“If we lose freedom, we lose everything!” so told the CBS correspondent on 60 Minutes, in 2019, Jimmy Lai, an icon of the Hong Kong people, or HongKongers who love freedom and would sacrifice themselves for the freedom of their children and grandchildren.
Who is Jimmy Lai?
At 71, Jimmy Lai is the embodiment of the Hong Kong dream. Born in mainland China, he fled the communists when he was 12 years old. “He went from rags to riches – from a worker in a textile factory to a billionaire with a chain of fashion stores.”
In 1989, when Chinese tanks massacred students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Jimmy Lai decided to get involved in politics. He started a media company in Hong Kong that isn’t afraid to criticize the Chinese government; he believed that information is freedom and delivering true information, not the Communist Party’s propaganda, plays a significant role in holding on to the basic human rights of HongKongers.
Jimmy Lai founded the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong. In April 2019, his newspaper had a record of more than 3.6 million registered subscribers. After that, it was reported that the online version – Apple Daily Online – had reached more than half a million paid subscribers since the July 4, 2019.
Jimmy Lai also became one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists leading big rallies to commemorate the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown. The rally each year aims to support political dissent that has been suppressed by the Communist Party in the mainland China. In June 2019, Jimmy Lai and other pro-democracy activists not only joined the rally to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, but also other mass protests, including the million-strong demonstration that kicked off the anti-extradition movement.
“When you lose freedom, you lose everything. What do you have?”
In 1997, the Chinese government promised the Hong Kong people that the political system inherited from Britain, which featured a legislature, an executive, and a judicial branch, would last 50 years without change. After 20 years, the Communist Party changed its tune. When true elections were not granted, HongKongers saw that the obvious intention of the Chinese government was to take away their freedom.
“If we don’t fight, we will lose everything.” Jimmy Lai and a quarter of Hong Kong’s population believed that protesting on the street was their last chance to demand real democracy and hold on to their basic human rights. Unfortunately, not everyone values freedom above everything. Some people, even in Western countries, questioned HongKongers’ fight, and believed that if they just kept quiet, did not protest and showed obedience to the Chinese Communist Party, the Hong Kong people could keep their beautiful city and western-like prosperity.
That’s exactly what the Chinese authorities want people to be and to do. As Jimmy Lai pointed out, the Communist Party believes that we, human beings, just have a body, but don’t have a soul. After Mao died, the reformed Chinese Communist rulers adopted a new governing theory. “You guys just make money, have a good life. Don’t think about politics. Don’t think about freedom. Don’t think about human rights. Don’t think about the rule of law. Just eat. Enjoy life.” Jimmy Lai described it accurately.
I grew up in China. From kindergarten to high school, we had to sing songs to worship Chairman Mao – “Without Mao, the Chinese people would suffer and starve to death.” In college, we sang songs to worship the Communist Party – “The Party represents the best of humankind, the most intelligent decisions, and the most advanced technology.” Education under the Communist regime is nothing but brainwashing, eliminating our human ability to think independently and question authority.
Like old photographs, memories of Jimmy Lai and HongKongers have faded over time.
Jimmy Lai and many pro-democracy activists were arrested and put in prison right after the most recent U.S. Presidential election. In January 2021, the New York Times reported that “Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Mogul, Is Ordered Back to Jail.” On February 17, 2021, Reuter reported that “Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested again, on suspicion of assisting one of 12 fugitives China captured at sea last year, his Apple Daily tabloid and Oriental Daily said on Wednesday, without citing a source.”
So far, I have not seen any news about any government or human rights organization speaking out calling for the freedom of Jimmy Lai and his people. Hong Kong looks like an old photograph, fading away; the world seems ready to move on. This shouldn’t be the case.
Jimmy Lai is right. “Because we are human beings, we have a soul.” When we lose freedom, we lose our soul. Without a soul, we lose the meaning of life.