Since China adopted a new security law for Hong Kong on June 30th, it has received much criticism for the rushed law and for the danger it posed for civil discourse in Hong Kong. While most people in this country view Hong Kong security law as political issue, I see a human toll behind it.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have been at pains to reassure the world that the law will not erode the city’s high degree of autonomy, and that it will still maintain its one country, two systems model. Both Beijing and Hong Kong government insist the law will only target a minority of “troublemakers” who pose a threat to national security.
My question is how to know when a person is a troublemaker? Is it what a person does? What they say? What they think?
The law is very vague and very broad, and essentially opens a door for abuse, an excuse to silence different voices, different ideas. It is vague for a reason. It is a law written to instill fear in the people of Hong Kong and strip away their individuality.
I remember that fear. I lived that fear in Mainland China when I was a child.
I grew up in Mainland China during the Mao era. I remembered that time when people in China lived under constant fear, the fear of being identified as troublemakers or a so-called class enemy. To be labeled a troublemaker was entirely arbitrary. It could be your family used to own some land, or maybe you complained about the lack of food. It could be anything.
Once you are deemed one of these people, whether true or not, you would then be arrested, sent to prison or sent to a remote location to labor on a god-forsaken farm, where you’d be beaten at the whim of somebody. And your family? Your family would continue to live in society as second class, to be shunned.
In order to not be labeled a troublemaker, people turned their fear outward into hatred towards those they believed as troublemakers.
I was one of whose children who was on the receiving end of this manufactured hatred. I was spat on and insulted on a daily basis. My crime was that my grandma lived in the United States, and my mother came from a landowner’s family.
I had a friend when I was at grade school whose father was sent to jail for about 10 years. All he did was voice some criticism of Mao’s wife, Madam Jiang Qing at a family dinner party. Someone at the party reported him. There was no trial, no evidence presented, and no appeal. He was simply arrested and disappeared from my friend’s life for ten whole years. In the meantime, her family had to live their lives bearing the burden in being labeled anti-revolutionist family, the name for troublemakers at the time. My friend was lucky. Her father came back. Many didn’t.
During that time, few would let slip – let alone outwardly dare to voice – an opinion that was not in line with Chinese Communist Party rhetoric. Even in private conversations, anyone could report you to the authorities over trivial reasons.
Fear can do much damage to a person, and to a society. It stifles the spirit of human being, and that suppresses creativity. China was a vast forced sameness in Mao’s time. No one even dared to wear any color other than in navy blue or gray. We were cut off from the world, our brains washed so no one would challenge the daily ideology that was fed to us. The resulting fear was China descended into extreme poverty and ignorance.
I wonder whether this security law will push Hong Kong backward, from a free and spirited city to something in 10 years that is unimaginable to us now.
I hope not. But as a person who experienced the totalitarian regime in China, my heart goes out to the people in Hong Kong.