By their fruits you shall know them

According to mainland intellectual Chen Danqing (陳丹青), in the early days of the CCP’s reign, China could still produce movies that were genuine works of art, for directors back then came of age in the Republic of China (1912 -1949), a period of free inquiry and human flourishing. As the CCP quickly made lying the social norm nationwide, however, filmmakers were affected too: they didn’t believe in the party line they were ordered to espouse in their art form, and they compensated for their lack of belief by asking actors to exaggerate their expressions and gestures, often to unintended comical effect.

It was recently reported that Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong is poised to assemble the arts and publishing companies with existing ties to Beijing under one giant umbrella, so to better coordinate the regime’s effort in producing works that can win over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people. Given the CCP’s track record in Hong Kong,  it’s a foregone conclusion that the behemoth’s offerings will have as much artistic value as the propaganda films the CCP made in the past.

On the tricky matter of winning over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people, perhaps I could offer myself as a case study. As a Hong Kong native who spent a decade working in mainland, my heart and mind have been captured by mainland all right, but it’s mainland’s liberal tradition that I’ve gravitated towards, and this shift in identity – this newly-acquired reflex of using independent-minded mainland thinkers as my mental signposts –  has intensified instead of curbed my hostility towards Beijing. I suspect as Hong Kong youths mature and gain in knowledge about mainland, they, too, will follow my path. And I don’t see myself ever changing: if I were to write to a friend in 2031, for example, the note below would be the result:

Just arrived in Beijing.

The first thought that struck me the moment my plane landed on the tarmac was the lament the exiled dissident writer Liu Binyan (劉賓雁) (1925-2005)made near the end of his life, when it became clear that the CCP would never allow him to return to China: “all I want is to tread on that good earth once more, even if it’s just for a few steps.” (“ 我只是想重新用自己的腳踏一踏那片土地”)  

Liu probably couldn’t have foreseen that it would take a quarter of a century after his death for freethinkers to be able to set foot in mainland soil secure in the knowledge that no harm will come to them, for the CCP is, finally, no more.

Only in hindsight can I retrace the way an epiphany that struck me one night in 2019 has set me upon my current path. On that occasion I formed a Baltic chain with other Hong Kong people to protest against the extradition law. As we sang 榮光 and waved our mobile-turned-flashlights in the air while passengers in moving vehicles signaled their solidarity by waving their lights back at us, suddenly I had a vision of 吳宓 (1894-1978) – the father of comparative literature in China –  on his deathbed, when he summoned the little strength he had left to unleash, for the final time, his anguish over CCP’s relentless persecution of him and his fellow intellectuals: ”turn on the lights for me, I am Professor Wu” (“給我開燈,我是吳宓教授”). I knew right then that my “煲底之約” would take place north of the border –  it would involve me turning on the lights again for 吳宓教授, picking up the pieces and showing younger generations of mainlanders how real English writing and real learning are like.

Thanks for telling me that a couple of western media have adopted my translation of mainland sociologist professor Zheng Yefu’s (鄭也夫)(1950- ) oft-quoted admonition, that the CCP should long have “有體面地淡出歷史舞台.” The English version I came up with – “the CCP should have gone gentle into that good night” – was actually inspired by 吳宓. I was trying to replicate the unspoken drama latent in his translation of the title of the 1940 film “Waterloo Bridge”  – “魂斷藍橋”.

You may have heard that the new government is going to carve those words that 劉賓雁 had hoped to get inscribed on his headstone: “長眠於此的這個中國人,曾做了他應該做的事,說了他自己應該說的話.” I hope to attend the unveiling of the new headstone too. I’m so happy I didn’t bring dishonor upon myself when the CPP ruled over Hong Kong. Otherwise I’d feel too ashamed to show my face in Beijing (or anywhere else, for that matter).

I'm Michelle Ng (吳若琦), an Oxford-educated bilingual political writer and English writing coach based in Hong Kong. I'm currently an English columnist for Apple Daily and Ming Pao, and a Chinese columnist for 眾新聞. I have written for Hong Kong Free Press, The Wall Street Journal and The Vancouver Sun. 

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