How do you beat China’s Communist Party? “Just don’t be afraid of them”

Lam Wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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Hong Kong

It is mid-morning in front of the Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, under a blazing summer sun, and a few hundred people are waving red flags and chanting slogans. They are blasting Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho and bookseller Lam Wing Kee, who has just made a dramatic comeback into Hong Kong explaining how he was kidnapped and detained for months on the mainland.

“They destroyed the One Country Two Systems formula by telling lies!”  says one of the protestors, who only gives his last name as Po, in Mandarin. Others are fanning themselves and waiting to be handed red flags of China and of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, but cover their faces and refuse to answer questions.

A bunch of teenagers in the crowd only say they “were told to come,” and are not really sure how the “One Country Two Systems” agreement, which guarantees Hong Kong rights like free speech even as part of Communist China, was smashed by Lam and Ho. They hide behind a placard claiming it was.

Protestors hold cartoons of Lam Wing-kee running away with a bag of money, and Albert Ho behind bars, “where he should belong.”
Protestors hold cartoons of Lam Wing-kee running away with a bag of money, and Albert Ho behind bars, “where he should belong.”
Image: Ilaria Maria Sala

The demonstrations don’t “really matter, because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Lam tells Quartz. But he still gets a bit heated when shown an editorial by newspaper Ming Pao, claiming he was paid to make his allegations. It is penned by someone from the pro-Beijing “One Country Two System Research Institute.” And it is a sign there is worse to come for Hong Kong, Lam says.

“Of course, the influences of our kidnappings are going to be felt across the board in Hong Kong. All over the book editing world, and in the newspapers and in TV, now even in the universities,” Lam says. “News editors are often silenced by investors, and many of the university professors are from the mainland—themselves members of the Communist Party.”

“The influence that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to exert is now all over the place in Hong Kong,” he says.

Lam and four of his colleagues, from a bookstore that aired the dirty laundry of the party, went missing from Hong Kong last year, and their disappearance has raised tough questions about the city’s independence and rule of law.

“The books we published have been annoying the central authorities,” Lam says, especially ones about Xi Jinping’s lover, the People’s Liberation Army, and the current leadership. China’s leaders are worried about “where our information comes from,” Lam said. “So much of what happens in China is a secret, so of course they oppose the work we do,” he says.

When Lam was taken away by security forces after crossing the border into Shenzhen, he says he was initially stopped by an officer named Li, whom he had already met in a previous occasion. He was arrested after the arrival of a more senior officer, from a little known “Central Special Investigation Task Force.”

The similarity to units that were set up during the Cultural Revolution raises his ire. “These are the same people,” Lam says. “They have the same mentality that has remained since the Cultural Revolution.”

Lam believes that what has happened to himself and his colleagues at the Causeway Bookstore is a clear sign Beijing is getting more involved in Hong Kong’s affairs, “because there have been some screw-ups at a high level.”

“The Propaganda Department has not done a good job, and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau has not done a good job, either.,” he says. “So more high up people have been getting involved. And they do not want Hong Kong to be publishing this type of books anymore.”

Lam admits the political books on sale in Hong Kong are often “just gossip.” But, he adds “that is okay. Elsewhere too, gossip books can come out.” The booksellers, he says, “have fallen victims of internecine struggles inside the Communist Party,” he says.

The way these struggles usually play out is one faction secretly leaks information against their opponents, he says, but right now, “Xi is too strong, and his subordinates can afford to quash those who write books against him.”

“Xi is an absolute leader,” he says, and his subordinates are tasked with protecting his image.

Despite the impact on Hong Kong, Lam says that he wants to remain here. “We Hong Kong people are capable of coming out and protesting,” he says. “The most important thing is you know what you’re doing, your free mind: as long as Hong Kong has that, it is alright.”

“If we stop protesting, then our future might be bleak,” he says. “Just don’t be afraid of them.”