HK becoming China, veteran mainland journalist laments

December 09, 2016 16:31
Zhang Jieping says she came to Hong Kong many years ago to escape the "China logic" but now such ideology is becoming apparent in Hong Kong politics. Photo: HKEJ

Time really flies.

This year is Zhang Jieping’s 10th year in Hong Kong.

An adept media professional with an impressive career at some leading news outlets including the International New York Times, Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly), City Magazine etc., Zhang is now the brains behind Initium Media, a budding news portal that pitches itself to the overseas Chinese diaspora with rumored funding from a pro-democracy tycoon.

A sober observer, Zhang is always careful not to let herself be swayed by some captious, spur-of-the-moment bias when commenting on local politics, as there should always be some common ground on agreeing to differ.

But in the past few months, she has become increasingly sentimental.

“When I came here several years ago, I found the amazing novelty in Hong Kong as my past experience in China could never be applied here, either in work or in socializing…

“But things started to change in the past year or two. I’m startled to find that Hong Kong is getting more like China, and, all of a sudden, the kind of ‘China logic’ of political scheming and the whirlpool of ‘guanxi’ -- intrigues and gossips -- that I tried to escape are becoming ubiquitous here in Hong Kong,” wrote Zhang on Facebook.

“Now that the city is more like China, Hong Kong is getting both strange and familiar to me.”

‘China logic’ coming over

What triggered her dejection was how the Leung Chun-ying administration callously and singlehandedly outlawed independence-leaning candidate Edward Leung from standing for a seat in the legislature in September, as well as the undecided fate of four pro-democracy lawmakers whose legitimacy is being challenged by the government over their controversial oath-taking.

Zhang, a postgraduate from the University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism, had been reporting from the vantage point of Hong Kong on Chinese political and social goings-on for quite some time.

It was only two years ago that she began to shift her focus back to Hong Kong in the thick of Occupy Central, a place she used to take for granted -- a safe harbor from Beijing’s reach.

“But now I find I can easily interpret Hong Kong politics with ‘China logic’, like why Leung Chun-ying is so bent on making a great fuss out of some vocal calls for Hong Kong independence.

“Had it not been for Leung’s ‘namechecking’ of HKU Students Union’s little known book Hong Kong Nationalism and Global Times’ war on local indie movie Ten Years, there wouldn’t have been so much limelight on some rather imagined separatist movement, which few Hongkongers took seriously in the first place.

“Now I can use the typical logic of communist cadres to explain the farce in Hong Kong: to gain more power and recourses by exaggerating the actual situation. This maybe exactly what Leung is up to,” Zhang said.

‘Don’t become the people you hate’

Zhang said she has seen another disquieting sign of “mainlandization” in some pro-democracy protesters.

“I heard some young people want to burn all the books written in simplified Chinese and their mindset really scares me.

“When seeking your own rights, you have to be careful not to become exactly the kind of people that you object to in the first place; some despondent activists have become somewhat unscrupulous in their fight for democracy. They believe the final result will justify the means; I’m always sympathetic toward them but I feel their ideology is very mainland-like,” she said.

Only half-jokingly, Zhang said any mainlander who wants to live in today’s politically charged Hong Kong has to have a “very strong heart”.

Amid the exchange of bashing and recriminations from both sides of the border, mainlanders living in the Hong Kong may sometimes be torn between the two contending doctrines.

Locals may subconsciously take umbrage at mainlanders while netizens north of the border are never short of rants against their Hong Kong counterparts.

“Badmouthing Hong Kong on mainland social platforms is now a safe political game to show your patriotism and your post may be shared hundreds of times. But if you try to defend Hong Kong and correct some common misunderstandings, you’ll soon be muted by the forum administrator.

“The situation here in Hong Kong is almost the same; the irony is that it’s also considered ‘politically incorrect’ if you dare to point out the fact that reports about the political strife and social crises in China are exaggerated and China is not as bad as you think.

“There’s simply no atmosphere for rational discussion either on the mainland or in Hong Kong so I gave up.”

‘Would you choose to be Lee Bo or Lam Wing-kee?’

The Causeway Bay Bookstore saga has also had some impact on her.

Zhang’s father became rather anxious about her daughter’s own safety as chief of an independent news website after Beijing’s long arm snatched the Hong Kong sellers of politically sensitive books.

His father’s illusion, and that of many Hongkongers, was shattered: Beijing’s authority now extends beyond the mainland border.

“My father suffered a lot in the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution waged by Mao Zedong. He was born to a family of missionaries, he was sent to a labor camp in the northwestern Gansu province. Before the abduction of the booksellers, he thought it was safe to be a journalist in Hong Kong, with the guarantee of ‘one country, two systems’.

“For years, some have bemoaned the slow erosion of Hong Kong's civil liberties or the political neutrality of civil servants yet changes like these can sometimes be very subtle… You hardly feel it when your freedom is being eating up bit by bit.

“But this year we have seen too many incidents, things like the bookshop incident were once out of our imagination and they have revealed our deepest fears. Much of our core values are gone.

“But here is the question you have to ask yourself: if caught in dire straits like what the hijacked booksellers had gone through, would you choose to be Lee Bo or Lam Wing-kee?”

Lee, a major shareholder of the bookstore, insisted in a TV interview that he entered the mainland “by his own means” and “the mainland side has done nothing wrong throughout”, although many believe he was forced to say so in exchange for his personal safety.

Lee’s colleague Lam, defying formidable threats, gave a shocking revelation of the entire fiasco including his illegal detention and how mainland agents tried to hunt down more bookstore associates.

Joyce Lee and Yan Lee of the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly contributed to this story

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Zhang Jieping has a word of advice for Hong Kong's youth: When pursuing democracy, don't become the kind of people you loathe in the first place. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal