26 October 2016
Causeway Bay Bookstore manager Lam Wing-kee (left) reveals details of his arrest and detention in the mainland during a press conference on June 16. Photo: HKEJ
Causeway Bay Bookstore manager Lam Wing-kee (left) reveals details of his arrest and detention in the mainland during a press conference on June 16. Photo: HKEJ

What the missing booksellers’ saga tells us

Fear has befallen Hong Kong

The saga of the missing booksellers has enlightened Hongkongers with a deeper understanding of how the Chinese Communist Party works — it doesn’t recognize the rule of law, and stirring up fear is its expertise.

Lam Wing-kee, one of the booksellers, was able to transcend his fear and dared to speak the truth — even after his long detention and grilling by agents of the party.

Three of my own friends and acquaintances had been arrested and imprisoned by the authorities as they were returning to the mainland.

They all had first-hand experience of their captors’ highly manipulative mind-control tactics.

Lo Hung-choi, who used to work at Ming Pao library, was arrested while traveling to Beijing for medical treatment of an ear problem.

He said agents of the national security watchdog would give their prisoners hope that they would be released soon and then snuff out that hope afterwards.

One minute, they would tell you that they have decided to release you, pat you on the shoulders and wish you good luck as if you were the best of friends. 

But in the next minute, when you have lowered your guard, they would point a gun to your head from behind and make you believe that you were about to die.

Lo had been reliving this Orwellian nightmare even after his release and return to Hong Kong.

Ng Chong-yin, one of the key members of the now defunct Revolutionary Marxist League of Hong Kong, was also imprisoned in the mainland.

Upon his release and return to the city, he became so cooperative to his former captors and gave in to all their requests for information and assistance to the point that he eventually killed his own political career.

Magazine editor Wong Chi-keung, abducted in Guangzhou and imprisoned for seven days, chose to stay away from his circle of friends and colleagues in the city’s cultural scene after his release.

Considering my friends’ experiences, I only have admiration for the courage Lam has shown in speaking the truth, but we should also try to understand and take pity on Lee Bo and the two other staffers of Causeway Bay Books.

Lee reportedly told Woo Chih-wai, his colleague at the bookstore, that if they chose to stand up to the mainland authorities, they would live in fear for the rest of their lives.

This is the most horrific and pathetic aspect of politics in modern China.

To a certain extent, it is no different from a barbarian state where the dictator rules by threatening and taking away the free will of the people, and letting them cringe in fear.

It is something unimaginable in an open, democratic society.

Return of the Cultural Revolution

Would the Cultural Revolution make a comeback? Following the missing booksellers’ saga, I definitely would answer “yes”.

The whole incident is a reenactment of the decade-long disaster in modern China’s history.

First, the mainland law enforcement machinery has acted lawlessly.

If the chief crime of the five booksellers is the sale and shipment of banned books to the mainland, why is it that so far there’s been no information on the particular title(s) that got them in trouble? Why would the title(s) be classified as banned publications in the first place?

Back in the Qing Dynasty, there’s at least a list of forbidden titles. But now the authorities don’t even bother to come up with such a list.

If the powers that be say a book is illegal, then it becomes illegal. The way China is showing its disdain for the rule of law today is worse that during the time when it was a feudal state.

Without any arraignment, Lam was held for eight months. Where is the rule of law in that? 

The abductions that Lam spoke of have voided the concept of “one country, two systems”.

What is more sickening is the slanderous attack on Lam, subjecting him to “a relationship scandal”, with a “girlfriend” chiding him for “not being a man”.

This again reminds us of the Cultural Revolution, where the relationship hierarchy had been so distorted — the wife publicly humiliating her husband, the son torturing his father and students condemning their teachers.

The consequences of such destruction are far-reaching. People lose trust of each other, and in order to safeguard oneself, one has to harm, slander or betray family members.

Social morality has become impossible in modern China, and people are deprived of their moral obligations.

As long as China is ruled by one and only party, with unchanged mentality, how can the Cultural Revolution not make a comeback?

The articles appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 20 and 21.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版 1][2]

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HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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