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 Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

“Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 314 pages.
Read from April 11, 2019 to April 17, 2019.

Readers of this book either love it or hate and I would say that both opinions would be valid. The book covers a large scope of history specific to Czechoslovakia with manipulative, provocative, and dynamic characters. The majority of the book is set in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 1970s and specifically during a time of political reform called the Prague Spring. Milan Kundera, the author, is of Czech origin but has lived in exile in France since 1971, where he became a naturalised citizen in 1981. Milan’s books were banned under the communist rule in Czechoslovakia and remained banned until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Readers have speculated if any of the characters in this book and many of Milan’s others are in any way autobiographical, to which Milan responded in a 1985 interview with New York Times,

“No character in my novels is a self-portrait, nor are any of my characters the portrait of a living person. I don’t like disguised autobiographies. I hate writers’ indiscretions.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being follows the lives of two men, two women, and one dog and how their lives intertwine during the years of political upheaval in Czechoslovakia. Tomas is a womanizing surgeon who marries the young and vulnerable Tereza, despite his inability (unwillingness) to be faithful. He claims to love Tereza more than anything but cannot give up seeing other women and battles his feelings for Tereza through the entire novel. Tomas even taunts her in her sleep by whispering in her ear his infidelities which causes Tereza to have horrendous and violent dreams about him with other women. Tereza is miserable and mad with jealousy but the two of them just can’t seem to be apart. The two of them have a delightful dog named Karenin who adores Tereza. One of Toma’s long-time lovers, Sabina has a similar nature to Tomas in how she treats her lovers but she has a turbulent history of her own that has made her that way. Franz is one of her lovers.  Each of the characters works their way through their turbulent relationships and personal faults as the country fills with the uproar of communism.

This prose of this book is undeniably poetic and beautiful giving it redeeming qualities long past its intriguing story, though not every reader has felt that way.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

Many find Milan’s writing dry and dull, while others, myself included, find it to be brilliant. As I opened this review, readers either love or hate this book because is like an invitation into this place of history and into the lives of these people and if you’re not interested in either from the beginning the book will do little for you. The depth at which Milan exposes his characters is rich and at times unnervingly honest. He discusses love and personal faults in a way most would not find romantic but at least poetic and realistic, giving the topics their own unique sense of beauty and awe. Toma’s is not good to Tereza with his womanising ways but as the backstory on each character grows you find fault with each character and see how they tend to create their own dynamic miseries making you empathise with them all on one way or another.

I would recommend this book for those that enjoy literary fiction, history and historical fiction, philosophical or poetic prose (especially if you enjoyed Proust) or honest and flawed characters.

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Read from February 07 to 16, 2015.

I picked up this gem while I was actually in Cuba back in January of this year. It was my first trip to Cuba and I realized how little I knew about this fascinating little country with its big and expansive history. Thankfully there wasn’t a shortage of propaganda where I was staying. If I had more money and space in my suitcase I would have purchased quite a few more books.

Che is a remarkable individual and his dedication to Cuba and to the cause of communism is almost next to nothing. Che comes across as extremely intelligent and very articulate. His memoirs and diaries are published everywhere which probably makes him one of the most exposed politicians around. Don’t get me wrong, the Cuban government is pretty good at giving the leaders of their communist revolution a great reputation, and they have to. The history of Cuba is a rocky one, so the insurgence of this particular revolution was necessary for its time. From the Spanish to the British, and then the US, someone else was always taking advantage of Cuba and its people suffered for it. In 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista threw a coup to overthrow Gerado Machado, a Cuban dictator known for his vicious rule. Sadly, after this coup, little changed under Batista’s rule. It was in 1953 when Fidel Castro made his  first attempt to revolt against Batista’s regime. It would be after this attack that a young Argentinian doctor named Ernesto Guevara would join the cause and assist in Cuba’s revolution and liberation.

“Che” is a form of colloquial Argentinian Spanish slang used in a vocative sense as “friend”. Che is the famous nickname given to Ernesto as a joke and term of endearment based on his heritage from his fellow Cuban comrades.

This book is a personal description of Che’s experiences during this pivotal revolution. Che spares no details with how difficult it was living in the forest for months at time and the sad deaths and sacrifices endured by all, especially the peasants of Cuba, who were initially afraid to assist or join the cause. His recollection is impressive as he remembers many of the names of some of the small time peasants who were essential in helping with the revolution that might have other wise been forgotten. He also details the specifics of those who betrayed the cause. Some he speaks of with remorse or honor and others with absolute distaste and resentment. It was exciting to see how big the small group of rebels became over such a short period of time . In 1959 the rebels send a group of 9000 strong into Havana, forcing Batista to flee, starting the beginning of a new era for Cuba, one that would bring positive change to the country and the lives of its people for the better.

From my own impressions of Cuba, some aspects of communism are no longer serving its people. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not saying that they need to replace their system with American capitalism but there are definitely areas that need improvement. The locals don’t have immediate access to some of the best food or clothes because they are too expensive and some people are still not allowed to leave specific regions of Cuba. Tourists get the best of everything, while they don’t. I was asked twice, discreetly, while I was there if I had any clothes or items that I was willing to part with. It made me pretty sad but if I wasn’t there as a tourist their economy and the people there would have even less. With tensions currently being mended between America and Cuba, as much as I don’t want this quaint country to become Americanized, it will eventually mean improvements for the locals.

Overall, a good description of the events and people that changed Cuba to make it the country that it is today.