Hong Kong’s future remains bleak

Hong Kong’s future remains bleak

Three years ago, Hong Kong rose up in an extraordinary defence of the freedoms that had been promised to it until 2047 on its return to China, but which were soon vanishing. One in four people who protested were under no illusions that they would win. They did not anticipate how swiftly and ruthlessly the authorities would crush them and impose a draconian national security law.

Matters have only got worse. The judiciary, media, academia, and civil society are under unrelenting pressure. Last month, John Lee, the security chief who oversees the crackdown, was voted in as Hong Kong's new chief executive by the city s election committee, which consisted of about 0.02% of the city's population. He was the sole candidate. Days later, 90-year-old Cardinal Zen, Hong Kong's most senior and beloved Catholic cleric, was arrested for his involvement with a fund that had provided legal and financial assistance to people prosecuted over the protests.

One historian suggests that the choice is either exile, self-censorship or jail. Many are not eligible for the British national overseas scheme, or similar opportunities, can't afford to go, or have been barred from leaving. Some people want to speak out, like activist and lawyer Chow Hang-tung, who was jailed for her involvement in the 4 June vigils commemorating Beijing's bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square's pro-democracy protests in 1989, who has used her trials to keep memories of the massacre alive. Others will mourn privately in Hong Kong, or in their new homes, many miles away.

Hundreds of thousands have moved abroad, many to Britain and some are consciously working to rebuild the city's civil society overseas, with a film festival in the UK and a Hong Kong fair in Vancouver. In exile, they are imagining our own small Hong Kong into being, writes Louisa Lim in Indelible City, one of a cluster of new works by authors who grew up in the city. These books are keeping Hong Kong alive. Indelible City and Karen Cheung's memoir The Impossible City, though saturated with loss, strive to be love letters, not eulogies. They longingly evoke the smell of hot peppers fried with fish paste, the shabby bookstores and seaside villages, even as they acknowledge the gross inequalities.

They capture the remarkable, creative resistance of a city that most had previously been viewed as apolitical, conservative and motivated by money. Although a large portion of the population sided with Beijing, support for protesters remained unaffected, even when some turned to violence, with their actions seen as a response to the authorities escalating aggression.

Hong Kong has a rich history as a liminal space of outcasts and rebels, as illustrated by Lim's book and Ho-fung Hung's academic analysis, City on the Edge. These books challenge the narrative of the Chinese Communist Party but also, crucially, the attitudes of Britons who saw only a barren rock to colonise, were interested in controlling the people rather than governing them, and remained ignorant and indifferent to the lives and wishes of those they ruled until it was too late. The struggle for the future of Hong Kong did not end, and they lamented the Hong Kong that might have been, and as grim as the situation looks like it could be another day: The struggle for the future of Hong Kong did not end, says Hung.