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See you tomorrow, Hong Kong! | Fan Chou

Next Media has suspended publishing the print edition of Apple Daily in Taiwan. Among the factors are the general environment of the paper-based media business, as well as political considerations. The owner of the media, Jimmy Lai, was a refugee himself from China who had fled to Hong Kong years ago. He has a long track record of anti-communist activities and has currently been sentenced to prison in Hong Kong for his political stance with his financial assets frozen. The fate of Hong Kong Apple Daily is still uncertain, and the operation of the paper version across the sea in Taiwan is in distress, so it is a frustrating but reasonable move to end it.

Jimmy Lai had many opportunities to flee and escape from Hong Kong, but he had chosen to stay. If the print edition of Taiwan Apple Daily had been offered for sale at a low price for its residual value, there would have been a buyer, but it seems that Lai has opted for a dignified exit. In the past 20 years in Hong Kong, there have been many stories of media outlets with drifting positions that have been bought out then become pro-China and are still enjoying the limelight in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the U.S. Although I have not had the chance to meet him, my impression is that Jimmy Lai has never wavered in his position, and that on the scale of righteousness and self-interest, it seems that there are some things he will not do.

What happened to Jimmy Lai and what happened to Hong Kong are actually two sides of the same coin, that is, there is no freedom under autocracy.

Some people may think this is just nonsense and a waste of words. According to semantics, “autocracy” and “freedom” are two contradictory words, such that if there is autocracy, there is no freedom, and if there is freedom, autocracy cannot exist. If the average person has such a clear mind, then it is indeed nonsense. The tragedy today is that while it is obviously nonsense, it still needs to be spoken, because the power of illusion is so immense.

In Hong Kong itself, for example, we can prove that most people’s minds are confused. Although that is a bit cruel, it makes a very sharp statement, and it is impossible to cut through the misunderstanding without a sharp knife. Years ago, Hong Kong shocked the world when millions of people took to the streets to protest against the extradition law amendment bill (ELAB). How did the number reach millions, with countless people returning to Hong Kong from overseas to join the demonstrations? This was precisely because these people had the illusion that there was still a chance to fight for freedom under the authoritarian regime of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Do you agree? If it is not because you believed that there was still room for negotiation under the dictatorship, then why would you have taken to the streets?

This fantasy has buried Hong Kong’s last chance, just like the same fantasy that buried the ROC government’s last chance between 1945 and 1949. How many young people have died in the anti-ELAB movement in Hong Kong since June 2019? Since there is a huge disparity between the perceptions of those who have illusions and those who do not and we do not want to get involved in unnecessary debates here, we will just say that the number of people who died was “X.” This is frustrating because the truth is also still unclear as to how many people died in Beijing during the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and we can only say that “Y” number of people had perished.

If the millions of people who participated in the marches in Hong Kong in 2019 had it clear in their minds that “there is no freedom under autocracy” is an established theorem, would they have taken to the streets in protest? Did these people take to the streets because they had a subliminal consensus in their minds that there was still room to fight for freedom through negotiation with the autocratic regime? If they did not have illusions at that time, perhaps there would not have been a need to sacrifice “X” people, and the fate of Hong Kong would have been different.

This is a kind of a revelation of Hong Kong for Taiwan. People who are convinced that “there is no freedom under dictatorship” have only three choices when they encounter dictatorial rule: (1) to leave immediately and emigrate; (2) to stay and fight; (3) to console with an Ah Q mentality and think to themselves, “What’s the harm in no freedom?”

It is your freedom to choose which option you want; the only option you cannot choose is to think that you can demand freedom through a million people protesting on the streets after the authoritarian regime emerged. Perhaps you think that the one-person-one-vote election system and the rule of law could safeguard your freedom? Besides, the rule of law in Taiwan scores only 60 out of 100 with seams and cracks of water and gravel everywhere. Even if one-person-one-vote is adopted, you can still be completely deprived of your freedom, and there is not a single law that is missing.

There is only one way to protect freedom, that is, not to allow a dictatorship into the system, whether it be by force or by civilian infiltration, or by erosion from within your existing system.

There is only one way to protect freedom in society, that is, through spontaneous civil defense, psychological defense, and community mutual cooperation. Remember the warning of a Chinese scholar: American democracy has come so far because everyone has been carrying a rifle on their backs since the founding of the country, whereas the Chinese do not have democracy because everyone is carrying a mop on their backs.

The Hong Kong of the past no longer exists in the real sense, but the people of Hong Kong will eventually scatter around the world, forming a virtual version of a dream Hong Kong. See you tomorrow, Hong Kong.

(Fan Chou is a Taiwanese writer and entrepreneur.)

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