Unfree Speech by Joshua Wong

What were you doing when you were 14 years old? I’m sure it wasn’t trying to overthrow the influence of Communist China in your home country. Unless your name is Joshua Wong, that is.

5/5 stars.
ebook, 256 pages.
Read from May 12, 2020 to May 13, 2020.

Hong Kong is my current home and while I am an expat here, I have a serious love and passion for this country that has given me so much.  I have lived here for the last four years and I have seen Hong Kong and I have witnessed first hand, its people fight for their right to their identity, culture, and democracy. It’s been a humbling experience and it has made me extremely proud of the people here and of the place I call my current home. Hong Kong’s history is rife with being taken over by others and Hong Kongers have had enough.

A quick summary of Hong Kong’s history so that you have a base premise for this novel. Hong Kong was a British colony for 156 years and was handed over back to China in 1997. This handover was not something that Hong Kong people asked for or had any say in the matter.  Can you imagine growing up in a democratic country to all of a sudden being handed over to a communist government? Mass migrations of Hong Kongers left their home during this time afraid of what the Chinese government might turn their home country into by robbing them of their democratic rights. Many Chinese people fled from China to Hong Kong after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 in search of a transparent government that valued democratic freedoms so there was a big concern about what Hong Kong would become after the handover. A deal was made between the British and Chinese governments called the Sino-British Joint Declaration and it was decided that until 2047, Hong Kong would work under a “one country, two systems ” principle with the premise to maintain some of Hong Kong’s freedoms and make for a smooth transition to whatever it is that China wants for Hong Kong. It was at this time Britain pretty much washed their hands of Hong Kong. Things seem unchanged, at least for a little while, but the Chinese government bided its time and eventually began to press their agenda onto Hong Kong. Hong Kong is no longer a democracy and the facade that China has tried is no longer being tolerated by the people in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong is a city that isn’t British and doesn’t want to be Chinese, an its need to assert a distinct identity grows by the year.”

This book is a coming of age story about a boy and his country. At the age of 14, Joshua Wong started a movement to stop China from forcing its education system into Hong Kong and succeeded. In 2011 the Chinese government subtly decided that it was time for Hong Kong to have similar education standards as the mainland and introduced the Moral and National Education (MNE). What this would mean is that the students would be learning the same curriculum as those on the mainland. While that may not seem like much, it was a way for China to start moulding the youth of Hong Kong to their beliefs and political stances. For example, mainland students do not learn about the Tiananmen Square incident, meaning that the Chinese government lies to their people to save face and hid from their serious mistakes. Isn’t that horrifying? Hong Kongers at the time had become complacent and weren’t paying attention to the freedoms that they were slowly starting to lose and if it weren’t for Joshua and those involved in Scholarism, Hong Kong might be in a very different place right now.

The story doesn’t stop there as the Joshua discusses his activism through the Umbrella Movement in 2014 with the aim to give Hong Kong universal suffrage, a movement that may have failed to bring about its aim but was successful in bringing awareness to Hong Kongers and to the world. He shares his journal during his political imprisonment over the 2014 movements, how those involved with Scholarism created a political group that was successfully voted in only to later be kicked out by the Chinese government. Joshua also discusses the latest events of the Extradition bill protests that shook Hong Kong for months during 2019. The Extradition bill was a bill that would allow the Chinese government to arrest anyone on Hong Kong on suspicion of a crime and have you transported to mainland China, a sketchy proposition considering China’s poor reputation with human rights and questionable judiciary system. Hong Kongers exploded onto the scene with protests by the millions in one of the largest leaderless movements in political history. When the government didn’t listen, over, and over again, the movements became more radical but shaded in comparison to the violent approach taken by the government and police. In the end, the extradition bill was removed and considered “dead” by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

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Joshua is immensely humble, intelligent, and well-spoken. He’s an outspoken and down to earth person who has a love for video games, anime, and his country. Joshua’s passion for his country, people and beliefs oozes out of this book, even in translation. He is a testament to how young people can create change. His book summarizes the Hong Kong political system and its current political strifes in a way that’s easy to digest. The biggest take away that Joshua wants to make with this book is that what happens to Hong Kong matters not only to its people but to the world. If Hong Kong fails to fight off one of the biggest regimes in the world, it means that the rest of the world’s freedoms are at stake too. China is a bully and if they are not made accountable they will continue to push other countries around. Hong Kong’s plight is the world’s plight. Joshua was TIME magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2014 and was nominated for its 2014 Person of the Year; he was further called one of the “world’s greatest leaders” by Fortune magazine in 2015 and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 along with a few others from his team. His latest efforts include the signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 with the US in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy campaign.

I’d recommend this book to every local and expat in Hong Kong, to those that want to know more about the situation in Hong Kong, and for those that care about freedom.

 

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

“He’s been extremely kind. He bought a huge flowerpot and planted me in it. On Sundays, he spends all morning sitting on the balcony threshold catching aphids.”

3/5 stars.
Online read, 28 pages.
Read on December 18, 2019.

Read the story for FREE here: https://granta.com/the-fruit-of-my-woman/

Since I can’t currently read any more novels in English by Han Kang, having read them all already, I’ll take what I can get.

This unique metamorphosis story set the stage for Han Kang’s The Vegetarianone of my all-time favourite novels. The story is narrated by the husband of a married couple. He starts to explain how his wife woke up one day with bruises that were not going away and continued to spread all over her body. He details the nuances of their marriage and some of her personal traits. As a reader, you begin to pick up on aspects of the marriage in which the woman might not be happy with as the husband is oblivious to his wife’s needs, desires, or wants. For the wife, marriage has not turned out how she expected it to be and as a result, the couple is not communicating well.

‘This isn’t living,’ she spat out, ‘it only looks like it.’ Her voice was edged with hostility, like a drunk’s slurring declamation, This country’s rotten through! ‘There’s no way anything could grow here, don’t you see? Not trapped here in this . . . in this stifling, deafening, place!’

As the bruises spread, the woman feels a pressing urge to sit naked outside in the sun. She slowly starts eating less and less as the bruises spread and deepen in colour. The doctors, of course, can find nothing wrong with her. Eventually, the husband comes home to find his wife stagnant on the floor gasping for water and from there, the wife slowly progresses into the form of a tree. The story switches narration to the wife and her thoughts as she progresses into her final form.

What makes this story remarkable is that you get both sides of this marriage and that in the end, the husband states that he had never seen his wife so beautiful. It’s as if, the wife, by finally letting go and growing into something vibrant and alive the husband finally comes to see the person that she really is and give her the care that she deserves.

Poetic, beautiful and extremely visceral, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith. If you haven’t read anything by Han Kang or are looking to try a book in translation I would highly recommend starting with this gorgeous short story.

Canada Reads 2020 Postponed

Due to the rising concerns on the COVID-19 virus, Canada Reads 2020 has been cancelled.

Due to the rising concerns on the COVID-19 virus, Canada Reads 2020 has been cancelled. While I’m happy to have more time finish the books I am also surprised. I think the debates could have easily gone forward without a live audience but maybe it’s the debaters themselves as they might have some travel history that would require self-quarantine during the time of the debates.  There is no word on when the debates will resume.

Things here in Hong Kong are starting to calm as the virus here passed. Toilet paper, sanitiser and cleaning supplies are in ample stock here again. Now the rest of the world is going through the same panic. Hong Kong measures, based on past experiences with SARS, have proved effective in keeping numbers of the virus down to a minimum. I used to scoff at the idea of wearing a face mask but with literally everyone in Hong Kong wearing them and generally keeping to themselves with proper hand hygiene we’ve managed to keep our germs to ourselves.

Stay vigilant and healthy!