Last month, the Chinese government decided to unilaterally insert national security law into Hong Kong’s Basic Law, bypassing our own legislature. The draft version has been approved by the National People’s Congress and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who said she will cooperate when the competed version is prepared.

This act by China is, without doubt, a violation of the One Country, Two Systems model promised to the Hong Kong people and bound by the Sino-British Joint Declaration. In the treaty, Hong Kong people should be able to enact national security laws in the Legislative Council – our own parliament. After this, what other promises China will break remains unknown.

chinese flag hong kong democracy
Photo: Chet Wong, via Flickr.

What we do know is, a ban on sedition, secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, foreign intervention and allowing China’s state security agencies to operate in the city will become a reality. This law aims to end any type of resistance by the people, and will inflict the oppression people in China suffer onto those in Hong Kong.

Also worrying is the fact this new development is not limited to political dissent. The interpretation and implementation of national security laws are so overarching and arbitrary in China, ordinary people working advocating women, labour or environmental rights have been jailed or otherwise punished.

The sad truth is nothing can be done. Hong Kong’s freedom has always been under the largess of the Chinese government, who could renege on their promises anytime. After all, they have a huge military at their disposal, not to mention they control the flow of water into the city.

Maybe it was naive for Hong Kong people and the international community to expect the largest and richest totalitarian regime in history to abide by their promises of freedom under their domain.

The fact is, Hong Kong people will have to capitulate because China is strong and we are weak. We have no way to fight against the vast, merciless, and violent security services from working within Hong Kong.

july 28 may james china extradition best of
Photo: May James/HKFP.

But our position of weakness is not an inherent failure of the Hong Kong people, but a failure of the system we inherited – a failure of history because the British did not give Hong Kong independence after World War II, like the rest of Asia, when China was weak and embroiled in a civil war.

Our lack of sovereingty and our position of weakness does not equate to a lack of dignity.

Hong Kong people’s dignity has been demonstrated in numerous ways. The city has upheld the rule of law, with little corruption and crime, years of peaceful protests, a complete lack of looting during civil unrest. This is not to mention the discipline of mask-wearing and social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Hong Kong with only four deaths from Covid-19, in a city with a higher population density than New York, which has seen more than 30,200 deaths.

There will always be the bravest who risk imprisonment, even torture and executions – which the Chinese government practices – in order to continue the Hong Kong resistance.

But for many, despite personal regret, they may choose this time to stop fighting openly and directly for the benefit of self-preservation. Despite the position of weakness we find ourselves in, we can continue to show self-respect and not capitulate on ourselves, even if we have to bow down outwardly.

chater garden january 19 (26)
Photo: United Social Press.

By choosing to protect oneself, one’s livelihoods, family and children, one is not contradicting personal dignity. Wanting to live without the possibility of arrest is not shameful or a personal failing. We must remember that the silence is forced upon us and not something we chose ourselves.

But that does not mean we should surrender? As insidious as totalitarian regimes are, in penetrating our minds with fear and suspicion, we can continue to uphold a sense of resistance within ourselves.

We should take a page out of the country which inspired the Lennon Walls. The wall that popped up during the 2014 Umbrella Movement, and spread to many locations during the recent Hong Kong resistance movement. The boards consist of messages of encouragement, idealistic wishes and, at times, jeering sentiments against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

We should follow the example of the people from the former state of Czechoslovakia.

For 21 years, the country was under direct Soviet Rule, after the invasion in 1968. During those years, people in Czechoslovakia lived without any large scale resistance, and remained mostly silent, with the exception of some intellectuals and writers who made personal and collective statements intermittently.

Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Photo: Wikicommons.

But bubbling underneath the surface, people continued the active resistance. Artists, writers and political activists remained underground, or in exile. Some created magazines, publications, concerts and plays called “Samizats,” blending political dissidence with art and music. Others wrote books that were published in the West to perpetuate the resistance elsewhere.

This active but quiet resistance went on until 1989 when the country was gripped by a spontaneous and peaceful uprising. By then, the Soviet Union had become weak, unable to control from afar, allowing for political liberalisation.

Within two months, a group named CoviC, led by dissident playwright Václav Havel, who would become the first president of a free Czechoslovakia was formed helping push for free elections.

The organisations, the excitement, and the peaceful mobilisation happened so smoothly because the population of Czechoslovakia never forgot their taste of freedom during the Prague Spring, and never accepted that oppression to be the only way to live.

As I said before, there is no shame to accept our position of weakness and accept our reality. But as long as we remain loyal to the ideals of freedom, history is yet to be written.

Edinburgh Place rally Jan 12 Central
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Maybe the external factors will change, and our struggle will once again be consolidated.

If we do not give in to the status quo, remember what we once had, and what we were once promised, there might come a time again for us to achieve a fully democratic Hong Kong.

Yan Sham-Shackleton has written for SCMP, BC Magazine, HK Magazine, PopMatters, and Her previous blog, Glutter, was nominated for a free speech award by Reporters Without Borders for her writings regarding democracy in Hong Kong and China. Some of her art, theatre and written works are archived in NYU Library’s Riot Grrrls Collection and Glasgow Women’s Library. Her fiction has appeared in journals around the world. She is nearly finished with her novel set during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong.