When the news of my motherland does not appear in the Asian subcategory, when it is rather in the most prominent position on the front page of international newspapers, I hear the wheels of history rumble.
Another peaceful assembly happened on October 14, with at least a hundred and thirty thousand Hong Kong protesters joined, to urge the U.S. government to take measures regarding its dilemma. On October 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed three motions on Hong Kong, in addition to the most widely circulated Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which Hong Kong people have been waiting for; the Hong Kong Protection Act, which prohibits the United States from selling crowd control and riot equipment to Hong Kong police; there is a lesser-mentioned oral commitment bill called "Stand with Hong Kong Resolution". The motion condemned China's all-round aggression against Hong Kong affairs and expressed its support for Hong Kong people to go to the streets for freedom and promise to stand with them.
The name of the motion echoes the shouts of the people of Hong Kong since June. At the time, the slogan "Stand with Hong Kong" appeared for the first time in the New York Times and the Washington Post, calling on the United States and Hong Kong to work together to defend freedom.
They did hear it.
The War of Information
“There’s no sign to mark it. But when travellers from Hong Kong cross into Shenzhen in mainland China, they reach a digital cutoff point.”
This is the opening of Hong Kong Takes Symbolic Stand Against China’s High-Tech Controls, an article appeared on New York Times on October 13, among thousands of others describing the dilemma of Hong Kong since June.
Since the outbreak of the "anti-extradition" protest in Hong Kong in June, the Chinese authorities have severely blocked the voice of Hong Kong's protesters. You could hardly see any report related to the peaceful assemblies in mainland China media, and private Weibo accounts trying to tell about this issue have been massively deleted (the writer of this passage herself is one of the suffered). The information war launched by the Chinese authorities using official media and social media, combined with the blockade and filtering of information by the Great Firewall and the review mechanism, has caused serious information pollution and asymmetry, which has aggravated the misunderstanding, fragmentation and opposition of the mainland and Hong Kong people.
In the Chinese version, what happened in Hong Kong are violent gangs that are not supported by residents and instigated by foreign agents. These people call for Hong Kong’s independence and split from China. Some media reports are completely deceptive. A video appearing on the Internet shows a protester holding a toy weapon called Airsoft, (Airsoft, similar to a paintball game, is very popular in Hong Kong.) while the CCP’s China Daily reported the video as evidence that the protesters took up the weapons and also identified the toy as an M320 grenade launcher of the U.S. military. During this time is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of PRC, the enthusiasm and agony of nationalists was again perfectly used.
American citizens cannot understand how the mainland government can do such successful brainwashing, because except for a few Americans who have a good understanding of China's modern history and the current state of China's society, most Americans have difficulty understanding this national sentiment and collective mission rooted in Chinese society, even they do, they take it with natural exclusion and fear. An explanation may be the difference between the “American dream” and the “Chinese dream”. The foundation of the American dream is individual heroism and anti-elitism; however, the Chinese dream is not a task that can be accomplished by one's own power, it requires the individual to construct a grand collective narrative. This is why there are countless American artists who can deconstruct and re-examine the American dream in their works, like Cady Noland, who repeatedly uses the American national flag that is pierced in the work, while you can see, any form of deconstruction of the national flag cannot be accepted in the Chinese context.
An obvious consequence of such dichotomy and this ongoing information war is, finding a common ground for communication between China and Hong Kong, or China and the U.S. becomes more and more difficult. Taking an instance, the left-wing always repels the mainstream on Chinese social media, however, the right-wing would be the tough one China has to deal with. If you tell a left-winger, that “the issue China’s territorial sovereignty bears the same historical pain as the racism in the U.S. does, therefore if people who publish racist speeches are expelled, those who publish separatist speeches should also be fired”, although the left-winger will be suspicious, they may at least do some thinking. While if you tell a hard-core right-winger so, the hard-core right-winger must be thinking: What are you talking about? Racial discrimination statements on personal accounts should not be punished, either! Both the two parties of a so-called “communication” lack the basic background of its counterparty, we’re segregated by such a wall of air, we’re punching brutally, into the air.
Elephant in the Room
For most Chinese, the topic of internal regions’ independence is like an elephant in the room. Ironically, though we can't discuss having an elephant in the room, we can discuss the fact that "some people think there is an elephant in the room" is actually destroying our room, the fact that "someone supports those who think there is an elephant in the room, and they’re not destroying our room" is disrespectful to our room. When the concept is extended and extended by layers and consistently diluted, who even remembers there is an elephant in the room?
What Daryl Morey said on Twitter that "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" literally does not have any meaning of Hong Kong independence. Even if he publicly supports Hong Kong’s independence, NBA will not be able to find a cause to fire him -- we're talking about the States, a country where the mainstream society takes the side that people have the right to fight for independence. The California independence campaign “Yes California” even earned 30% of support among Californian voters in 2016. Another ironic thing happened between China and the Czech Republic. The city of Prague announced that it had agreed to break down the sister city agreement with Beijing to form a sister-city relationship three years ago, because Beijing is not willing to renegotiate the wording of the "one China" clause in the agreement. The Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic on October 9 slammed that "this kind of behaviour can be described as betrayal, undermine the Sino-Czech relations and the atmosphere of local communications and cooperation between the two countries" and said Beijing has already filed a solemn protest against the city of Prague. (and what’s left for Chinese to protest against Czech? The Mole?) If you tell the Czechs that the unity of the country is supreme, the Czechs are confused in terms of both universal morality and logic. Just look at their history: they have experienced the Holy Rome, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Czechoslovakia.
Back to the current dilemma, the important matter triggering the topic of independence seems to be Hong Kong people’s self-identification. How this place, now known as Hong Kong, has been since ancient times? Under the dominance of the Mainland, how will people who live in this place, which is later called Hong Kong, be written?
First of all, they are not even human. From the East Jin Dynasty, there are folk legends called "Lu Ting Fish Man". It is a creature of half-human and half-fish, basically a monster. It is not surprising that such folklore appeared in China before modernization, but it also reflects the wild edge of Hong Kong relative to the Central Plains. At the very least, it is a mysterious place. It can be regarded as the misunderstanding of the first generation of mainland China to Hong Kong. Compared with today's saying that Hong Kong people discriminate against mainland China, the history of discrimination against the margins in the Central Plains is much longer. In recent years, Lu Ting's legend has once again become popular, but it’s in the sense that Hong Kong people now take the standing that "you see me as a different kind, but I am now happy to be determined to be different from you." Since the opening of Hong Kong, it has always been used to play the “subversive” role to demonstrate different possibilities for China. What people pay attention to is not that "Hong Kong has been a Chinese territory since ancient times", but to emphasizes the difference between Hong Kong and China. Their purpose in talking about Hong Kong is not based on their special feelings or connections with Hong Kong, but to use Hong Kong to discuss China’s political positions. Behind the understanding or misunderstanding of Hong Kong, it’s actually a set of interaction between the “central” and the “side”. Mainland China is the theme and Hong Kong is just a special case. Under such system, how can Hong Kong people develop the self-identification as “Chinese”?
The selective description and forgetting of human civilization happen all the time. The description of Hong Kong in mainland China is only one example. When it involves power relations, and when the party with power deals with the relationship based on misunderstanding and makes a decision that violates the other's cognition, it can bring serious contradictions and rebounds: when we look at today's Sino-Hong Kong conflicts, it is not difficult to find that one of the main reasons come from the serious gap between the official interpretation of the history of Hong Kong by Beijing and Hong Kong people's interpretation of themselves. When the Chinese government makes decisions on Hong Kong based on these understandings, it will often bring great repercussions in Hong Kong society.
Cracks on the wall
Beijing has begun to take measures to cool off this farce between the nationalists and the NBA, audiences in China now must pass strict security and are forbidden to take the national flags inside the game or to demonstrate their slogans against the players.
Maybe it’s because the enthusiasm of the nationalists (who by the way are hatched by the Chinese government itself) is about to lead to uncontrollable consequences. An example is that although the music industry is luckily not involved in this tsunami, the U.S. Billboard has used a striking headline to describe the industry’s concern, especially with the Tencent, who is reportedly in late-stage discussions to acquire 10–20% of Universal Music Group, who already has a 7.5% stake in Spotify, and who has proven it is always a willing and effective axeman when China gets criticised. Tencent promptly announced that they would cut off any cooperation relationships with NBA after Morey’s twitter, “It isn’t so much that the government officially bans anything. They talk to our government relations person and they say, ‘We think it might be a good idea if...’ and then we just know what to do.” Obviously, such an unstable while strong character would not be the best partner.
Let alone the monetary interest, do we have any possibility to create cracks in this airwall between China and Hong Kong? Between China and the U.S? The important issue seems to be, in this increasingly conflicting world, what kind of value do we want to export to the outside world?
In the era of globalization and capacity relocation, the most common “output” is actually fear, emphasizing the opposition between “we” and “them”. Donald Trump is the kind of person who outputs fear. He feels that globalization has created an enemy for the United States so he seized China, the most conspicuous target. His so-called fight against illegal immigration is also to create a "non-family" fear and to transfer the economic and cultural contradictions within the United States into external ethnic contradictions.
Output fears often encounter echo walls, when you think that "they" are different from "us", the opposite "them" will also think that they should stand closer together to fight against "us". When the difference between the two is continuously strengthened and enlarged, the similarity between individuals is ignored. Perhaps in an ideal world, there are many labels on each person, and under the different labels, there will be a variety of loose "collectives" that overlap and freely come and go. However, under the background of ideological opposition and Sino-US resistance, the label called "nation" on everyone is infinitely magnified. If the label is wrong, that body will be classified into a hostile camp, making it harder to find other similar points to communicate. The enlargement of a single label can be exciting, as if the labelled person has found a grand meaning for his/her life, so individuals can easily become crazy and addicted. The World Wars in the 20th century were the tragedies caused by the infinite enlargement of a “label”.
But what the American dream and the Chinese dream have in common is that they essentially emphasize and rely on upward mobility. From this perspective, Chinese society has produced countless “individual heroes” in the past forty years – building a bridge may start with a story about these people, humans should not be isolated from each other. In the face of the collective opposition that is provoked by fear, we should hope that more people can pay attention to the connection between individuals than to cater to this kind of “enemy and me” label, than to create a fear-echo valley. After all, human beings have many aspects beyond the national norms that are common.
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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About the Author
Zhuo holds a bachelor’s degree from Wuhan University in China. She is currently pursuing her L.L.M. at the School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Enchanted by the complexity of our world, she is mindful of illustrating the cause of significant events with expertise. She is interested in issues of human rights, entertainment, and feminism. She aspires to contribute her passion to the process of writing and publishing, and to contribute towards the well-being of the general populace.