July 27, 2021 12:46 pm
Life in Hong Kong has recently become unpredictable and difficult to describe. When you meet with friends, or exchange messages, the most frequent question is: are you leaving or staying? We are anxiously asked, regardless of the answer.
A few days ago my friend Winnie (I’ll change all the names, just to be safe) posted on Instagram a picture of an open window with floral curtains moved by the draft and a text that just said “I’m going to miss this room. In particular these flower curtains “. According to the new protocol, which developed silently, you no longer answer under the post by asking “why, what happens, are you leaving?”. So I thought I’d text Hellen to ask her, “Are you leaving, Winnie?” And Hellen was alarmed, she replied “no, really? It is not possible…”. So we both sent a message to Winnie, who said no, she just has to move, for now she stays.
I put “Like” under the fake posts of another friend, Stan, who has already left but cannot say it yet for fear that they may stop his partner busy fixing the last things before joining him. In order not to attract attention, he posts photographs of what he has eaten in recent days in various Hong Kong restaurants or photos of details, so as not to risk showing landscapes where the weather does not coincide with that of here. If you organize to see each other and someone has to cancel, everyone immediately wonders if it is not because he had to leave the city. To reassure others, they immediately say “I could this other day, sorry”.
Life turned upside down
Departures intensified in July because from 1 August Hong Kong and Beijing will no longer recognize the British national overseas passport (Bno, granted by the United Kingdom to those born before Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997) as a valid document. Since January 2021, London has begun to issue special visas to BNO holders, who after five years will be able to obtain British citizenship, so in recent months several have left.
It is disconcerting that the head of the government does not appear upset in front of thousands of people, especially young people, who leave
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said she wasn’t worried at all about the endless queues at the airport check-ins – families with packages and suitcases of those who don’t plan to return. Only at departures is there a queue, arrivals are empty. “Hong Kong has always been an international city, I am counting on the fact that it will continue to attract talent from around the world and mainland China,” Lam said at a press conference before changing the subject.
It is disconcerting that the head of a government does not show upset in front of thousands of people, especially young people, who choose to leave even without having specific plans, in order not to be forced to live in a city that is changing in an unstoppable way.
Since July 1, 2020, when the national security law written in Beijing and imposed in Hong Kong without even scrutiny by the local parliament came into effect, much of what constituted the city’s political life has been turned upside down. The independent, pro-democracy and sometimes caciarone newspaper Apple Daily was shut down by freezing its funds; the editor and other executives of the newspaper were arrested.
The electoral system has been “improved” and now only those who will be judged “patriotic” by an ad hoc committee will be able to stand for election. Many of the seats in which citizens could choose their representatives have been eliminated, reinforcing once again the corporate vote, that of representatives of the various sectors of the economy, as in colonial times. University student associations have also been abolished, declared anti-patriotic and even accused of condoning terrorism (here the word terrorism has never been used with such lightness).
A distant refuge
Before the news on the radio or on TV, the national anthem is broadcast, which now by law must be respected (like the flag and other national symbols), and manuals have been prepared for kindergarten children to learn to love their homeland : better that they start young, so they don’t come up with crazy ideas. But the changes to the education system are one of the main reasons why some people decide to leave: the idea that their children are subjected to common propaganda in the rest of China is unacceptable, so they go to the UK, in some cases Canada or the rest of China. United States, and in very special cases in Taiwan (which, contrary to what was expected, has not become one of the most popular shelters).
The neighboring countries, moreover, are still closed due to the pandemic, so even those who could hope to rebuild a life in Japan or Australia cannot even spend a weekend there for now. Some words, and several slogans and songs of 2019, have become illegal: on the radio you can no longer call Tsai Ing-wen “the Taiwanese president”, but only “the leader” of Taiwan, since Beijing does not accept that the language reflects the current status quo, in which Taiwan is a self-governing, democratic island, never led by the Chinese Communist Party.
A teachers’ association has launched a heartfelt appeal to the Hong Kong government to make an effort to understand why so many young people, too many, are leaving and to stop the exodus, but the uselessness of their appeal was almost embarrassing. Nobody cares. Indeed, if the citizens who demand democracy, freedom of expression and justice leave for the police abuses committed during the 2019 demonstrations, the government does not regret them.
Among those who remain there are people who are determined to see what happens, and others who want to see if they are capable of living in a completely apolitical way. There are also government supporters, of course, and then the more than ten thousand people who were arrested for the 2019 protests.
Many of them are still teenagers, receiving disproportionate penalties. Crimes against the police are treated with the utmost severity: a 47-year-old woman who threw an umbrella and a box of cookies at the police – even though the umbrella didn’t hit anyone – was sentenced to three years and nine months. from prison for “revolt and assault”. The incident took place during a demonstration in which the police had charged and arrested many boys. The woman had tried to protect one from arrest. On the other hand, the excesses and abuses of the police are not investigated, and even less are they punished.
What is required of those who remain is to “love”: the police, the motherland, the flag, the new national security law, the leaders, the party … It had never happened in Hong Kong that people were asked to love the party, but now they do, since it has been established that you cannot to love the homeland without loving the party that protects and governs it. Love for Hong Kong, on the other hand, must be exercised with self-control: it must not obscure true love, that for the country, the party and so on. It will take some getting used to.