He died nearly 80 years ago and most of his theories have since been consigned to the rubbish bin, but Sigmund Freud, the polymath founder of psychoanalysis, certainly understood the stricken psyche of Hong Kong—a city currently so lost in the throes of denial that we appear to be living in an entirely different reality than the rest of the world.
How else to explain the self-protective fictions and delusions now being heaped upon us by our justice department, our representatives in the Legislative Council, our journalists and—yes—even by our vaunted independent (?) judiciary and the barristers and solicitors who ply their trade in our courts of law.
But we can always take cold comfort in the maternal hand that Hong Kong’s Mother-in-Chief has extended to those who fall foul of the Hong Kong justice system.
As criticism and condemnation ring out around the globe over the recent court decision to jail the three most prominent student leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement for six to eight months, the reaction at home has been to circle the rhetorical and psychological wagons. This turning inward makes it so much easier to deny the obvious but unsettling truth that much of the rest of humanity now sees Hong Kong as a place where practising the wrong brand of politics can cost you your freedom.
But who cares what leaders in the US congress and European parliaments think? What do they know?
And why worry about an open letter denouncing the ruling signed by 25 distinguished political, legal and religious figures, including former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, South Korea’s Ambassador for International Human Rights, Jung-hoon Lee, and Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar?
Most importantly, why listen to “uninformed” attacks in “biased” western media outlets such as that well-known tabloid rag, the New York Times? Fake news!
The big, bad world beyond the shores of Little Hong Kong is irredeemably confused and wrong-headed about our affairs. Foreigners with a distorted western mindset just don’t understand: Here, when idealistic young people climb fences that aren’t supposed to be there in order to start embarrassing protests that we don’t want to happen, they must be punished in accordance with our laws—which, of course, can and do change any time the powers that be in Beijing want them to.
Thus, this is how we respond to the chorus of disapproval that followed the jailing of Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the 20-year-old international face of Hong Kong’s beleaguered democracy movement, and his two Occupy Central compatriots, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, 24, and Alex Chow Yong-kang, 27:
“No political motive,” insists Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, the justice minister who made the patently political decision to appeal the lesser sentences handed out to the trio in a lower court—community service for Wong and Law and a suspended three-week jail term for Chow.
“The perpetrators must pay the legal price,” declares Starry Lee Wai-king, the leader of the city’s largest political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, as she eagerly glances to the north for approval and applause.
“All the jokes that are fit to print,” writes South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo in an article mocking the New York Times for its editorial support of the three Occupy leaders, although his own Alibaba-owned newspaper is itself a sitting duck for lampoonists.
“Unfounded comments that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations originating outside Hong Kong are unjustified and damaging to our legal system,” warns the Bar Association and Law Society, advancing the circular argument that to suggest Hong Kong’s rule of law has been undermined is to undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law.
And, finally, “As a mother myself . . . I can understand your emotions,” our chief executive offers in commiseration with the mums of the young prisoners, noting that she, too, has two sons (neither of whom is in jail).
Meanwhile, the imprisonment of Wong, Law and Chow—in addition to 13 others who took part in a separate demonstration against a controversial development project and whose community service sentences were also successfully appealed by the justice department—has prompted the biggest street protest since the 79 days of Occupy.
Hong Kong police estimate that 22,000 people turned out to express their outrage over the two separate rulings—handed down just days apart by the three judges sitting on the Court of Appeal— putting a total of 16 young political activists behind bars. The police, however, are yet another once-venerated source of fairness and authority now living in an alternate reality. In the new math of post-Occupy Hong Kong, the real turnout could have been twice, perhaps even three times the alt-real police estimate.
It’s simply no longer safe—physically, intellectually or psychologically—to believe what you see and hear from the Hong Kong government or any of its organs or supporters. Our political world has been so twisted and diminished by deceit and denial that a younger generation is giving up on their city. Their heroes are in jail, and their jailers hold our highest offices and will be rewarded for their misdeeds with bauhinia medals and vice-chairmanships on a sham government advisory body across the border.
These past several years have presented a litany of daunting challenges and setbacks to the “one country, two systems” formula that was supposed to unite us with the mainland after the handover from British rule in 1997. We have seen poor governance, mass protests that went nowhere, authoritarian “interpretations” of the Basic Law handed down from on high in Beijing, legislative chaos perpetrated by frustrated pan-democrats, disappeared booksellers, disqualified lawmakers and small-circle CE elections that are a far bigger joke than anything written in the New York Times.
And now we have put our best and brightest behind bars.
Not to worry, the Freudian voices of denial console us. Everything will be fine. All we need is a little patriotic education.
The rest of the world is trying to tell us something; maybe we should listen.