A strange kind of silence in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong the advertisements are everywhere and they are not very subtle.  This is starkly true in political campaigning as well as selling of products.  When I fist arrived in Hong Kong I was delighted to see the same kind protest against the Human Rights violations of Falun Gong practitioners in China as I have seen in European capitals.  The murder, torture, threats against families and government sanctioned threats against the life’s of people who practice Falun Gong is alarming. Including the harvesting of live organs from people in detention.  The people who collect signatures or distribute pamphlets and newsletters often play calming music, they smile and interact with passers-by, their posters involve colour and imagery of peace.

Pro-Falun Gong poster, red and yellow with images of children meditating.
Pro-Falun Gong poster

However, unlike in European capitals, in the busy places where these signs are erected there is always a counter poster, in black with cartoon images to provoke fear.  The person who stands by the sign rarely engages with passers-by but always seems to be on the phone conducting a long conversation.  They are physically present, but not really available.

Poster denouncing Falun Gong, in black with leader drawn as a cartoon vampire.
Poster denouncing Falun Gong.

The pictures are complemented with lots of dense writing about how the leader is evil, how the organisation is a cult and a trap.

At first when I saw this I was utterly dismayed, how could the Chinese people sell each other out like this – how could anyone believe that Falun Gong were more harmful than the PRC leaders, soldiers and people involved in state sanctioned torture and death.  My body would want to lash out and I would feel angry and impotent.  What could I do, try to steal their poster and run away, shout and curse at the person nearby on the phone.  I would go to the persona handing out pro Falun Gong fliers and say hello and smile and take anything they had in English to show that I was an informed caring citizen while throwing angry glances at the opposing stand.

And now I feel less reactive, I have been here long enough to expect the protester to be countered. I feel just as passionately about the people involved but the lack of interest on the street about these posters makes me feel less too. Last Sunday was yet another anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre which is remembered in Hong Kong while talk of it is forbidden in the mainland. And some people do commemorate it in Victoria Square each year, but most do not and it feels like another day.  The politically active young people are focused on what happens now in Hong Kong not distant events in Beijing while the people from China still are removed from these events which have been whitewashed in their lives.

And I think about how simple this seems on the streets of Dublin and London and Berlin.  Of course I will sign your petition about Chinese deaths far away, but here in the one place in China where censorship isn’t allowed and freedom of expression is possible little is said. I can understand the feelings of a Chinese resident friend that she is scared as she thinks her movements are being watched and reported, but she was a person from a Christian background and so has grown up knowing that her community is under threat. She has found a way to reconcile ‘home’ and not being safe to express herself. A Hong Kong raised friend says she fears both the person with the Falun Gong sign and the opposer, she didn’t trust or like either side and had left it at that without any desire to find out what the background to the story is. I understand the Chinese Christian friends story more, I can relate to it, to feel afraid, to feel watched. I understand less the apparent numbness in the face of these stories of suffering. We don’t know how many people died when the army opened fire in 1989, but its in its thousands. China did not deny harvesting live organs from prisoners and there is no consent of a fair trial. It is an open fact that it happened and continued and there is no way to verify that it has stopped and yet as you walk through Hong Kong where speech is free and information assaults you it all seems very quiet. People are choosing to censor their own speech, their own research and their own thinking and this is at a great cost.

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