My friend, an ethnic Uighur, was talking about the act of extinguishing a cigarette on facial ID scanners in Xinjiang. “We can’t protest like you in Hong Kong,” he said. “They would just send us to the camps. So when no one’s looking, we extinguish a cigarette on the facial ID scanners at our apartment doors. Once, I was brought in to the police station because a policeman saw us do it.”
Seeing Hong Kongers scrub their social media accounts, download VPNs, and prepare to go “underground” as the national security law comes into effect, I think of my friend’s story. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believes the national security law will be a silver bullet to extinguish the last flames of Hong Kong’s decades-long struggle against authoritarian rule. This could be true, but it is up to the people of Hong Kong.
Like East Turkestan and Tibet before it, Hong Kong now faces a complete erosion of the autonomy it had from the mainland. It is unlikely, however, that the aspiration for democracy will die on July 1. The vast majority of Hong Kongers support democracy and autonomy. Two million people reportedly marched to defend it a year ago. Their level of unity, activism, and selflessness has been incomparable to any modern movement.
Over the course of a months-long protest movement, entire generations of Hong Kongers saw firsthand how the CCP treated dissent. Up to 88 per cent of the population was exposed to tear gas. Many have had their friends arrested, beaten, or shot. Regardless of what the party does, 7/21, 8/31, 10/1 and other dates are etched into the memories of Hong Kongers forever. No amount of “national education” or “national security” will erase the scars of this authoritarian crackdown.
What does the CCP hope to do by passing this law? They hope to govern by fear and crush visible dissent. However, if the CCP believes that this is a long-term situation to shift Hong Kongers’ ideology to be more friendly to the communist party, it is badly mistaken. As shown by my Uyghur and Tibetan friends, an idea cannot be extinguished by force.
“Hong Kong has died, I have lost my home”, many Hong Kongers proclaim. These words echo those of my Vietnamese grandfather, recalling the fall of Saigon. “My country died on April 30, 1975,” he told me. It broke his heart to lose his country and to see it subjected to cruel authoritarian rule. However, he kept the idea of a free Vietnam his whole life, and passed it down to his children and grandchildren.
Like some graffiti in Hong Kong read: “you cannot kill an idea”. Though, Hong Kong’s resistance may be more silent, it will not die. Hopefully, one day Hong Kong will enjoy freedom and democracy. Until then, I pray those that fought for their human rights will be safe and that the memory of their fight is not forgotten.