July 14, 2020
As I sat down to write this, news came of a Hong Kong government official’s warning that the pro-democracy primaries, intended to select and send the most popular candidates the the Legislative Council in September, might violate the new National Security Law.
Hong Kong No Longer Feels Free. But I’m Not Leaving
I want to scream.
Perhaps I should have gotten used to it by now. After all, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have shown they will use any means to clamp down on all dissenting voices.
I still remember the elation when a fresh-faced pro-democracy candidate won in my constituency during the District Council elections last September. As I watched one constituency after another flip from pro-government blue to pro-democracy yellow that night, I cried tears of joy. I’d voted in other elections, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, before – but I have never felt that so much was at stake. 
We had already been protesting for six months by that point, and yet the demands of millions were repeatedly ignored, police brutality remained unaccounted for, large swathes of protestors had been arrested, and a prominent activist was banned from running one month prior to the elections. Voting seemed to be the only way to make our voices heard. Yet, there was also the fear it might be the last election we were allowed to vote in. That night was a rare moment of victory for the millions who have marched and held sit-downs to demand for greater accountability and freedoms. I have stopped reading dystopian novels. No fiction could match the mix of anger, disgust and gloom I’m experiencing right now.Hong Kong No Longer Feels Free. But I’m Not LeavingHong Kong is still in a very different place than nine months ago. Press freedom is getting worse by the day, protests are banned, a rising number of pro-democracy legislators are arrested, restaurant owners are ordered to remove ‘Lennon walls’ – likely the most peaceful acts of resistance one can think of – from their own properties. I have stopped reading dystopian novels. No fiction could match the mix of anger, disgust and gloom I’m experiencing right now.
Hong Kong protestors have been touted for their creativity and agility in the past year. At the same time, I’m not sure what else we could do. When the one-million and two-million peaceful marches in early June didn’t work, Hongkongers kept marching in almost every district of the city. When the government used the Coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to ban the 4 June vigil (while doing little to prevent people from gathering in the city’s bar district), participants flooded into Victoria Park anyway – but made sure to sit 1.5metres apart. When the government absurdly declared that an eight-word protest slogan might violate the National Security Law earlier this month, graphic designs displaying the eight characters in abstracted form started to circulate on the internet.
Hong Kong is, as 60% of people say in the latest PORI poll, no longer free. I’m surprised that number is not higher. I’ve never felt less free. Sometimes, I find myself wondering if a word I utter in public, or a phrase I write, will get me arrested.I appreciate the lifeboat policies extended by western democracies, including the one by Britain, which grants the three million Hong Kongers who hold a BNO passport or are eligible for one the right to work in the UK and an eventual path to full citizenship. 
The reality is, our parents and grandparents came to Hong Kong with the expressed intention of escaping from Chinese Communist rule. The current ruling party of China loves to claim the city as part of China, but the reality is much more complicated than that. For the descendants of those who ran away from CCP rule decades ago, is it time to run again? This intergenerational trauma is now being played out in different corners of the city. For the millions living in the city, Hong Kong isn’t simply a ‘window’ into China, a low-tax zone or a place caught between two superpowers. It is home.Yet, among those I talked to, nobody is ready to leave. I admit I’m one of the privileged ones but I count myself among those who don’t want to leave. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for most of my life, I built my career here, my family and Friends are here. Everywhere I go, I’m reminded of what we went through in the past year: flattened cardboard boxes lying on the sidewalk, a lone umbrella hanging on a barbed wire, the absence of steel barricades on the streets. The cry for freedom is inked deep into our urban landscape, our lives, our nightmares and dreams. There is no ‘switching off’. When it is the air you breathe, when it is something so essential to life, is it worth fighting for? Most days, I oscillate between a determination to do more and a wrecking guilt at not doing enough. 
Nobody knows what the ‘right strategy’ is; but those who are staying are doing their best to hold onto hope. The hope that more will join our ranks. The hope that international companies will take a stronger stance and say ‘we won’t sacrifice the basic rights of Hongkongers for our bottom lines’. The hope that we’d get to freely express our opinion – on the internet, in the streets – again. 
It is as humble as that. For the millions living in the city, Hong Kong isn’t simply a ‘window’ into China, a low-tax zone or a place caught between two superpowers. It is home. And it is where we want to, one day, have the freedom to envision our own future.
Moira Kong is a journalist in Hong Kong, writing under a pseudonym
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