Tasteless Chicken Ribs
Beijing strangles the general election in Hong Kong.
“Occupy Central is unavoidable,” Thomas Yan said in Hamburg, Germany, while participating in the Sino-Tibetan conference in the last week of August. It was days before the People’s Congress in Beijing voted unanimously against open nominations for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. One does not have to be a clairvoyant to see that the central government intends to strangle any chance of a free election. The eloquent Thomas Yan, who works as a political activist and anchor for a TV and radio station in Hong Kong, compared China’s policy in Hong Kong and Tibet. Both regions are “being occupied and suppressed ” by the authoritarian regime. What forms of resistance do people have to choose from, if they do not want to play the miserable role of victim? Yan, a representative of the political coalition People Power, suggested non-violent resistance.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
“First occupied by British Empire for ninety-nine years, now occupied by Chinese tourists, our position is not getting better,” Thomas sighed. Over 30 million mainlanders flood into the peninsula yearly, four times the size of the local population! This challenges Hong Kong’s infrastructure, economy, and social order. No doubt the tourism brings money and bolsters the economy, but there are also side effects. The “free travelers” rush in and buy food, daily commodities, medicines and luxuries, but the “invaders” have other disturbing behaviors too. They are rude, and loud in public, and they spit, litter and allow their children to urinate publicly in trams and movie theaters. Rich Chinese women also come to Hong Kong to give birth. In 2010, 47% of Hong Kong’s newborns were from China. Restrictions now forbid such “baby-tourism,” as the baby boom overloaded the hospitals’ facilities.
In addition to the material abundance, and the medical, as well as social, benefits, the cultural variety and politically free atmosphere in Hong Kong offers a magnetic attraction to the Chinese. In this international metropolitan, they are overwhelmed at feeling freedom for the first time. In Hong Kong, Chinese visitors are able to move freely, to read relatively free press, to meet friends, attend public lectures, and even participate in demonstrations without fear. Buying and smuggling “forbidden” books and magazines is a thrilling experience for many. There are publications widely available about power struggles in Zhongnanhai, “secret documents” from the Chinese Communist Party, and gossip about politicians. The impact of the free world on these visitors is immense.
Yet, the free environment is endangered. Beijing wants to turn Hong Kong into a little China and put it under the central government’s direct control. It broke its promise to allow citizens suffrage in Hong Kong’s first general election. The 5 million voters will not be able to nominate their own political candidates. Instead, they have to cast their vote among the two or three candidates the party will choose first. The National People’s Congress’s August 31st resolution to so-called “political reform in Hong Kong” is nothing but a slap in the face of democracy. It raises suspicion and anger in the Hong Kongers.
For the 2017 election, the Congress declared that:
1. The candidates must be approved by more than 50% of the nomination committee (which, with its 1200 members, is controlled actually by pro-Beijing forces).
2. The selected candidates must be “persons who love the country and Hong Kong.” (In Chinese, the expression “love the country” may as well mean “love the CCP.”)
The Hong Kong media describes the general election of 2017 à la the Beijing model like chicken ribs: tasteless, but not bad enough to be thrown away. The bad news generated a wave of protests in Hong Kong. Disappointed democracy activists, including Thomas Yan, vow to participate in large-scale protests, in an action known as Occupy Central with Love and Peace. “They may use all kinds of measures to drive us away, with water hoses, rubber bullets, police bludgeons, but we will be prepared for the fighting,” Yan said grimly, as he bid farewell to his friends in Europe and prepared to return to his hometown in Hong Kong. The law professor, Benny Tai Yiu Ting, who initiated “Occupy Central” in 2013, said, “It is the darkest day for the democratic movement and one country, two systems. The road to dialogue [ended in] the blind alley. In the coming weeks, we will start with a series of non-cooperation-movement[s] such as students’ strikes and demonstrations. We will occupy the Central [at] the right time.”
It will be a hot autumn, and a long journey towards struggle and confrontation. Is it possible to make the chicken ribs tastier, through the use of better ingredients? Only dreamers, who share President Xi’s fantasy of a powerful, great China, would believe that fairy tale.