Failure of rationality, or an end of happiness

Playwright and teacher Pat To Yan on his involvement in the Hong Kong protests against the reactions of the Chinese government

As I’m writing this, I’m anxious. There’s a protest earlier today, on 1st September, Sunday. The protest targets at the Hong Kong International Airport and aims at shutting down it, just by a large number of people standing there. Protesters are armless, only some of them are equipped with protective gears like helmets and gas masks, etc. Nevertheless, they are brutally beaten and arrested. Hong Kong has only one airport and it’s located on the Lantau Island.

In other words, when the police shut down the rail and cancel all the buses, it’s hard for protesters to leave safely. It’s still happening. My friends and students are still escaping from the scene. What moves me deeply is there are many drivers voluntarily taking the protesters back to downtown. It finally makes a beautiful milky way.

And it’s just another weekend since June. An anxious and fearful weekend.

A summer of dreams

It’s something we’ve not seen before. It’s a democratic movement without leader. We take action through discussion on the web and social media. Most of the time we don’t have a concrete plan and strategy. But we start with trying something new. Sometimes, there’s a breakthrough; however, we come across with dangerous situation more often. We have got most of the updates from an online discussion forum called LinkHK and various Telegram public groups which we call International waters. Usually, when we mention we participate in protests or do anything in the protests, we will say we are dreaming or we dream of something. For example, I dream of making road blocks in Mong Kok. We avoid leaving any traces for Hong Kong government to arrest and prosecute us. This is a summer full of dreams. Dreams of millions of Hong Kong people.

Everything starts from a bill called ‘Extradition to China’. This proposed bill allows the Hong Kong government to establish a mechanism for transfers of fugitives with mainland China, which are not covered by the existing laws. Hong Kong people’s worry is obvious: if we say something which is against Chinese government, we will violate the Chinese laws and be transferred to mainland China, i.e. you may be imprisoned in China for the rest of your life. It triggered off a protest of 1 million people on 9th June. Hong Kong has merely a total population of 7 million people. The government had no proper response. Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong government, still insisted on legislating the law on 12th June. I always think, she might really regret on insisting the legislation now. After 12th June, Hong Kong arrived at a point of no return. No one knew it at that time.

I have participated in various protests, the small scale or bigger scale since I was a student. Ah, yes, I mean I have dreamt of it. If intending stopping an injustice legislation, the aim of the protest is to stop the meeting. For example, I participated in Anti-WTO protest in 2005. Protesters from all over the world made use of all means to stop the injustice meeting at the Convention Centre. But we have never been successful. On 12th June morning, I arrived at Admiralty where the Central Government office located. Over ten thousand of protesters, most of them were teenagers and youngsters, already occupied the streets. We successfully stopped the meeting! But the excessive violence from Hong Kong police started to escalate since then. In the afternoon, at the main entrance of a commercial building, they trapped thousands of protesters and released tear gas continually. Luckily, the human stampede had not been caused. Nevertheless, on the same day, a Police headshot a peaceful protester with rubber bullet and shot him blind. The Police shot the press. The Police had shot one protester and he suffocated with blood. The Police raided hospitals to arrest the injured protesters.

On 12th June, we were only prepared for tear gas and pepper spray, so most of us had only been equipped with a thin mask. We were even angrier since Carrie Lam had not agreed to withdraw the Extradition Bill.

On 15th June, a protester took his life to voice out his discontent. On 16th June, 2 million + 1 protesters demonstrated again. The ‘1’ stands for the protester taking his life. We asked for interrogating the Police with excessive violence. There’s no proper response from the Government.

And then we dreamt every weekend. We have five demands: 1. Complete withdrawal of Extradition Bills; 2. Implementation of Dual Universal Suffrage; 3. Retraction of the characterisations of the protest on 12 June 2019 as riots; 4. Establishment of an independent investigation committee chaired by retired judges to investigate the police’s actions; 5. The Department of Justice maintains its political neutrality and not conduct political prosecutions. Once I doubted how long Hong Kong people would insist. I’m surprised and moved as more and more people join us. There’s a 79% of people who are against the bill.

Riot Police, Thug Police

Language is an interesting stuff. TG stands for telegram, but also for tear gas. Riot Police is supposed to suppress riot. Nevertheless, in English Grammar, if we put two nouns together, the first one is counted as adjective automatically. In other words, we can interpret Riot Police in another way: Police arousing riots.

Unfortunately, it comes true. In July, the Police started escalating violence and wore no warrant cards. Just pick up some important cases: on 14th July, the Police stormed into a shopping centre and attacked protesters; on 21st July, thugs and gangsters indifferently attacked people at a rail station in Yuen Long. People called Police and received no reply. The Police Station closed down. There were videos showing Police talking to the thugs peacefully. They seemed to befriend each other. On 27th July, peaceful protesters demonstrated in Yuen Long; Hong Kong Police mistakenly shot the tear gas to the Elderly Home, which we found the tear gas was expired; on 28th July, Hong Kong Police disguised protesters to throw fire bottle to the Press; on 4-5 August, the Police shot rubber bullets and tear gas from high place. They aimed at people’s head again and again. 11th August was one the most violent. Some Police disguised as protesters and caught them. They shot one girl of rescuing team blind with bean round. They shot tear gas in an indoor rail station. They beat over thirty protesters to bone rupture and sexually harassed at least one girl protester during detention. Since 13th August, the Hong Kong Police sometimes shot real bullets. On 31st August, they arrested people randomly and beat ordinary citizens in a car of the rail at Prince Edward underground station. They expelled reporters, detain the arrested and shut down the station for a whole day. We don’t know what happened inside the station till now. The list is endless.

There were Police from mainland China who disguised Hong Kong Police to do these dirty jobs. We might be attacked because of Riot Police, Thugs or Chinese Police.

We are almost hopeless.

In the process of modernization

I was once asked by my friend, ‘how will the future historians write this history?’ ‘It’s the inevitable question thrown to China in the process of its modernization,’ I replied. I forgot whether I have read something and I came to this conclusion or it’s just from my head. Anyway.

If viewing Chinese history in a 200-year dimension, China is still struggling to meet up the demand for modernization. Till now, China has not provided any satisfactory answers yet. Just going back to 1979, China had been trying to recover from Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping decided to open the Chinese market to the world. The industrialization started, but he failed to answer the question raised by the citizens: freedom and democracy. Deng Xiaoping brutally suppressed the 1989 Tiananmen Democratic Movement. Till the mid-1990s, the Chinese market started to prosper and China became richer and richer. China seems to enjoy a good life. But they postpone answering the same question. Owing to its unique history of colonization, Hong Kong is the only city under Chinese government enjoying the highest degree of rule of law and human rights. Therefore, when Chairman Xi wants to repeat his suppression policy to Hong Kong, he must end up in conflict. We, Hong Kong people do not accept dictatorship. In other words, China comes across with the same obstacle again: freedom and democracy.

I was once asked by my friend in London why we still fight for democracy while it’s declining. I said, you guys take democracy for granted for too long. To us, it’s the best defense to safeguard human rights.

Democracy can have a good or bad quality. It depends on how people use it. But, without it, you will defense for yourself out of nothing. Like us.

Failure of rationality

Though the evidences for Hong Kong police’s excessive violence are tremendous and overwhelming, some Hong Kong people still think that protesters are harming the society. Some even think the protesters are worth for being beaten and seriously injured. When coming across with these people, I always doubt what’s wrong with humans’ rationality. They don’t argue and believe based on facts, but just by feelings. And they won’t change their mind even though they can’t refute you anymore.

I’m surprised these people are everywhere in the world. They vote for Brexit (they believe that 70 million Turkish would emigrate to England when they stay in E.U.); they vote for Boris Johnson (no matter how many lies he has told); they vote for Donald Trump (but I’m on his side when he’s against Chinese government. Forgive me). What happens to human mankind while rationality fails to perform its function?

Probably international politics best explain it as it’s a manifestation of injustice our world. After two World Wars, humans are supposed to establish a mechanism for dealing with conflicts peacefully. However, every time when I read the news like these: Israel bomb Palestine, Chinese government set up concentration camps in Xinjiang and Tibet, I think this world is just lacking justice. We are witnessing them to be suffered. And to a certain extent, we are all bystanders. Again, rationality has no place here, or we have only a world left with instrumental rationality.

More dreams to come, and we don’t know where we’re heading

I have been coughing for over a month after the thugs’ terrorist attack on 21st July. I was just too angry and became ill. After then, I dreamt of protesting in the last month and I breathed in tear gas (most of them are expired!). I couldn’t recover from my cough yet.

I once told my student who keeps standing at the frontline, ‘I admire you as you have got accompanied with the whole generation of resistance. It may sound crazy, but when I was a student, we had only a hundred of people together.’ It’s the bright side, but they are also the generation of despair at the same time. Around 7 youngsters took their lives out of desperation.

When I’m writing this, more news is updated. On the terrible night of 11th August, there are rumours girls were raped by turns during detention. We have not completed fact check but more and more evidence proves it’s true. There are other rumours stating that some people were beaten to death in the underground station on 31st August night. We don’t know the truth. How can you prove it with a totalitarian government? They want to kill people, want to kill us all, want to kill Hong Kong as we’re not obedient, as we’re fighting for human rights and justice. We don’t know where we’re heading, but resistance is the only way to fight against the Chinese and Hong Kong government.

Since 2nd September, I have been serving as a Visiting Lecturer at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts which is the only tertiary institution of relevant discipline. It’s one of my dream jobs. But I don’t have the feeling of happiness. I can’t be happy anymore. I don’t know where my happiness’s gone. I think most Hong Kong people share this feeling with me.

Pat To Yan, 1975 in Hongkong geboren, ist Dramatiker, Regisseur und Lehrer. Er studierte Englische Literatur und Soziologie in Hongkong und Szenisches Schreiben in London an der Royal Holloway University und inszenierte eigene und fremde Theaterstücke in beiden Städten. Sein Stück «Eine kurze Chronik des künftigen China» war 2016 zum Berliner Stückemarkt eingeladen, außerdem nahm er 2018 an der Plattform für internationale Dramatik «Welt/Bühne» im Münchner Marstall teil.

Zur deutschen Übersetzung des Textes in der Oktober-Ausgabe von Theater heute.

Theater heute Oktober 2019
Rubrik: International, Seite 42