Chow Hang-tung | China Change
On September 2, 2022, a preliminary inquiry into the strength of the national security case against Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤), former vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was held at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Hong Kong Free Press has a detailed report of the hearing: “Chow, along with the Alliance and two of the group’s former leaders Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人) and Albert Ho (何俊仁), stands accused of incitement to subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law. All intend to plead not guilty.” The hearing will resume on September 8. Below is a China Change translation of Chow’s testimony in court. – The Editors
My earliest experience with the Hong Kong Alliance went back to the early 1990s when I was an elementary student going to the yearly June 4th candlelight vigil with my mother.
Unlike the other two defendants (Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho), who were among the earliest participants in the Alliance when it was founded and influenced the development of the organization, I am of the generation who grew up influenced by the Alliance. So my testimony will be about my personal participation, as well as the impact the Hong Kong Alliance has had on the people of this city.
The annual June 4th candlelight vigil, organized by the Alliance, is my earliest memory of participating in public affairs, though I was only holding one of the tens of thousands of candlelights [in Victoria Park]. At that young age, I probably didn’t understand, or even notice, “The Five Guidelines” (五大綱領), but I understood the basic fact that many elder brothers and sisters had stood up to demand a better country only to be slaughtered by the people in power. Not only that, the murderers accused them of being violent rioters and wanted to wipe out their existence from history. As a child at the vigil, what left me with the deepest impression was that so many people were sharing the same sorrow and the same anger. I was deeply moved and always wanted to understand what it was that could bring so many people together.
In Victoria Park, I also saw the best of Hongkongers. The vigil attendees were the most friendly people who were ready to help others. Everyone was kind and accommodating to the people around him or her, and contributed to this collective act of their own volition, whether it was cleaning up the drops of molten wax or passing on the event program. Probably because the candlelight vigils were themselves events that had nothing to do with selfish interests, everyone who came was there for love — love for the country, love for life, or love for truth.
I can say that the Alliance’s candlelight vigils were the most formative civic lessons in my childhood. From them, I experienced firsthand what justice was, where hearts and minds were, and what public participation was. They also gave me role models, whether it was the students in Tiananmen Square who were willing to sacrifice everything for democracy, the Tiananmen Mothers who did everything to search for the truth under the threat of state terror, or each and every person in Victoria Park who showed empathy for others’ suffering and were willing to put it into action. All of them showed me how to be a dignified and conscientious human being.
The government has kept identifying the Alliance as an “anti-China” group. But as far as my personal experience goes, having for years talked about June 4th and the tribulation of the [mainland] democracy advocates, the Alliance has in fact nurtured a group of people who care about China affairs and show love for this place, not at all inciting hatred or the so-called “anti-China” sentiment. But this love is based on universal values, on care for actual people, not for an abstract concept of “state,” certainly not for a regime with blood all over its hands. When the government says “anti-China,” it actually means “anti-Communist Party,” conflating the party and the country.
In 2003, I went to the UK for college, and for several years I was unable to attend the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. But I thought I could bring the candlelight to where I was. So I began to organize commemoration activities in the UK and got a lot of help from the Alliance. In the process of organizing these activities, I became determined to do something for democracy in China. In 2010 when I returned to Hong Kong after graduation, it was only natural that I contacted the Alliance to see if I could contribute. I worked part-time for the Alliance for several months, and after that, I stayed as a volunteer. At the end of 2014, I was elected a member of the Alliance’s Standing Committee, and a year later at the end of 2015, I became a vice-chair until the Alliance was forced to disband in [September] 2021.
An individual decides to join, or not join, an organization for many reasons. But the bottom line is he or she recognizes the organization’s mission or guidelines. The Alliance’s guidelines have always been public, and they are in thirty characters: release democracy activists, redress the June 4th Massacre, hold those who committed the massacre accountable, end one-party dictatorship, and build a democratic China. The Five Guidelines are not merely slogans, not just words spoken on certain occasions; they were the very soul and identity of this organization. As such, the prosecutors needed not, as they did, to search for where and when we had spoken which guideline. Whether we said them out loud or not, the Five Guidelines were always there, behind all the actions we had taken, and were our raison d’etre.
The Five Guidelines are an integral whole, and none of them should be interpreted out of context. The Hong Kong Alliance originated from the democracy movement in 1989, and the ultimate appeal of that movement was to build a democratic country. As such, the Alliance could not possibly have forgotten our start, let alone that we have a responsibility to carry on for the dead.
We want to have a democratic country, but the biggest obstacle to this aspiration has been the one-party dictatorship and its peremptory logic that the party is the state and vice versa. How can anyone who truly pursues democracy tolerate the existence of one-party rule? Of course, ending one-party rule doesn’t necessarily lead to democracy immediately, because construction and “ending” are two different processes. But this much is certain: there can be no democracy without ending one-party rule.
The 1989 movement that ended with a massacre on June 4th showed the world precisely the danger of a one-party dictatorship. A political party that is unaccountable to the people can kill the innocent, detain people at will, bury the truth, and call white black and black white in order to monopolize power that doesn’t belong to it to begin with. As long as the one-party rule doesn’t end, similar atrocities will likely recur and have recurred many, many times. When we call for ending one-party dictatorship, we are saying that we cannot allow this party to do whatever it wants to do and that we must get to the bottom of its crimes and call to account those who are responsible for them. In other words, redress, and accountability are part of ending the dictatorship.
On the other hand, as long as the tyranny is in power, there can be no real redress and accounting. We cannot kid ourselves by saying that a party with absolute power will investigate itself. That’s why, to this day, there has been no meaningful closure to the Cultural Revolution, the Great Famine, and so on. Those who died perished in vain, and we have learned nothing from history.
Releasing democracy activists is the easiest and most straightforward demand that can be met. It would be the most direct signal showing that those in power are genuine about democratic reform. It is also an urgent and important appeal because, for political prisoners, every day in prison is one day too many. This being the first of our guidelines is our duty as fellow travelers.
While the Five Guidelines are an interlinked whole, they also include some relatively specific goals, such as releasing certain individuals, inquiring about the status of others, and redressing certain matters. But whatever the goal is, it necessarily requires the end of tyranny and the establishment of democracy. Demanding accountability without demanding an end to tyranny is like climbing a tree to catch fish. It is not even a sincere demand.
But I must emphasize that the above is only my personal understanding of the Five Guidelines, and does not represent the position of friends who have also stated the five sentences. The Five Guidelines are not my personal platform or slogan. If I want to articulate my own position, I would not necessarily use the same expressions. However, the Five Guidelines is not meant to be a precise expression of any one person’s thinking; instead, it is a public text with the potential to rally the largest number of people. It is the consensus of a group and a movement, the smallest common denominator. Individuals may have different ideas about what extended appeals it has and how to achieve them, or whether or not the choices of its words are appropriate and precise. But as a collective, those thirty characters are our common position, not imposed by any one person’s interpretation, no matter how “authoritative” that person may be.
As far as the Alliance was concerned, we had had no need, nor will, to unify everyone’s position, for the vitality of a social movement lies in its diversity of ideas. Inside the Alliance, there were patriots in the traditional sense who identified themselves as Chinese and wanted to make contributions to the country; and then there were those who weren’t fans of identity politics and had doubts about the concept of country. But it was enough that we all recognized that the Five Guidelines were worthy goals. To extrapolate any further beyond these thirty characters and apply it to everyone, whether by myself, or by government officials, or the court, is superfluous and distortion of the situation itself.
In practice, what did the Alliance do to realize the Five Guidelines? What we have done for all these years is no more than to record, disseminate, speak up, lobby, provide aid, and take collective actions.
We record the people and events that are intentionally covered up by the party-state, whether it’s the truth of June 4th or people who were tortured or disappeared for standing up to those in power.
To record is not for hiding it away in a cave, so we do our best to disseminate the information, letting more people know the truth and prevent the party-state from easily rewriting history. So we established the June 4th Museum, and we hosted lectures and exhibits; put on theatrical plays; we published materials; and organized guided tours. All of these activities were communicative and educational in nature.
Of course, we didn’t just passively record and disseminate things of the past; we also hoped to get involved in and make an impact on contemporary matters by supporting those who were persecuted presently. So we spoke out on various issues and incidents, such as the arrests of dissidents and activists, the tofu-dredge school buildings [in Sichuan that killed thousands of school children when they were collapsed by the 2009 earthquake], the “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, and the like. We also engaged in international lobbying, for example, submitting human rights reports to the UN hoping to draw more international understanding of, and concern for, the human rights conditions and political prisoners in mainland China. And to the extent that we were able, we also provided direct help to activists and their families in need, either connecting them to other sources or offering humanitarian support.
As a civic group, our main method of showing our strength and exerting pressure on the government was taking collective actions. Our regular activities included marches and assemblies, street actions, international signature campaigns, postcard mailings, and so on. The best-known and more impactful event was the annual June 4th vigil. We had put on more civil activities than I can describe here, though few of these projects could draw nearly as large a response as the June 4th commemoration event. But we did our best to take action and speak out about people and events that were worthy of attention, no matter how many people took part. For example, in 2017-2018, we issued no fewer than thirty statements, held twenty-one marches and assemblies, and mentioned more than thirty prisoners of conscience by name, such as Liu Xia (刘霞), Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木 · 土赫提), Xie Wenfei (谢文飞), and so on. I have the Alliance’s annual work reports that contain all the statements we have made and the schedules of our events, from which you can see the specifics of our work.
On the face of it, these activities don’t seem to lead to the realization of the Five Guidelines; one can even say that we did these things just for the sake of making our appeals, presenting our arguments on every occasion, to everyone, and using every form non-stop. People often asked, “Will the CCP release Liu Xia just because you demanded that she be released?” But contrary to the naysayers, in the end Liu Xia was permitted to leave China. At the very least, if there is no space for making these appeals, it’s even more unlikely that they will bear fruit.
We should never discount the power of words. Didn’t the Chinese Communist Party originate from just a book? More fundamentally, when we say we want to end dictatorship and build a democracy, we are saying that we hope to end the violent cycle of gaining power out of the barrel of a gun and build a society of reason and principles, not to replace the regime with yet another dictatorship. Our biggest weapon and strength, therefore, is to reason in the clearest way possible to counter totalitarian deception and control over the people.
After all, tyranny has to be maintained, and totalitarianism controls people through abasement and fear, turning everyone into his or her own jailer. Ruled under absolute power, people are caged in a false world in which there are no facts and no choice; a world in which language is restricted, values are hollowed out, and independent thought and free will are no longer possible. The key to ending dictatorship is to break free from this cage of thought, safeguard the truth, provide choices, speak freely, and defend these important values and principles. This is precisely what the Hong Kong Alliance has done over the years, and this is also what I will do in court.