On August 11, 2019, a girl, acting as a nurse during a demonstration against the extradition bill in Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong, had her right eye blown out by a beanbag fired by a police officer, causing lifelong disability and instantly provoking explosive public outrage.
Many people regarded this incident as the start of a “Hong Kong June 4 Massacre.” Bloody images of the girl were copied and spread all over the world, leading to millions of people participating in the act of “right hand covering right eye” performance art.
At the time I wrote in a poem:
Today a gunshot blew out a girl’s eye
Tomorrow another blows away a boy’s head
The next day Hong Kong blinded, the former Pearl of the Orient blind
Rivers of blood flow, corpses everywhere
White-haired parents search, wail, attend funerals for children
Like God above seeing stars into graves
The surviving Hong Kong-ers
Some of them criminals, imprisoned in China
Some slaves, lives worse than dogs’
And still others reduced to orphans of humanity
Scattered in exile all over the globe
Never to return home
Like Cassandra in Homer’s The Fall of Troy, this prophetic poem about “The Fall of Hong Kong” – just like the bloody-eyed girl – has spread widely on the Chinese language internet, exacerbating people’s fears.
On August 29, the unusually high-profile exchange of People’s Liberation Army troops stationed in Hong Kong, and an earlier large-scale advance of an armed police convoy to the Shenzhen border seemed – step by step – to prove that 2019 Hong Kong would see a repeat of the mistakes of 1989 Beijing.
On October 1, 1989, in the Great Hall of the People, the Communist Party of China gathered people of all walks of life for a National Day rally. The Great Dictator, Deng Xiaoping, missed all the daytime celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Republic and the usual military parade was cancelled. The speech of General Secretary Jiang Zemin repeatedly stressed that reform and opening up was still the main theme of the whole Party and country.
This was all closely related to the recent June 4 massacre. Even if Wang Zhen and other professional butchers may have shouted “kill 200,000 people and ensure control of the land for 20-years”, the ultimate decision-maker Deng Xiaoping later admitted the decision to suppress the uprising with the People’s Liberation Army was “an unavoidable last resort”.
And so, 30 years later, “an unavoidable last resort” had gradually evolved into a super myth about turning defeat into victory, a myth that is now Party consensus – if there had been no military suppression, there would have been no birth of “the world’s second largest economy” as a result of several instances of copulation between the one-party dictatorship and capital markets.
Today, due to many years behind the Great Firewall of China, ever-increasing high-tech surveillance, and millions of political lies endlessly repeated, the vast majority of Chinese under the age of 30 know little of the June 4th massacre.
Nationalist fever runs high and is persistent. Brainwashing and mind control, as in Orwell’s novel 1984, has become a part of the everyday life of the Chinese people. A bowl of noodles or a ride on a bus is all paid for by a phone scan of a two-dimensional barcode, which also means that once you act or speak out of line, the bank account can be frozen or even cancelled after a warning from an administrator.
On the night of July 9, 2015, Xi Jinping’s regime arrested over 200 human rights lawyers, then tortured and forced television confessions from them in a globally unprecedented instance of persecution. This was closely followed by the detention of over 1 million Uighur civilians in Xinjiang, where internet and computer control technology imported from Western companies is used to carry out “patriotic re-education” in another historical first for humanity. And recently, on the charge of “splitting the country”, two Uighur university presidents have been sentenced to death.
The Communist party of China has repeatedly challenged the baselines of human rights and democracy as they extend to all their great achievement of turning defeat into victory. The apex of the joy of these butchers should be October 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the People’s Republic in Tiananmen Square: The red flags, the flowers, the gun salutes, the sea of people, the huge portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, and the 18th and grandest military parade of them all.
The largest military parade in the history of all dictatorships is constantly being updated. All kinds of rumours have been running through the streets and alleys of Hong Kong. Everyone understands “your motherfucking fatherland is coming”, in what way and when it is coming, and this has become a stimulant to public opinion.
“Hong Kong is our city, and Beijing is their city,” a black-clad young man said, “The tanks ran rampant on the wide streets of Beijing, but they can’t squeeze into the high-priced real estate of Hong Kong.”
“The People’s Liberation Army and the underworld have become Hong Kong police officers, creating disturbances, and then using these as an excuse to arrest people, kill people, or using the ‘Emergency Law’ to go in hard,” an old man says, “Xi Jinping still has a use for the puppet Carrie Lam, [but] October 1 is the final deadline.”
On October 1, set them free or institute martial law, liberty or slavery? Is this the last deadline for Hong Kong?
On September 9, Hong Kong’s youngest political prisoner, 22-year-old Joshua Wong, visited Berlin while out on bail. He said that Hong Kong was West Berlin during the Cold War.
This analogy has profound implications. Thirty years ago, Joshua Wong was not yet born, but Hong Kong had already begun to commemorate the June 4 Movement. Year after year, tens of thousands have flocked to Victoria Park to attend candlelit evenings in commemoration of the victims of the June 4th massacre. Joshua Wong’s parents participated, and then Joshua himself. This formed a “traditional commemorative culture” like that in Germany – and this stands in stark contrast to the tradition of forgetting in China.
Regrettably, Joshua Wong’s analogy did not attract much attention, and his desire to speak at the Berlin Wall was not realised. This is an era of pragmatism, opportunism, and vacillation in the Western political arena. When President Trump launched his trade wars against China, he did not understand what Hong Kong meant for the entire free world. But other Western leaders? Do they understand Hong Kong more, or less?
Perhaps, one day in the future, when these politicians think of taking remedial classes and review [the past], they’ll have already retired. But I can’t retire, I am a writer in exile possessing strong values, I want to say: “A new cold war has begun!”
Like the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago symbolizes the end of the old Cold War, today Hong Kong’s indomitableness symbolises the beginning of the new Cold War. West Berlin used to be a “democratic enclave” despite being surrounded by a socialist state. How many East Germans risked their lives to cross the Berlin Wall? Just as many Chinese have risked their lives, crossing mountains, wastelands and seas, smuggling themselves into Hong Kong.
This is because Hong Kong is the region in Asia closest to the West. While countries physically closer to Hong Kong, like Taiwan and Japan, have deep-rooted domestic cultural traditions or burdens, only Hong Kong was in the hands of the British, developing from a nameless fishing village into a famous international city with over a hundred years of a mix of British and American political, economic and cultural traditions.
If Hong Kong fails, just as West Berlin was swallowed up by East Germany and the Soviet Union until 30 years ago, human history will enter its darkest period since the Tiananmen massacre was in full swing. Besides this October 1, the Communist Party will have numerous other grand anti-humanity celebrations, continuing until God becomes angry and covers the earth with glaciers.
If Hong Kong fails, can the scarred resistors retreat as at Dunkirk in 1940, breaking through and crossing the sea safely? The United Kingdom, which bequeathed to Hong Kong (the beginnings of) a democratic system, is on the other side of the Eurasian continent. And on the seaward side of Hong Kong is Taiwan. But it was Deng Xiaoping who proposed China implement the Hong Kong model of ‘one country, two systems’ to ultimately realise Taiwan’s reunification with the fatherland.
Taiwan has democracy and is worried about Communist Party infiltration, and, at the moment, still has no Refugee Law. But, according to the latest news, encouraged by the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 working its way through the US Congress, the Taiwan government is preparing a refugee bill specifically targeting the Hong Kong crisis.
On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy came to the newly built Berlin Wall and declared he was a Berliner. Today, people all over the world who love freedom must say: I am a Hongkonger, and that I was a Hongkonger before the signing of the “Sino-British Joint Declaration” in 1984. That I witnessed the withdrawal of the United Kingdom in 1997. That I am not willing to be enslaved by the Communist Party of China. That I am a descendant of those who escaped to Hong Kong, my grandfather fled China because of starvation and imprisonment.
I am a demonstrator confronting the police. I also supported the civil movement in China that was suppressed in 1989. I am a bookstore owner in Causeway Bay who was kidnapped and smuggled into China, even though my nationality is both Swedish and British. I am concerned about Xinjiang, Tibet, the Falun Gong, and human rights workers helping the imprisoned lawyers. I am the first Hongkonger to apply for political asylum in Berlin. I am a demonstrator who initially fled to Taiwan out of fear and then returned to Hong Kong. I may also be a political refugee who once again fled Hong Kong, a “rioter” wanted by the Chinese government. I am drifting on a vast, dark sea, not knowing where the future may be.
I am a Hongkonger. I believe Hong Kong’s call for help will be heard by all those in the world who love freedom and that it will also be heard by God and Buddha. I will resist and persist until the very end.
Liao Yiwu is a dissident Chinese autor, writer, poet and musician who was imprisoned by China. He now lives in Germany. Translated by Michael Martin Day, National University, San Diego.