21 October 2016
Joseph Lian, seen here in his office, led the HKEJ newsroom from 1996 to 1998 and returned as the newspaper's lead writer from 2007 to 2010. Photo: HKEJ
Joseph Lian, seen here in his office, led the HKEJ newsroom from 1996 to 1998 and returned as the newspaper's lead writer from 2007 to 2010. Photo: HKEJ

Farewell HKEJ

This is my last column in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, and I would like to share some thoughts with my readers.

I’m grateful to all who have expressed their care and concern over the past weekend, after the news came out that the HKEJ management has decided to suspend my column.

They include members of Hong Kong media, my readers from the intelligentsia and the political arena, my former colleagues, news commentators and others in and outside the city that I haven’t met before.

I can feel their indignation, but I hope my readers and friends can calm down as I don’t have any hard feelings and quite the opposite, I must thank HKEJ for providing me with a platform for the past 25 years since I started writing for the newspaper in 1991.

The newspaper had been under tremendous pressure for my commentaries that always strayed from the official line, and I’m also aware of the subtle squeezing that the newspaper management felt because of my column, given the change of political climate since the handover, in particular the strangling of dissident views in recent years.

Against all these adversities, the newspaper’s directors and editors had strived to keep my column.

Not an easy job

I majored in science and economics when I was in college and writing is never my expertise.

In recent years I normally wrote two columns a week, both of some 4,000 characters in length, and from conception, and searching and collecting materials to drafting, I always had to spend no less than five working days and 13 to 14 hours per day to finish both articles.

If I needed to travel long distances, I had to plan the trip meticulously, and before I could book my tickets, I must figure out how much time I could use to write, usually on my tablet while on the go, and if there’s Wi-Fi at the airport so that I could send my drafts.

That’s why my columns were seldom late in submission. It was not an easy job and this was exactly why I felt relieved when I got the suspension notice.

Like the old adage goes, there is no feast that is without an end, and that which begins shall end.

I started my self-exile, my extensive travels abroad, after I was suddenly dismissed from the SAR government’s Central Policy Unit in 2004 after I attended a pro-democracy rally.

The HKEJ management approached me three years later inviting me to return as the newspaper’s lead writer. I was once the newspaper’s chief editor.

I accepted the offer after months of consideration, with one prerequisite – that I would hold the title for two years only.

I went to Japan and joined the Akita International University after my contract ended in early 2010, but I continued to contribute to the newspaper from time to time.

In early 2013 the management lobbied me to beef up my contributions and I agreed. That was when Hong Kong was entering a very eventful period. I quit my job at the university in order to focus more on writing my column.

Quite a lot occurred at HKEJ that summer and the drastic personnel changes even affected the newspaper’s managing director, who left in mid-2015.

Since then I have been hearing rumors that my column may soon be closed. The management suggested this March a 60 percent cut in my royalty fee due to “operating difficulties” and I agreed without any complaint as I cherish my long-time bond with the newspaper.

Last Friday (July 29) I got a short e-mail from chief editor Alice Kwok that said my column would be suspended “as part of the newspaper’s overhaul and business streamlining”.

Protecting young separatists

Since the Occupy Movement, I had been agitating for various 2047 propositions from our youngsters in my column, as I found it easy to identify with their passion and ideals.

Some of my friends may feel bewildered by my stance, but my rationale is rather simple: as a commentator, I hope to give our young activists a shield, to insulate them from rebukes or attacks when they put forth aggressive assertions and platforms.

Amid the government’s coercion, young separatists may face graver threats than their being disqualified from running in the Legislative Council elections.  Even their personal freedom and safety may be at stake.

I had been racking my brains on how to rationalize, under the existing legal regime, their calls for Hong Kong independence, an effort to provide legal basis for their demands.

When they have an unassailable, rock-solid legal foundation for what they advocate, the authorities will find it harder to suppress or smother it.

For instance, under certain extreme circumstances, such as if the Communist Party collapses and China plunges into anarchy, Hong Kong could justifiably secede for its own sake.

Another scenario is if the governing authority falls apart and causes the constitution to cease functioning.

An independent Hong Kong might be in Beijing’s best interest and a peaceful divorce is not implausible and would be a win-win situation.

My previous columns, in which I further elaborated on these theories, have apparently touched a raw nerve.

I also pointed out during the Occupy Movement that protesters would push the envelope to test the government’s absolute bottom line, and on the very edge of it, experiment with a more forceful manner of confronting violence with violence, or with putting up a stiffer, fiercer resistance.

The authorities will resort to greater violence, which may in turn lead to its very demise when its legitimacy to rule becomes non-existent.

There’s no example in history in which a democratic movement against totalitarianism could attain goals without making some sacrifices.

But activists are never advocates of sharp-elbow tactics or any preemptive attacks. Rather, as it always turns out, they are on the receiving end of such violence or strong-arm crackdown.

When old-school doctrines like “democratic reunification with China” and “non-violent civil disobedience” have long become irrelevant and lost their resonance with the younger generation, I hope my views above can prompt new thinking.

Also, I don’t think freedom of speech is gone in Hong Kong.

Such freedom as a core value runs deep in our blood and thus any plot to silence the people will ultimately be of no avail.

People won’t stop talking about human rights, rule of law and democracy even in the most repressive circumstances.

Freedom is in our genes and it still shines in our humanity even in the darkest of times.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 1.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Joseph Lian’s name plate outside his office. Photo: HKEJ

Joseph Lian is seen in a seminar organized by HKEJ. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota and once taught at the University of California and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Photo: HKEJ

Joseph Lian takes questions from the audience in a recent seminar. Photo: HKEJ

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter