The intrepid freedom-fighters in Victoria Park and Wong Tai Sin armed with umbrellas and face masks are doing more than tilting at windmills—they are yanking the tail of a fearsome, thousand-eyed tiger that is the future of China, and of the world. Hong Kong in 2019 is not Berlin in 1989, it is Okinawa in 1945, the last-ditch, clear-the-trenches suicide mission against a foe which has all but wrapped victory up. The Minervan owl of political freedom has flown. Hong Kong is how we are all bidding liberty goodbye.
Police fire tear gas into a crowd in Wong Tai Sin district in Hong Kong. (AP: Kin Cheung)
Think back to when the Berlin Wall came down. The Soviet Union and its slave states in Eastern Europe had grown sclerotic and faintly ridiculous. Communist leaders mouthed platitudes and Leninist slogans that even they did not seem to believe anymore. East Germans, Russians, Czechs, Croats, Ukrainians, and Poles were defecting to the West by the platoon, and it was plain for the world to see that nobody—neither proletariat nor bourgeoisie—wanted to be part of the socialist charade. The Berlin Wall was pregnant with symbolism. It collapsed as did the entire Cold War edifice: out of sheer ideological exhaustion.
How times have changed. To be sure, the protestors in Hong Kong are clamoring for the same basic freedoms that those behind the Iron Curtain wanted for decades: habeas corpus, trial by jury, the right to assemble, defense against unlawful search and seizure, security of person and papers, space to live a human life away from the prurient, prying eyes of the state and its legion of spies. But are these things still held up as the ideal? The answer, shared by state and citizen alike, is ‘no’.
The Hong Kong protestors go to such trouble to conceal their faces because they know that they are being watched at every turn. Just recently some protestors tore down a “smart lamppost” which the Communist authorities use to monitor everyone, all the time. This is not dystopic science fiction, it is present reality. Everywhere in China, people are being watched and recorded—not just in the concentration camps where Muslims and ethnic minorities are brainwashed into Sino-Communism, but on every street, in every public building, on every bus and train, and in private, too.
But Hong Kong is an anomaly. In most of the rest of the world, people have made their peace with Big Brother. People know that Siri and Alexa are listening to them, that the creepy legions of millennials who man the Facebook back offices are jotting down all their personal details and spying on them in the bathroom, and that NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and probably even the Food and Drug Administration are rifling through their e-mails and eavesdropping on their phone calls.
And still, the masses acquiesce, slack-jawed before Netflix while their governments take away the last scraps of their human dignity. The future is authoritarian surveillance capitalism, and Hong Kong is the last gasp of resistance to an emerging regime of militarily invincible technocratic superpowers parlaying omniscience into omnipotence. The endgame of Big Data is big government. And when the government fights back, it uses more than just umbrellas and catchy memes.
Consider that some of the main facilitators of Beijing’s achievement of high-tech puppetry of more than one billion people have been entities in parts of the world where freedom and liberty are bruited with great gusto. Google not only defers to Beijing’s dictatorial whims, it actively cooperates with them. Facebook and Wikipedia are banned in China, but American academics are largely silent. The Chinese government has stolen an incalculable amount of intellectual property from advanced nations like Japan and the US, but politicians in those places still cling to the hope of a “peaceful rise” for the Middle Kingdom.
China’s defense spending has mushroomed over the past decade, but “anti-war” celebrities haven’t said a word. Alyssa Milano threatened to boycott Alabama over pro-life legislation there, but liberal feminists are curiously taciturn about China’s “gendercide,” the ritual slaughter of millions of baby girls for no reason other than pure male chauvinism.
Celebrities who lambasted the Bush administration over detention centers at Guantanamo Bay travel to China to hawk their Hollywood releases, smiling for the cameras in one city while in another entire Muslim families are kept behind concertina wire and fed socialist propaganda until they psychologically break.
Jim Acosta theatrically reported live from the Mexican border, but so far CNN has not paid much attention to human trafficking in Yunnan, child brides in Fujian, or the near-annihilation of Buddhism in Tibet.
Mongolians languish in political prison, but deans from American universities coffee-klatch with education ministers in Shanghai openly begging for more Chinese students (and their tuition money). While China was “rising,” freedom was being strangled to death. Nobody batted an eye.
Not even the pope. For all the late pontiff’s many faults, it was the moral hurricane of John Paul II, roaring in the quiet of every good man’s heart, which inspired the heroic Polish people to take their country back from their Soviet overlords.
Francis is no John Paul. Francis’ deputies, ensconced in the plush comfort of their Vatican apartments, say that the People’s Republic of China—where the state has been ordaining bishops since the 1950s and where Catholics have been worshipping underground since the communist devils took over years before then—is an ideal of social justice. The Chinese state is the single most virulent persecutor of Catholics on the planet, bar none, and yet Francis signed an instrument of surrender with the militant atheists in Beijing that would have made even Napoleon blush for shame.
The Chinese Concordat dispensed with, Beijing now has a free hand to run its own seminaries and demand that the priests the state’s bishops have ordained to place socialist nationalism ahead of the Body of Christ. Cardinal Zen warned us more than ten years ago, on the occasion of Benedict XVI’s prescient letter to Chinese Catholics, what was coming down the pike. It is too late to turn back now. Francis has made his deal, and the Chinese communists are mopping up the last of the Catholic resistance to the godless hegemony of East Asia and beyond.
Little Hong Kong, dangling from the underbelly of this beast, is putting up a fight so valiant, so brave, that it brings tears to the eyes of anyone who hopes for more from life than managed consumerism and soul-deadening distraction from the fact of fundamental unfreedom—the go-to governing mode in both the West and in Beijing. But Hong Kong will be crushed.
“To get rich is glorious,” said former PRC leader Deng Xiaoping. Thirty years after he dyed Tiananmen Square scarlet, the rest of the world enthusiastically agrees. The “social credit system” that Beijing introduced a few years ago made us all stir uneasily—but did not uncalm us sufficiently to prevent the same thing from happening in the United States.
The tiger cub that the West coddled is now a full-grown monster, and when it turns around to rid itself of the noisy pest embedded in its fur there will be nothing that anyone on Earth can, or will, do to stop it.