Farewell, 2016!

I started this blog in January 2016. Lucky that I’m still writing posts on this blog although it’s not updated as frequently as originally planned.

Many things seemed very gloomy to many of us this year. I would say many people have said something like: “What? No way. Gosh! That’s enough. Any more sad thing like this?”

Luckily, it’s already 2017 in places like Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific while we still have less than three hours to say goodbye to 2016 and welcome 2017 here in Hong Kong.

While there are so many worrying trends like the rise of racial hatred among many other stupid and outrageous things we human beings do to one another and the environment, I have also gone through many challenges in my life this year.

Due to the lack of supervision (in fact no supervision at all other than repeating my ideas and presenting my draft to my thesis supervisor again and again without getting any concrete and helpful advice), I stopped my part-time PhD studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. While I was struggling to find out how to continue my studies, I was lucky enough to meet a professor who taught me cultural studies and cultural theories at University of Hong Kong 20 years ago again and interestingly we met each other again on Twitter (thanks to the internet and social media). He gave me some advice and I’m now in the last stage of my application to continue my studies at his university in France (will share details when everything is confirmed). Many people would say doing a PhD is a waste of time but I don’t think so. The training is part of my life. Nobody can ever understand how I treasure to have learned all the things in the process. Not everything can be and should be calculated in terms of monetary reward or social status.

While I continue my full-time NGO job, I will definitely continue my studies. You may ask my why. But my answer will be: “That’s my life. None of your business.”

Happy moments with my partner continues into the 16th years. For me, love and relationship are between two persons. Nobody else can and should interfere with the two persons’ relationship. My attitude is always the same: let it be. That’s my life. Also, it’s none of other people’s business.

Then, what I think should be everybody’s business? Respect others and respect human rights. These are the things we should all care.

Now, I shut up and enjoy the last two hours of the pretty gloomy 2016.

Happy New Year!🎊🎉


Problems with Nationalism

I never believe in nationalism. Ethnically, I can be defined as Chinese. My maternal and paternal grandparents came from Guangdong (it was called Canton at that time) (廣東) to Hong Kong in 1930s. My parents were born in Hong Kong and so was I. Except for a few remote relatives I met when I was a child, I don’t have any relatives in China. So, naturally, how can people like me feel strongly that China is my motherland?

One of the moments that I felt about being a “Chinese” was during the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. It was really a vivid memory for me when I watched the news on TV and joined other Hong Kong people to march on the streets when I was 12 years old. I must say that a 12-year-old can understand quite a lot of what’s happening although we were not as vocal as young people nowadays when we were that young, thanks to the apolitical environment in education during the colonial era.

Another moment that I really felt about being a “Chinese” was taking lessons in Chinese history in Form 1 to Form 3. I scored quite well in that subject and world history although pretty bad in other other subjects. Also, I was crazy playing the computer game of “The Three Kingdoms” with some classmates and could remember most of the names of the characters.

Other than those moments, I have to admit that I only feel myself being a Hong Konger, speaking Cantonese most of the time and speaking English with Hong Kong accent and writing English with all the typical grammatical mistakes like other Hong Kongers.

For those who were born in 1980s or later, I don’t see why they need to be told to feel that they are “Chinese” while they can’t emphasize their identity as Hong Kongers?

Although I have been working on China’s human rights issues for the past decade, I still very much feel that I’m a Hong Konger instead of a Chinese.

However, I never agree with some of the radical localists’ positions and comments to demonize all the mainland Chinese people. It should be the authoritarian regime in China which we should target at, but not the people. The people in mainland China have been heavily controlled by the regime for so long. It’s no longer the China we know from learning ancient Chinese history. The China we see today is Communist China.

All in all, nationalism always makes people crazy about fighting one another by labelling one another as “traitors” or “insulting a nation”. It’s 21st century. We live in a world connected with internet and it’s much easier for us to travel to other places. Can we get rid of this kind of stupid nationalism? If all the conflicts about nationalism and localism are just about personal interests, it’s just a big shame.

Writing and Freedom

It’s a great experience to attend PEN International’s 82nd PEN Congress in Ourense, Galicia. It’s also the first time for me to attend it as a Hongkonger and as one of the three delegates of the newly reestablished PEN Hong Kong. The other two delegates are Nicholas Wong, a poet and a Vice-President of PEN Hong Kong, and Kris Cheng, a journalist and a founding member of PEN Hong Kong.

Although most of the meetings were about various aspects of the business of PEN International’s work, the core values were still very much related to writing and freedom. That makes me to think about writing this blog post.

No matter we write literary works like novels, poetry, plays and films, or non-fiction writings like news articles and features, commentaries, travel writing, academic papers, human rights reports or blogs, we can’t always take it for granted that we always have the freedom to write.

No society is always entirely free. Not only people living in authoritarian countries need to face the challenges about what they can write. Needless to say, people living in these countries need to be brave enough to write articles or simply express their views to criticise the government and risk losing their personal freedom or even their lives. People living in some democratic countries might also need to rethink how they would want to write about issues like race, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation, or write in their own languages or dialects if there are oppressive policies or discouraging  mainstream public sentiments in their communities. They might face intimidation, harassment or harsh ridicule.

The relationship between writing and freedom is so interesting and important that, being a member of PEN Hong Kong, I’m ready to embark on this journey again to learn from writers (in the broadest sense) around the world about how we should continue to perceive these two significant elements in human lives. It’s also about how we human beings perceive and treat one another.

Welcome or unwelcome foreigners?

The slogan of protecting local interest, culture and economy seems to be becoming popular in some societies. It’s often used by politicians and lobby groups to convince the people to think of their own interest first. Migrants are often considered as snatching away jobs and social welfare.

In Hong Kong, we have seen many localist arguments to emphasise local Hongkongers’ interest. Very often, the arguments are very discrimatory and dismissive of migrants’ contribution to the society. In Brexit, we have seen similar arguments by Leave campaign leaders and supporters. While I’m writing this, I have just read a news report in The Guardian and another report in The Independent about various racist incidents in different parts of England and Wales after the Brexit referendum.

Hong Kong is a migrants’ society, no matter whether people like it or not. Many Hong Kong families originally came from mainland China. My paternal and maternal grandparents came to Hong Kong from Canton (now known as Guangdong) in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hong Kong’s economic boom in the 1980s was largely due to an influx of migrants from mainland China in the 1950s to 1970s as they provided cheap labour to Hong Kong’s industries. Many of these people fled from Communist China’s horrible political campaigns. Many Hong Kong Chinese can still recall how they took the risk to flee to Hong Kong by various ways.

After Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, Hong Kong people realised that they needed to face the political reality that Hong Kong will be returned to China in 1997. People started emigrating to Canada, USA, Britain and Australia, among other places. Even much more people left Hong Kong out of fear after the Tiananmen Crackdown in 1989. In mid-1990s, there were more and more mainland-born and Hong Kong-born children whose parents were Hong Kong citizens and mainland Chinese. They and their parents became new migrants in Hong Kong. There were lots of controversies on whether they should be granted the right of abode and they were considered by many local Hong Kong people as a burden and they were often accused of snatching away the social welfare in Hong Kong.

Since 1980s, migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries came to work in Hong Kong. They helped many families to lessen their burden by taking care of children and elderly and doing other house work so that middle-class couples in Hong Kong could go out to work. However, they face a lot of discrimination and unfair treatment at work and on the street. Despite their contribution to the local economy, they are often considered as lucky to have a chance to work in Hong Kong to support their families in their home countries.

Since 2000s, mainland professionals and mainland university students became the new migrants as well. They were considered by many Hong Kong people as snatching away their jobs. In recent years, mainland tourists became the target of ridicule because of their lack of concern of hygiene and their behaviours on the street and in shopping malls as well as the way they buy luxury goods. Many Hong Kong people and mainland Chinese use all kinds of derogatory words to attack each other – a daily common scene on social media. Defending local identity and culture and protecting national dignity are the justifications for the verbal attacks.

Hong Kong is full of hate and discrimination as it is the case in many other countries like Britain and America and many others. Very often, the hate and discrimination are against foreigners and migrants. Justifications can include protection of local people’s interests, cultural, identity and economy, among others.

The question is about what kind of society we want – a protectionist society unwelcoming migrants? Or, a society accepting people no matter where they come from? If we think that protecting locals and rejecting migrants is correct, can we first ask ourselves: how local we can claim ourselves to be? Why can we still expect people from other countries should still work and cooperate with us if we have rejected them? Or, if we simply don’t give a shit to work or get along with a certain group of people out of contempt, how can we still not admit that is discrimination?

We better face it and try to find ways to tackle it. I wonder how we can feel any better to justify discrimination against migrants by ignoring their contribution to our societies and just pushing them away as the others. If we don’t respect people from other places, how can we expect others to respect us?

Brexit – a surreal reality

Being someone who grew up in colonial Hong Kong and studied in the UK, I have to say I always have the perplex feeling on Britain.

When I was a schoolboy, I envied so much those classmates who could speak fluent English in British accent, so much so that I tried to imitate but eventually still just cling with my Hong Kong accent.

Great Britain always gives me the nostalgic feeling of the “good old days”.

When I was studying for my postgraduate at the journalism school of the University of Sheffield, I could completely feel the British arrogance in my British classmates and lecturers. That was in 1999.

Being someone who grew up in Hong Kong – a pre-dominantly local Chinese community – I had never experienced any racial discrimination. Even when I studied English Literature at the then very colonial-style University of Hong Kong, I couldn’t feel any racial discrimination at all even in front of all my British professors.

However, although in Sheffield we had lecturers who used to work at BBC, The Observer and The Independent, I was simply shocked when the lecturers asked me and a black classmate (in fact she was born and grew up in England) if we understood the class in English. I was even more shocked when a classmate asked me if I regretted Hong Kong was returned to China and how Hong Kong could survive after leaving Britain. Another classmate asked me if Hong Kong was in Japan. The most shocking of all was when a classmate asked if I ate dogs.

I’m recalling all these just now after seeing the Brexit saga. I have never hated British people. I have many friends who are very kind and intelligent Britons. But I can feel that many British people are perhaps still having the imperial feeling of Great Britain and still believing that people in other countries are pathetically dependant on Britain’s imperial grace to survive.

Anyhow, Brexit is such a surreal reality to me. I can still feel some kind of British arrogance in it.

We are living in the 21st century. I’m not sure how long we should still lament the “good old days”. Surreal to me.

What does Trump mean to us?

As a Hongkonger, I’m wondering what it means to us here in Hong Kong and other parts of the world with Donald Trump running for the presidential election in the US.

Do his racist, sexist and crazy ideas and comments sound familiar to us? To certain extent, I also see the similar sentiments against nonlocals here in Hong Kong.

Localism can be presented in a good way as an effort to preserve locals’ interest and culture as much as like protectionism in economics. However, it’s difficult to draw the line between protecting local interest and discrimination.

Fear of going to extremes and being labelled as radicals, most people choose to stay “neutral” or prefer to be “moderate”.

As extremism is becoming popular in many societies, how can we continue persuading others to engage in negotiation to resolve our differences when power and resources are so unbalanced?

It’s obviously a big challenge. But I don’t think anything is impossible. One thing is sure. Ridicule never helps to build trust and communication, which is fundamental to engaging in negotiation.

What does The Rule of Law mean if legitimizing The Rule by Law?

Without naming any particular regimes and without initiating an academic discussion on the concepts and the principles of The Rule of Law and The Rule by Law, I would like to invite an non-academic and non-philosophical discussion on whether these two broad issues are mutually exclusive from real experiences.

For instance, if we say that The Rule of Law can still be realized in an authoritarian regime by developing training programmes for legal professionals like judges, prosecutors and lawyers, are we assuming that such legal professionals would eventually or gradually or practically or automatically transform the judicial and political system into a system of The Rule of Law? If yes, how we be so sure? What contributing factors can we identify? If not, what are the negative factors affecting the potential development?

If a regime reinforces its control by enacting and amending more laws to justify and legitimize its rule, are such actions developing draconian laws or can be claimed to be promoting The Rule by Law? As such, by helping to legitimize the regime to develop more such laws and helping the regime to divert public attention and discussion on other possible elements to develop a real Rule of Law system, how can that still be claimed to be developing some programmes to promote The Rule of Law in that country?

Or, should we simply change our understanding of what it means by The Rule of Law and The Rule by Law? Does it sound a reasonable question or in fact, it is after all only a question of “pragmatism” and “the protection of the interests of certain groups or individuals”?

I would be very much interested in learning more about what this would mean, if it would indeed be considered an important issue that we should address, but not avoid.


What does social media mean to us?

I have been using various social media accounts since 2008.

I first started using Facebook in January 2008 after a friend from Canada introduced it to me. We continued to chat on MSN – and before that we used ICQ – and I only occasionally looked at my Facebook. At that time, still very few people used it and nobody was crazy about “likes”. However, I later found that people using Facebook are more interested in getting “likes” than engaging in meaningful interaction. I stopped using my Facebook account last week after Mark Zuckerberg met with China’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan.

In March 2008, I started my Twitter account. I used it mainly to communicate with Chinese activists who had no choice but used VPN to go to Twitter to have a taste of freedom of expression as they frequently found their posts deleted in Mainland Chinese online forums. I’m still using it and find it useful to connect with activists, journalists, diplomats and other like-minded people, and even some government leaders and prominent research institutes.

I have also been using other social media, such as Instagram and LinkedIn, but less active on those platforms.

Some people might still doubt why we need to spend time on social media and still stick to only using emails. I still remember someone told me I should call him more and even fax him documents instead of sending him emails in 2008. Now, that person even uses Whatsapp and Facebook. I just wonder why some people still think they can ignore social media nowadays. The existence of social media people interact and I don’t think that social media will make us totally rely on them and stop or discourage us from meeting our family, friends and colleagues. Instead, it provides more platforms for us to have different forms of communication in different situations.

Official Warning Not to “Politicize” everything?

What’s more weird than an official warning people not to “politicize” issues?  Being a politician in power can tell people not to “politicize everything” and just accept whatever the government does?

It’s not even an issue about democracy or authoritarianism. Even an authorian regime would not need to deny that everything involves the government and its governance is inevitably about politics and the issues the government deals with are thus inevitably political issues. 

Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – China’s third-ranked Communist Party leader, said Hong Kong should not “politicize everything” and should instead focus on integrating Hong Kong’s economy with China’s, Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress told media.

It might seem familiar to people in Hong Kong to hold such mindset as it was a common belief among Hongkongers even during the British colonial era. Pragmatism is almost like a synonym for Hong Kong spirits for decades. Economy prevails everything else, certainly more than politics. So, should we simply embrace this mindset as “a golden rule” when we deal with issues in Hong Kong and China nowadays?

Stupidity can still be ridiculed and can least provide some amusement for casual chats. Self-sufficiency is simply terrible.

What if I’m “abducted” and “forced” to say “I’m safe”?

As I have been following the news about Hong Kong citizen and bookseller Lee Bo, who is also a British passport holder, what I can see worry myself and many other fellow Hongkongers the most is whether the freedoms of expression and publication which we take for granted are vanishing.

As I have been working on human rights issues about China, mainly about harassment of human rights defenders and human rights lawyers, for the past decade, it is understandable that my family and friends always ask if I’m worried about my own safety and warn me not to go to Mainland China.

Am I worried? I’m still not too worried about my own safety but it’s worrying to see how we Hongkongers are only worried about whether our safety will be affected when we see news like Lee Bo and harassment of human rights defenders in China.

Imagine, if one day, we can no longer talk about any freely. Imagine, if one day, we can no longer express our anger towards how government officials fail their policies. Imagine, if one day, we can no longer question what we believe to be wrong. Imagine, if one day, anybody close to us is suddenly taken away just because he or she says something or writes something criticizing the government. Imagine, if one day, if your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your cousin, your son, your daughter, your friend or your colleague is “abducted” and “forced” to say “I’m safe”. How would you feel?

Do we want to prepare what we should say and what we should say if any of the above happens one day? Or, do we want to prevent any of the above happens?

I have never thought about ‘what if I’m “abducted” and “forced” to say “I’m safe”, as I believe it won’t happen if we can stand firm to our values. If we treasure our freedoms, I don’t think we need to worry about any of the above.

I am a Hongkonger and I believe in my fellow Hongkongers.