meted out against Tong appears particularly unjust when one compares it to the treatment accorded to the policeman who very obviously deliberately rammed his motorcycle into protestors back on November 11th, 2019.  Just minutes before Tong Ying-kit's sentence was made known this afternoon, the Hong Kong Free Press published an article about that offending officer only having been issued with a “suitable written advice”.  Yes, you read that right: no jail time for him; no sacking; no real black mark on his record; etc.
For further examples of contemporary Hong Kong (in)justice, consider that today also has seen the police arresting a man on suspicion of insulting the national anthem when crowds gathered in a shopping mall to watch Edgar Cheung Ka-long's gold medal awards ceremony.  Yes, there now is a law against booing or otherwise disrespecting The March of the Volunteers (passed, lest we forget, on June 4th of last year).  But in the videos I've seen (and heard) (like this one), people are delightedly chanting "We are Hong Kong" rather than negatively making abusive sounds when the Putonghua language song played!  (Also, there appear to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people at the venue concerned.  So how does one decide on arresting just one particular individual for the perceived offence?!)

As Hong Kong Free Press' Tom Grundy was moved to Tweet upon hearing that the police were investigating the crowd assembled to watch the Olympics at Kwun Tong's APM mall, "For those who thought the Hong Kong authorities might seize a golden opportunity to bring society together in a moment of city-wide unity and goodwill..."  When you add this to the badminton player black attire fiasco, one can't help conclude that there are a good number of killjoys in Hong Kong -- and that they tend to be over in the pro-Beijing camp.
To summarize: in a happier, alternative universe, Hong Kongers would be able to be 100 percent happy about their fellow Hong Kongers' exploits at the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, Hong Kong's Olympic glory has actually been bittersweet. As Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker explains about the scenes that have unfolded in recent days of Hong Kongers gathered in malls throughout the territory to cheer on the likes of Edgar Cheung and Siobhan Haughey, and more:

For anyone from outside Hong Kong, the sight of local fans cheering a home-town favorite must have seemed unremarkable. For anyone familiar with the city’s past two years of trauma, it was striking. Such gatherings have been vanishingly infrequent since 2019, when shopping malls were a popular site for flash protests. Crowds often assembled to sing “Glory to Hong Kong,” an unofficial anthem that has since been banned in schools. Hong Kong’s Covid rules still limit gatherings in public places to no more than our people, an interdiction that has been enforced zealously by the police when there is any hint of a political motive...

It has reached a point where the mildest assertion of Hong Kong idiosyncrasy is at risk of being branded potentially subversive or secessionist. Yet the Olympics is a reminder of how a distinctive and different Hong Kong identity might have sat comfortably within a more expansive conception of Chinese nationhood.

The high point of China’s popularity in Hong Kong came during the 2008 Games in Beijing, when observance of “one country, two systems” caused a groundswell of good feeling toward the mainland and the city’s residents were happy to adopt athletes of both teams as their own. Hong Kongers were far more willing to identify as citizens of the People’s Republic when they sensed a willingness to accept the city without insisting on changing it.

That makes the Hong Kong team’s presence in Tokyo poignant, pointing to the opportunity missed, the road not traveled, in which a more tolerant and more confident China embraced the nation’s cultural diversity rather than seeking to stamp it out in pursuit of socially engineered Communist orthodoxy. For the truth is that Hong Kong is different, and this is its strength and its value to China. The city is an outward-facing society that has been exposed to the influence of multiple global currents and traditions. That heritage was brought home again on Wednesday in the form of silver-medal-winning swimmer Haughey, the daughter of an Irish father and a Hong Kong mother. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

On an emotional rollercoaster ride this past 48 hours thanks to a number of Olympic results and legal decisions

The kind of ride my emotions feel they've been on
over the past 48 hours or so 
Pipped by less than half a second in the women's 200 meter freestyle final by the gold medalist from Australia, she also has made it so that the Tokyo Olympics is the first ever Olympics at which Hong Kong has won more than one medal  And like Edgar Cheung, the swimmer also endeared herself to fellow Hong Kongers with her post-race remarks.  Specifically, people feel encouraged by Haughey's comment that "I hope [Edgar] Cheung Ka-long's and my performances this Olympics can push fellow Hong Kong athletes competing, they can add oil."  Seriously now: "persist" (Edward Cheung) and ga yau (Siobhan Haughey).  Great messages indeed for Hong Kongers, especially in the wake of recent goings on in the territory.   
Sadly, in between these two Olympic high points came a major legal low point: Yesterday afternoon, the three judges handpicked by Carrie Lam to preside over Hong Kong's first ever security law trial -- and deliver a verdict in lieu of the more usual (for Hong Kong) jury of one's peers -- declared Tong Ying-kit, the first individual charged under China's security law for Hong Kong, guilty of terrorism and inciting secession.  Justices Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan will hear mitigation arguments tomorrow morning before deciding Tong’s sentence.  
We can but hope that the presiding judges will not impose the maximum sentence on Tong (who, like fencer Edgar Cheung, is only 24 years of age) but it is not unlikely that he could be sentenced to life imprisonment even though there are people who think that, at most, he should have been convicted only for dangerous driving -- another charge he initially was saddled with, only for it to be later dropped.  (And it is telling that at his trial, his lawyer pointed out that Tong had slowed down and tried to avoid hitting the police officers that his hitting is being taken as an act of terrorism.)  
In any case, this security law trial looks to signal the death of justice in Hong Kong -- or, at the very least, sets a very dangerous precedent -- and its verdict the end of free speech in the territory.  With regards to the former: as Timothy McLaughlin's article in The Atlantic notes, "That the rule of law in the city remains solid is [Beijing and its Hong Kong loyalists'] popular refrain, but their critics say rule by law is now more apt."  
On the subjects of court decisions and free speech: One of the 47 democratic politicians and activists charged under the security law for having organized or taken part in democratic primaries last July and put behind bars back in late February was granted bail at her latest bail review hearing today.  Those who celebrate this decision can't help but feel a sense of injustice that she's already spent some five months in detention and the trial that she'll be tried at won't take place until late September. 
An update re Angus Ng: the world number 9 suffered a shock defeat today to Guatemalan shuttler Kevin Cordon (currently ranked 59th in the world) and consequently bowed out of the Tokyo Olympics today.  Wearing a green and white top that apparently was less able to "breathe" than the black top he favored for his previous match (and thus ended up being soaked in sweat), Ng's performance looked to have suffered as a result.  And while the badminton player wouldn't attribute his subpar performance down to a row surrounding the black T-shirt he wore in his previous match, he admitted that he couldn't say his mood had not been affected by the saga.
So I'd like to ask this of the pro-Beijingers who criticized Ng previously: do you prefer that he lost while not wearing black to his winning while wearing black?  Also, isn't it interesting that pretty much every pro-democracy protestor has been happy with Hong Kong victories and medal winning at the Olympics, whatever color the attire that the athletes were in (and, for that matter, whatever color the athletes representing Hong Kong are)?  Or maybe not since, as Ryan Ho Kilpatrick's noted: "They took to the street because they love [Hong Kong] and they’re cheering our Olympians because they love [Hong Kong]. This should be so obvious but to some it isn’t."     

Monday, July 26, 2021

It's hard to divorce anything from politics in Hong Kong, including Olympic matters

Another Olympics-related photo taken in Hong Kong!
This morning, I posted on the social media platform I finally got on a few years ago about how all but one of the posts about the Olympics that I had seen on it from my Hong Kong friends had thus far been about the laughable criticism by pro-Beijingers of badminton player Angus Ng Ka-long for playing in black attire and minus a Hong Kong flag on his shirt. An example of the ridiculous comments coming out of the pro-Beijing camp: Ronny Tong stating that "[We] have had bad experiences so we are afraid it’s better not to wear black, otherwise people may have a heart attack while watching the television."
The criticism prompted the Olympic athlete to issue a statement explaining why he had appeared in the attire (whose color many pro-Beijingers associate with pro-democracy/anti-extradition bill protestors but/and is the dress color of many regular Hong Kongers): specifically, "My sponsorship ... has ended, and I am currently a free agent, therefore I have to prepare my own clothes for the competition [and] I choose the clothes that I feel comfortable to wear."  Hong Kong's top-ranked badminton player (currently number 9 in the world) also took the opportunity to express his hope that people can focus on the performance of athletes rather than their attire; and it was heartening to see the chef de mission of the Hong Kong delegation to the Tokyo Olympics backing him up by stating that athletes should be allowed to focus on the competition rather than being distracted by politics.  
Speaking of politics: if you care about what's happening in and to Hong Kong politically, there would have been much to distract and further dampen one's mood today.  Chief among this is the news that the Independence Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) looks to have finally sprung to life once more and decided to charge pro-democracy activist and former University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai and two others for violating the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (ECICO) back in 2016.  (Yes, you read that right: they are acting against the three individuals -- one of whom has been in custody since late February while awaiting a security law trial that is set to only finally get going in late September -- for perceived offences dating back to five years ago.  Why it's taken them so long to decide they have committed crimes should be a good question to ask, right?)
Today also saw one of the Hong Kong 12 -- whose attempt to flee Hong Kong by boat landed them behind bars in Mainland China before their return to stand trial and serve more jail time --  handed out more time in detention after appearing in court over the escape bid and earlier protest-related offences.  Because he's not yet an adult, 17-year-old Hoang Lam-phuc was sent the teenager to a facility known as a training centre rather than a prison (or correctional institution, as they also are often known).  But the sentence of three years is definitely one that seems pretty harsh whether one is a juvenile or adult.

Amidst all this political doom and gloom though, there is a strong likelihood that many Hong Kongers will go to bed tonight in a happier state than just a few hours before.  This is thanks to Hong Kong unexpectedly coming by its first Olympic gold medal in 25 years -- thanks to fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long
After his historic win, Hong Kong's second ever Olympic gold medalist (after windsurfer Lee Lai-shan) modestly spoke about how, prior to beginning competing at the Tokyo Olympics, "I thought to myself – everyone was either was an Olympic champion or a world champion, and I was nobody. That helped me relax a bit."  If that wouldn't already have endeared him to people, this following quote will really warm the cockles of many Hong Kongers' hearts: "We must all persist, not give up easily. Cowering at the back isn't the way, you have to advance and make each jab count."  (And yes, it's of course easy to apply this to political matters in Hong Kong.  But of course we won't read anything political into this Hong Kong fencing photo; this despite there being someone in it who chose to dress in black rather than the usual fencing whites!)     

Saturday, July 24, 2021

My first and probably only post about the Tokyo Olympics

Olympic joy back in 2008 but not (as yet) in 2021
The Tokyo Olympics officially got going yesterday but I must admit to not having mustered much enthusiasm for it.  I know I'm not alone re this.  Among other things, I've yet to see a single social media post about it from any of my Japanese friends and the Tweeted reaction yesterday of Funassyi, who's usually such an enthusiastic as well as hyper pe(a)rson, speaks volumes re how denizens of the host country feel about this major sporting event.

Okay, I did read Tweets about it -- and did get some momentary thrill from seeing images of the Malaysian Olympic team and learning who were its flag bearers and chef de mission.  But finding out that Malaysia's Olympic contingent includes one of Najib Razak's sons -- and that he's Malaysia's Olympic Council's secretary general -- left a bad taste in my mouth.  And my mood soured further upon realizing that the Olympic organizers can't just let Hong Kong be Hong Kong (but, instead, lists it as Hong Kong, China) and also won't let Taiwan compete as Taiwan (but only as "Chinese Taipei")
These may seem to be trivial grievances in the grand scheme of things.  We are living in a time, after all, when the political persecution in Hong Kong is now being directed at sociologists as well as speech therapists, and when a political detainee (Tiffany Yuen, currently behind bars on security law charges) gets placed in solitary confinement for 10 days (during which she is denied the "privilege" of reading books and newspapers) for hugging her fellow inmates.  But it is further evidence that the Olympics are not politically neutral (duh!) and that politics truly can dampen moods. 

On a more positive note: yes, I must admit to lighting up at the sight of Naomi Osaka being given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.  And yes, I think Japan made quite the impressive, inclusive, multi-ethnic statement by also having Rui Hachimura as one of its Olympic flag bearers.  (On an anthropological note: I always am happy to see when the cultural is emphasized -- rather than the biological -- with regards to social and political matters!)
Something else that has made me happy with regards to the Tokyo Olympics: more exposure for my favorite Pear Fairy -- with a slew of articles and videos (in English, Italian, German, Bahasa Indonesia and more!) in recent days that feature Funassyi.  In an alternative universe, the mascot dedicated to making people smile and happy would have been allowed to be one of the Olympic Torch bearers or part of the Opening Ceremony.  Honestly, what a more amusing and joyous Olympics and world that one would be...!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

And then they came for the speech therapists, and their children's books about sheep and wolves...

...and journalists and speech therapists, among others.
A reminder that pro-democracy Hong Kongers come from
various walks of life and professions (this photo from July 1st, 2015)
We'll start today's post with a couple of updates on what I reported yesterday.  First off, it's not three ex-Apple Daily staffers charged with conspiring to to collude with foreign forces under the national security law yesterday but four -- namely, writer Yeung Ching-Kei (who wrote for the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper under the pen name Li Ping) as well as fellow writer Fung Wai-kong, former associate publisher Chan Pui-man and former executive chief editor Lam Man-chung.  This makes it seven individuals associated with Apple Daily currently detained by the authorities; with three others -- ex-chief editor Ryan Law and its parent company's chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, as well as founder-owner Jimmy Lai -- having been hit with the same charges.
After spending yesterday behind bars, Yeung, Fung, Chan and Lam appeared in court today, where all four saw their bail applications denied this time around -- meaning that they will be incarcerated up until a decision is made as to their guilt or innocence (with the odds being stacked against the security law judges hearing their case returning an innocent verdict that a jury of their peers would seem more likely to give).  Sadly, this kind of decision no longer is a surprise -- with the leveling of security law charges bringing with them a guilty assumption associated with the Mainland Chinese legal system (rather than the "innocent until proven guilty" presumption that Hong Kong previously was used to).     
Also, I think much of Hong Kong is in shock about another batch of national security law arrests that were effected today: this one involving five -- and no, I really am not joking -- speech therapists.  Seriously, who imagined that speech therapists would be accused of sedition and  arrested for being threats to national security?!  
Adding to the insanity is that what appear to have got this quintet -- comprising two men and three women aged 25 to 28 years of age -- in trouble is their being members of a professional union that published three children's books with sheep and wolf characters!   Honestly, it all sounds so nuts that I think it's best to just quote an AFP article on the matter

Published by the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, the books try to explain Hong Kong's democracy movement to children.

Democracy supporters are portrayed as sheep living in a village surrounded by wolves.

The first book, titled "Guardians of Sheep Village" explains the 2019 pro-democracy protests that swept through Hong Kong.

"Janitors of Sheep Village", the second book, sees cleaners in the village go on strike to force out wolves who leave litter everywhere.

The book's introduction explains it is a reference to Hong Kong medical workers striking last year in a bid to force the government to close the border with mainland China at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The final book in the trilogy -- "The 12 Braves of Sheep Village" -- is about a group of sheep who flee their village by boat because of the wolves.

It is a direct reference to 12 Hong Kongers who made a failed bid to escape by speedboat last year to Taiwan but were detained by the Chinese coastguard and jailed.

Okay, so there's a political slant to their content.  But, please, just look at the covers of the books in question (and, for good measure, the animated readings of the tomes) and you tell me whether these books and the people behind them could seriously be considered to be national security threats!  (Honestly, China can seem so weird: in that, with actions like this, it's making it really hard to decide whether it considers itself to be a powerful country or one that is so weak that speech therapists and their books about sheep and wolves are genuine threats to its national security!) 

Even after the raining down of so much insanity in Hong Kong in recent months, it's still hard to wrap one's head around this particular piece of news.  I think a normal reaction is to want to laugh -- not only because otherwise one would cry but because it really is so very absurd.  Ai-men Lau's Tweeted reaction also is one that I have a feeling many others had: namely, "I did not have seditious sheep on my NSL bingo card." (By the way, remember the tear gas bingo we "played" back in 2019?) 

Yes, it truly is serious stuff, albeit one that has made Hong Kong a global laughing stock once again.  Also, this Tweeted by AFP's Hong Kong bureau chief today: "How quickly things are changing in this town."  And most definitely not for the better.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

More assaults on press freedom on the second anniversary of the Yuen Long attacks that the press have done much to make sure we know the truth about and won't forget

So many sad days and anniversaries in Hong Kong
But, thanks in large part to the sterling reportage of various members of the press, including Bao Choy (formerly of RTHK) and teams at Citizen News and Stand News (whose latest 7.21 video report -- released just a few days ago and providing further damning details as to what and who were behind the Yuen Long attacks -- has been given English subtitles by Real Hong Kong News), we will not be lied to.  As journalism professor Yuen Chan has been moved to muse on Twitter, "imagine what they would say if the press hadn't been there" in Yuen Long on July 21st.  

Adding to today's slew of bad news and worries is Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui telling the Legislative Council this afternoon that the Hong Kong government is mulling plans to implement a “fake news” law to regulate disinformation on the internet.  To Hong Kong Journalist’s Association chair Ronson Chan, such a piece of legislation would saddle journalists with one additional and unnecessary concern -- and, as we have seen, it's not like there wasn't already a distinct sense that press freedom in Hong Kong is under attack.  
Among other things, yesterday saw new rules laid down for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) that involve staffers being banned from using “inappropriate” terms such as “Taiwan’s president” or “Taiwan government” in all radio, television and online output, to comply with the one-China principle.  As the blogger over at The Fragrant Harbour summed things up: RTHK is becoming Mainlandized.  
As such, it probably just a matter of time before Taiwan gets referred to as a "renegade province" in RTHK's reports the way that it's a matter of course at Mainland Chinese "news" outlets; this even though it should be obvious to pretty much anyone who's not been brainwashed by Beijing -- or is happy to kowtow to it for financial gain  -- that Taiwan is a country (even while the "Republic of Yuen Long" -- where it can sometimes seem like regular Hong Kong rules do not apply -- is not!).     

Monday, July 19, 2021

The things that pro-Beijing officials and politicians do and say -- and, also, don't do -- which tells you so much about them

Like I intimated in my previous blog post, I actually came out of my visit to this year's Hong Kong Book Fair feeling better about things than I thought I would; this not least because I did find local booksellers at the event who were continued to be willing to sell thoughtful, thought-provoking works that many people living in Hong Kong at the current time would do well to read.  Adding to the sense that all is not lost -- and that we should retain hope that a better tomorrow is possible for Hong Kong -- was what filmmaker Kiwi Chow was revealed late last week to have done (and decided to tell the world).        
Still, for a quick measure of how big a task it'd be to right the many wrongs of contemporary Hong Kong, one just has to look at the slew of news reports detailing various statements made by government officials and pro-Beijing legislative councillors in recent days.  First off, ahead of the weekend, we had Carrie Lam saying that it's time to ramp up the implementation of the security law (which has already been used to put a good number of pro-democrat politicians and political activists along with folks like Jimmy Lai and Tong Ying-kit behind bars even before a decision is made in court about their guilt); this in response to China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director, Xia Baolong's "five demands" for and of the Hong Kong government.      
To judge from (new) police commissioner Raymond Siu's allegation that the student union of the University of Hong Kong might be in violation of the Beijing-imposed national security law for thanking the man who killed himself after stabbing a police officer, it would appear that ramping up the implementation of the security law also involves broadening the definition of what constitutes a violation of China's security law for Hong Kong to such an extent that it would seem that there are way fewer activities that would not constitute a violation of this vague as well as draconian law than there are ones that would constitute a violation of it.  (A few activities that Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker figures should still be okay: "breathing (unless being kneeled on by a police officer), eating (as long as not at yellow restaurants), shopping (not at yellow shops), reading (the good news about the party’s works)"!)   
And at the Hong Kong Book Fair yesterday, pro-Beijing politician Junius Ho -- yes, he of Yuen Long infamy -- continued to exhibit his rampant homophobia; this time by slamming new hit TV series Ossan’s Love for featuring same-sex romance and claiming in the process that promoting homosexuality is against China’s new three-child policy and its national security law!  A reminder: even if this were so, "neither China’s national security law nor its three-child policy apply to Hong Kong, although the city has its own Beijing-imposed security law."
Further idiocy came out of a pro-Beijing politician's mouth today when Elizabeth Quat -- she of defunct degree mill "qualifications" infamy -- asserted today that the government must tell voters who not to pick in future Hong Kong elections!  Honestly, I don't think I need to explain why this suggestion of hers is so very wrong, right?!
Along with the sense of tragedy and sheer injustice at so many (pro-democrat) politicians that so many people voted for now being disqualified and in jail or in exile, there is the frustration Hong Kongers have that so many pro-Beijing politicians and local government officials seem so wanting when it comes to possessing intelligence, empathy and a sense of duty to the people.  With regards to LGBT issues: It doesn't seem coincidental at all that the Hong Kong politicians and political activists most willing to stand up for the rights of these still-too-often-discriminated-against Hong Kongers have been pro-democracy rather than pro-Beijing.  (And for the record: heterosexual pro-democracy politicians like Claudia Mo and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung -- two more personalities currently behind bars after being denied bail -- would attend the Pride Parades too.)  
Even at the level of the District Councils (which are being decimated by the oath-taking threat, with pro-democracy District Councillors who have resigned outnumbering those who have remained), I can personally attest to not having noticed my pro-Beijing District Councillor doing anything for the community when he was in office.  In contrast, my current pro-democracy District Councillor has done such things as fly to Japan during last year's mask shortage crisis to procure masks to give to her constituents and made sure to provide timely updates on social media whenever a water main has broke or some other mishap has occurred in the neighborhood.  In the grand scheme of things, her actions may seem on the modest side -- but at a time when it can feel too often like your very being and welfare is of little consequence to the powers that be, a small gesture of care and concern can seem significant and be much appreciated.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Hong Kong Book Fair returns amidst the pandemic and in the era of the national security law!

 Not a protest march but a small part of the large crowd
of people in line to get into the Hong Kong Book Fair!
One of the books on sale at this year's book fair
Also on sale at this year's Hong Kong Book Fair
After one year's absence due to the pandemic, the Hong Kong Book Fair is backThere officially still is a pandemic on but you'd not think that if you saw the crowds at the event. Actually, I did think it when I was stuck yesterday -- which I figured would be a less busy day at the fair than this weekend -- in a massive line for the event outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre -- but I stayed calm by telling myself that: (a) I have been fully vaccinated (with the gold standard BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine); and (b) outdoor transmission is far less likely than indoor transmission.
Inside, there still were lots of people but more physical distance in between.  I am not sure how truly effective the social distancing arrangements implemented there would be if there were people in the crowd carrying the coronavirus though -- with the way things were designed seeming more geared towards getting people to jump through metaphorical hoops than anything else -- but with just one local transmitted case in Hong Kong in the past 40 days, I hoped that I'd be safe enough.  Something else that did help to assure me that I was physically safe: Everyone I saw at the book fair had masks on, and properly too (as in, they didn't have their noses sticking out over their masks).     
Speaking of security: this was the first Hong Kong Book Fair being held post the coming into being of China's security law for Hong Kong.  So quite a number of booksellers and fair visitors were more fearful than they would have been in previous years.  Still amidst reports of self-censorship having taken place, I was gratified to find a range of tomes available for sale still, including at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) Press booth (whose offerings included ones in English and Traditional Chinese by Johannes Chan, the human rights lawyer who, in an alternate universe, would have been the HKU's pro-vice chancellor, and also Leo Goodstadt's A City Mismanaged: Hong Kong's Struggle for Survival (whose publication date of May 2018 shows that things weren't exactly peachy keen in Hong Kong even before the extradition bill protests broke out in 2019).
I've also seen reports of people being horrified that books by Xi Jinping and touting Communist Chinese thoughts were on sale at the book fair -- but, if truth be told, it's not like pro-Beijing tomes weren't on sale at the book fair in previous years.  Also, similar to what I found in previous years, pro-Beijing -- or even outright Beijing-owned companies -- like Chung Hwa, Joint Publishing and the Commercial Press had large stalls in physically prominent positions -- but if you ventured into the heart and depths of the book fair, you'd find stalls with offerings were more interesting, diverse and even geared towards more liberal-minded readers.
Among the books on sale at this year's Hong Kong Book Fair that caught my eye for different reasons: books by Joshua Wong and George Orwell (a bilingual copy of whose Animal Farm, illustrated by VA Wong Sir, I came away with) long with Chris Patten, Boris Johnson (on Winston Churchill), Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Donald Trump and Rudy Giulliani (the sight of which got me laughing!).  I also was gratified to spot copies of Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century  on sale at more than one stall, and even a number of books about the extradition bill protests -- whose sellers remain determined not to bow to censorship pressures and prosecution fears.
Actually, what really was novel -- and sad to see, as far as I was concerned -- at the book fair this year was the (Chinese language) books about migration to the United Kingdom.  Along with the many reports (a number complete with heartbreaking photos) of people leaving Hong Kong in droves, they drive home the fact that an exodus out of this beautiful but so troubled city really is in progress.   
For sheer weirdness though, I think the stall selling stuff like those ridiculous Hong Kong police teddy bears that first made their appearance on National Security Education Day this past April 15th is hard to beat.  Belonging to the Royal Hong Kong Supplier shop owned by a former policeman, it has items that look like propaganda for the current police force but also ones that play on the nostalgia some people have for the British colonial days.  In all honesty, I think many fair visitors reacted with incredulity, more than anything, upon encountering this stall -- and were more inclined to take photos of the items on sale (I imagine for evidence and to show their friends) than to actually buy them!   
And yes, there are stalls at the book fair whose main offerings aren't books.  One I did like seeing was Shui Pan Workshop's, which is devoted to sketches of scenes and personalities from iconic Hong Kong movies.  The first year that I saw them at the book fair, their main focus appeared to be John Woo's A Better Tomorrow.  Since then, they have expanded to include illustrations from A Chinese Ghost Story and now also are venturing into the realm of Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (all three of which, incidentally, also are the subjects of books published by HKU Press that are on sale at the HKU Press book fair booth)!