Over the past 11 weeks of protests, China has become increasingly strident in its condemnation of Hong Kong’s demonstrators. In recent days, officials have decried the protests as showing “signs of terrorism,” while state news agency Xinhua has called protesters “cockroaches.” Meanwhile, information control within China has led to the spread of disinformation about the protests.
But a post shared on Twitter over the weekend by CCTV, the state broadcaster, took the criticism to a whole new level by insinuating that actions by Hong Kong protesters were on par with the violence of Germany’s Nazis. China Daily also shared the same poem. The posts came after protesters at Hong Kong’s airport were criticized last week for tying up and beating two men suspected of being undercover mainland agents or police—acts that have prompted soul-searching in the pro-democracy movement.
The post was written in the style of a famous poem by Martin Niemöller, the anti-Nazi German pastor who openly opposed Adolf Hitler and was sent to concentration camps. His poem, First They Came, describes how different sectors of society failed to speak up against the Nazi regime, such that when the secret police eventually came for him, “there was no one left / To speak out for me.”
CCTV’s post, parroting Niemöller’s poem, takes on the voice of Hongkongers who have supposedly remained silent throughout this summer’s protests, and exhorts them to be silent no more because they could be the next to be “attacked” by demonstrators. Groups that have been “attacked,” according to the CCTV poem, include police officers, drivers, airport passengers, and journalists.
“And then they came and attacked me, / And there was no one left to speak for me and protect me,” the poem in the post ends.
Online, academics and journalists were quick to criticize CCTV’s post as “unsurprisingly fatuous,” “bizarre,” and making Niemöller “[turn] around in his grave—for the comparison between an atrocity in which six million people were murdered, and a movement in which there have been no deaths, and that represents a stand against authoritarianism. Hundreds of thousands have marched on the city’s streets peacefully since June, initially to call for the withdrawal of a reviled extradition bill, but protesters are now seeking an inquiry into allegations of police brutality and democratic reforms. Yesterday (Aug. 18) 1.7 million demonstrated, according to organizers.
On the same weekend, CCTV’s global arm struck a very different note of condemnation when it released a rap track in English against Hong Kong’s protesters, criticizing them as “liars” who are backed by “foreign forces.”
“Hey democracy! Once I heard you be found in the Middle East, people were throwing bombs across the city streets,” goes one of the lines in the song by the state-backed rap group, CD Rev. US president Donald Trump is even spliced into the rap, when he is heard saying “Hong Kong is a part of China.”
CCTV also released a Cantonese rap track, calling on listeners to “Say no to riots! Say no bad acts! Say no to evil!”