As Hong Kong’s national security law approaches its first anniversary, Voice of America interviewed a number of Hong Kong people who have left Hong Kong to live in Taiwan. They said the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law has created “white terror” and created a chilling effect, turning Hong Kong into a place where the spirit of freedom has been lost. They say the Hong Kong they know is still the Hong Kong they knew before the 2019 anti-China campaign, but the Hong Kong they know now can no longer return!
The Hong Kong version of the national security law was announced to come into effect on June 30 last year, and it will now be one year old. A number of Hong Kong people have chosen to leave their hometown to live in other parts of the world. So far at the beginning of the year, it is reported that more than 130,000 Hong Kong people have left Hong Kong. Although everyone has different reasons for leaving, they all feel pessimistic about the future of Hong Kong.
“No freedom equals the disappearance of the most crucial element creatively!”
Johnny, a 40-year-old cultural worker, “escaped” to Taiwan at the end of last year. He said that after the implementation of the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law, the Hong Kong government’s crackdown on culture and research has become increasingly serious, such as the arrest of Apple Daily boss Lai Chi-ying, the reprisal of a Hong Kong TV reporter for repeatedly questioning Carrie Lam and other senior government officials, the reorganization of the Center for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the amendment of Hong Kong’s Film Censorship Ordinance in June this year. “In June this year, Hong Kong amended the Film Censorship Ordinance to include film content in the national security law. In addition, the June 4 memorial activities and various film screenings that were held in previous years have all been cancelled due to the national security law. The constant restriction of freedom of expression and artistic creation in Hong Kong has forced him to flee.
At the 12th Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival in Taipei in April this year, Johnny bought a ticket to see the opening film, “The Siege of Rita”. Johnny told the Voice of America that the film was shown at the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival last January and that he had seen it several times in Hong Kong, but now that he was watching it again after a year, he felt even more deeply about the situation in Hong Kong, especially one year after the implementation of the National Security Law. He felt that “PolyU Siege” is in a way “the last song” and it is almost impossible to see such films in Hong Kong’s screening facilities in the future.
Johnny said that the campaign against the Fugitive Offenders Bill in Hong Kong (referred to as the Anti-Submission Campaign), in which two million people took to the streets, represented a wide range of public opinion, but was suppressed by the Hong Kong government. After the implementation of the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law, he and other cultural workers naively thought that “there would be time” because they thought that the cultural and media industries were the characteristics of Hong Kong and would not be destroyed so quickly.
However, Johnny says, “We all share a common feeling that Hong Kong has fallen too fast, and the key is in the media, academic research, and filmmaking. We are not just sad, but more surprised that we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”
He said that Hong Kong cinema is the pioneer of Chinese cinema, and has been known as the world’s film capital and the “Hollywood of the East” through a hundred years of blossoming. This is because in the past, Hong Kong was free to make films, the censorship system was lenient, and the film classification system was implemented, which resulted in many films with good singing and writing, but I really did not expect that Hong Kong’s cultural creation and academic research would be suppressed so quickly.
He believes that this may be the most important reason why many Hong Kong people want to emigrate afterwards, because freedom is the prerequisite for all creativity and is what makes Hong Kong attractive to the world. He says, “If you don’t have the freedom to create, to screen, to communicate and to work continuously in this place, I think Hong Kong as a very vibrant area for academic and artistic creation, it will be gone and it will become like any mainland city in China. What it amounts to is that the foundation of your existence and one of the most crucial elements creatively disappears, it’s the feeling of the axe bottom, that there is no more freedom.”
Johnny said he is actually afraid to go to gatherings of Hong Kong people in Taiwan now because every time the news from Hong Kong is very negative, the emotions are depressing and the atmosphere is very sad. He said that in the past, there would still be people who wanted to run in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, or fantasize that they could take a break and return to Hong Kong after some time, but seeing the current situation in Hong Kong, people really want to leave forever, and they all say they can leave, there’s no need to go back!
“There was a moment that made me miss Hong Kong”
Nancy, 26, is a member of the energy industry, Nancy studied in the field of engineering, because of career planning, felt that Taiwan’s green energy industry has more development prospects than Hong Kong, and Hong Kong and Taiwan, whether in terms of language and food, or in the culture, are more similar, coupled with Hong Kong’s anti-sending China movement, she stood on the streets to protest, witnessed tear gas, rubber bullets from the side, and around She decided to leave Hong Kong, leave her family and come to Taiwan to work.
She said that the difference between life in Taiwan and Hong Kong is that Hong Kong regards overtime work as normal and colleagues compete with each other very much. Hong Kong people also usually go to bed late, eat dinner very late, and are used to having an afternoon tea time. But in Taiwan, people don’t often work overtime, colleagues are very cordial, and many restaurants close for the afternoon. So, unless it’s a cafe, it’s hard to find a place to go for afternoon tea. She also said that she likes Taiwan’s system of extra “compensatory time off” in addition to holidays, which is not available in Hong Kong.
She said that sometimes when she passes places that look like Hong Kong, she has the illusion that she is on a street in Hong Kong, and occasionally that momentary lapse of concentration will remind her of Hong Kong, and she will miss it and want to go back to Hong Kong. She said, “I drove through Panchiao, there is an expressway in the direction of Panchiao, halfway through the drive, I felt very much like the Eastern Corridor in Hong Kong, that is, the same is an expressway, both sides are high-rise buildings, the road through the middle, at that time I felt like driving in Hong Kong, that one frame felt very much like Hong Kong.”
She said that she misses her family after being separated from them for a long time, but due to the poor situation in Hong Kong, her parents do not want their children to stay in Hong Kong, but encourage them to venture abroad more often, so she and her siblings are currently separated in different countries. She said she misses the days when her family would gather around for dinner and chat with her siblings.
Nancy said that after she came to Taiwan, she continued to pay attention to the news of Hong Kong, but felt that Hong Kong seems to be unable to go back, and will only go in a worse and worse direction. She said that if she went back to Hong Kong now, she would only want to stay for a short time and become like a tourist. Some things have changed and it’s hard to go back.
She said: “Especially in our generation, people in their 20s to early 30s talk about Hong Kong or talk about Hong Kong, but also the Hong Kong before 2019, after 2019, people will not remember, and do not want to remember. The national security law, the education system (campus to promote national security education) those things, will not appear in our memory at all, it becomes too strange, it will not be the Hong Kong we always miss and want to go back to.”
“If someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say Hong Kong.”
Simon is 23 years old, originally in Taiwan to study at university, currently living in southern Taiwan, usually do not eat too much to Hong Kong-style cuisine, he had to make his own Hong Kong-style milk tea, iced lemon tea and curry fish eggs, become his way to relieve nostalgia.
Simon said that there are more and more students in Hong Kong secondary schools who do not speak Cantonese, and there is no way to communicate between the elder sisters and younger siblings, and the government also requires teachers not to speak Cantonese in class, so there is actually a big conflict between Hong Kong people and mainlanders. He believes that the oppression of Hong Kong people did not pop up overnight, but has been endured in daily life until 2019 when it exploded.
“The Umbrella Movement in 2014 was also a civil disobedience movement, and the scale was huge, with more than a million people taking to the streets. After that, it was over. But he did not expect more people to come forward, especially when they saw younger children than they also came forward, so that we feel more than those children must stand in front, so he also took time to go back to Hong Kong, followed by the hands and feet together on the streets to protest.
Simon said that the Hong Kong government so tough crackdown, he was actually not very surprised, because he grew up knowing that Hong Kong will eventually be ruled by the mainland, “but this year or two is really happening too much, 50 years of unchanged (one country, two systems, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong), this is not a breach of contract? And say what one country, two systems historical documents, it is very unpleasant!”
He said the national security law has caused white terror and chilling effect, people dare not speak out in anger, but hearing that Lai Chi-ying was arrested and the Hong Kong Apple Daily to close, everyone went to buy Apple Daily. He said he was proud to be a Hong Konger, and if a mainlander asked him where he was from, he would say Hong Kong!”