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Protest Hides in Plain Sight in Hong Kong

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On a very clear day, I ascended Lion’s Rock, an iconic peak in Kowloon which gives gorgeous vistas of Hong Kong to the intrepid hiker. In 2019, the grandiose cliff face was frequently draped in protest indicators. Steadying myself in opposition to a tree trunk, I really feel my thumb slip right into a groove. I lookup, and, squinting, see etched into the trunk, “八三一,” the Chinese language characters for 831. Like Neo studying to learn code, the identical numbers started to drift earlier than my imaginative and prescient as I ambled down the path, uncanny and insistent, carved into tree after tree: 831, 831, 831. I whipped out my cellphone: 8/31, the date of the “Prince Edward Incident,” when police brutally bludgeoned protesters on the Prince Edward subway station, then sealed it off to first responders.

Googling 831 led me rapidly to 721, the Yuen Lengthy incident on July 21, which additionally concerned violent clashes between police, protesters, and counterprotesters. Democratic Get together chair Wu Chi-wai condemned the arrest of Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Get together politician on the time, declaring that “the prosecution is ‘calling a deer a horse’ and twisting proper and incorrect.”

My thoughts whirred, clicked again. Months earlier than, listening to an indie band beloved for his or her politically subversive lyrics led me to a espresso store in Kowloon they sing about. A number of doorways down, I’d seen a curious T-shirt in a store window: It had an image of a deer captioned “this can be a horse.”

I used to be starting to piece issues collectively, to know how the companies and folks round me had been marking themselves—how they caught their tongues out at leaders by sticking their tongues of their cheek; how coded interactions allowed them to hunt one another out and construct neighborhood.

Some weeks later, I’m nodding distractedly alongside throughout a dialog when my acquaintance sighs, “You merely can’t level at a deer and name it a horse.” My eyes dart up. They catch my look. “You perceive what I’m saying?” they ask meaningfully. “I perceive,” I replied. We trade silent, realizing nods, each comprehending that one thing necessary has handed between us. Surveillance promotes distrust, and dialog subsequently usually happens solely between the traces. Removed from an act of cowardice for not “talking one’s thoughts,” these coded gestures are a profound measure of belief, a dedication to remembering collectively.

As Milan Kundera as soon as wrote, “The wrestle of man in opposition to energy is the wrestle of reminiscence in opposition to forgetting.” Within the face of Beijing’s will, this can be all that’s left to these on this metropolis who took to the streets with a ardour simply three years in the past. However it’s not nothing. Removed from it. Studying to see one thing the place nothing is there sounds paranoid, however certainly it’s the solely bulwark in opposition to revisionism in a metropolis the place one has to deal with doublespeak from the best places of work. Final yr, two unbiased newspapers had been shuttered inside every week, and their staff had been arrested. However Carrie Lam, the chief government of Hong Kong, claimed that whereas the newspapers compromised nationwide safety, their shuttering had nothing to do with the Nationwide Safety Legislation or censorship. Addressing questions in regards to the current elections being a “one-man race,” the place just one candidate stood for elections, Maria Tam, deputy director of China’s NPCSC Fundamental Legislation Committee, said, “Having only one particular person operating for [chief executive’s] workplace doesn’t imply we have now fewer selections,” in a semantically illogical assertion.

Paradoxical doublespeak in Hong Kong in the present day happens not solely as a sprinkling of remoted incidents, however is deeply existential. Earlier this yr, information broke relating to new textbooks for schoolchildren in Hong Kong that may assert that Hong Kong was by no means a British colony. In his speech on the handover anniversary celebrations, President Xi Jinping asserted that “true democracy” in Hong Kong solely started after Hong Kong was returned to China. When questioned by a UN rights committee about press freedoms and disbanded NGOs, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Erick Tsang, retorted defensively that “actually, democracy has taken a quantum leap ahead because the return to the motherland in 1997.” All this presents a disaster of rhetoric and of ideology. If Hong Kong was by no means a colony, it couldn’t “be returned,” but when this was so, then what was being celebrated on the primary of July? In the meantime, pro-democracy activists are deemed unpatriotic and persecuted. Is one to know if democracy is fascinating or not? And does Hong Kong have one, or not?

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