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Lights out at the Pearl of the Orient

Since the late 19th century, Hong Kong has been an international city. It has got some nicknames over time: the Emporium of the Far East, Malta of the Orient (due to Malta’s status as a maritime hub), and the Pearl of the Orient, with the last one remaining in vogue for the longest time, probably due to the homonymous cantopop song by Taiwanese singer Lo Ta-yu.

For Hongkongers over 50, the Pearl of the Orient is more than a name. They saw it and used it on a daily basis in the 1970s when coins had Queen Elizabeth II on one side and an English lion sejant-rampant holding the pearl on the other. The latter was a creation made in 1959, taken from the crest of the Hong Kong coat of arms granted in that year.

This heraldic origin of the Pearl of the Orient gives the name more political weight when we know it. The success story of the Pearl was made possible only under the patronage of the British Empire. Had the Liberation Army crossed the border in 1949 instead of stopping at Shenzhen, the Pearl of the Orient would have been stillborn.

In other words, in 1997, at the drop of the Hong Kong flag, on which the Hong Kong coat of arms proudly displays, the Pearl of the Oriental also symbolically came to an end.

And this symbolic end gained more and more factual proof over the years to come.

After 2019, stories about new taboos swamped the papers on a daily basis. The followings are some I read recently.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey was scheduled for release on March 23 but was suddenly canceled three days beforehand. The movie license was not rescinded. That the movie distributor took the initiative to stop the screening implies immense political pressure. Chinese people have long referred to Xi Jinping as Winnie-the-Pooh, and this movie turning a beloved childhood icon into a bloodthirsty killing machine would give the audience the much-needed opportunity to smear the new emperor. Therefore, an ordinary horror movie became a grave national security concern, and the new taboo culture in Hong Kong has taken over the film industry of the ex-colony.

On a related note, some friends in the education sector told me that some schools had removed George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” from the recommended reading list. The suppression of the children’s book “Guardians of the Sheep Village,” which compares sheep to Hong Kong people and wolves to mainland Chinese people, made some schools take pre-emptive measures and remove classics that contain resistance elements from the shelf. This concurs with Hong Kong’s new educational mission: appreciate the greatness and goodness of the Chinese Communist Party, and eliminate the sense of resistance deep in one’s soul.

Another news story concerns a 19-year-old boy with severe autism and hyperactivity disorder, who damaged a flagpole on National Day last year when he found himself surrounded by a sea of flags, and the ceaseless redness too irritating. Though no flags were harmed, he was still charged with insulting the national flag.

When the Hong Kong government puts national security as its only major concern, it does not even let go of autistic people.

Then, it comes to my attention that Radio Television Hong Kong is now producing a documentary series about various government departments under the title wei renmin fuwu (serving the people), which has been a slogan of the Chinese communists since 1949. Resorting to prohibition and fear on the one hand, and adopting the Chinese communist language on the other, are the two sides of Hong Kong’s looming red culture.

All these remind me of a ghost story by the late Hong Kong writer Ni Kuang. Entitled “seductive arm,” the story is about a man who thinks he has won the heart of a beautiful woman. Everything goes well until a romantic night when he is struck with horror at the sight of the woman’s arm extending endlessly from the bed to the window and closing the curtains. Petrified, he hears the woman ask smilingly, ‘Do you want to turn off the light as well?’ He is then scared to death.

And the lights of the Pearl of the Orient were thus extinguished by the infinitely extended arm.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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