A Procrastination

An update from Hong Kong

Dear friends,

This, as will soon become apparent, is a procrastination.

It is also the first of what may become an irregular series of email updates to friends and other interested persons about events in Hong Kong & China, my writing and other related matters. (If none of those matters are of interest to you, please scroll to the end of this email and instantly unsubscribe with one click, zero hard feelings, and an apology for the intrusion.)

An Email Newsletter?

Some of you will have received my occasional updates during the Umbrella Movement in 2014. I hadn’t resumed those email updates this time around, partly because I have been quite actively updating live on Twitter (@antd), but also because I never expected this protest movement to last so long. Yet here we are, having just passed the four-month mark this week: the first One Million Person March took place back on 9 June. (Hard to imagine how different things would have been if, after that first massive protest march, Carrie Lam had said: “Let’s have a pause to rethink this whole Extradition Law thing...”)

In any event, given the next item of news, I thought now would be an opportune moment to resume these email updates, with a promise of irregular frequency, fluctuating length and uneven quality.

A New Book?

One of the most common questions I have received since these protests began has been: “Do you plan to write another book?” And I am here to let you know (if you have not already seen via my announcements on social media) that the answer to that question is: “Yes!”

I am delighted to be working with Henry Rosenbloom and his wonderful team at Scribe on my next book: City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong.

Scribe’s announcement is here, and here is the (I think rather striking) cover:

HK Update: “Curfew by Capital”… and a Circuit Breaker?

Things seem to have cooled down somewhat in Hong Kong this past week, not because of Carrie Lam’s ill-advised face mask ban announced last weekend, but because Lam at the same time quietly placed the entire city under curfew.

She did this, rather cleverly, not by actually declaring a curfew. Instead, she adopted a two-step strategy:

First, the MTR was closed down for the weekend, ostensibly to carry out repairs resulting from protester vandalism (although only a handful of stations had been seriously damaged). Those of you who know Hong Kong know how essential the MTR is for getting around, in particular for crossing between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. With the MTR shut down, people were effectively stranded.

Second, Lam enlisted the help of the Tycoons (it is not known whether explicitly or otherwise), who closed down the city’s shopping malls and supermarkets for most of the weekend. Other retailers followed suit. Again, if you know Hong Kong, you know the vital role shopping malls play in the daily life of the city (something I wrote about recently for New Statesman). The result was perhaps the first example of a city being placed under “curfew by private capital”.

Here in Hong Kong last weekend it felt like a kind of “fair-weather typhoon”: people emptied the supermarket shelves of food, emptied the ATMs of cash, and — with nowhere to go and no way to get there — stayed indoors most of the weekend.

The curfew continued through all of the past week, with the MTR closing early (8pm) every night. Outages continue this weekend.

This all seems to have acted as something of a circuit-breaker, and protests this weekend have been much smaller-scale, wild-cat pop-up protests at malls, police stations and other sites around town. Could it be that Lam’s curfew gambit has been successful? Perhaps, but also bear in mind that whenever things begin to quieten down, Carrie Lam, her government and her police force have a unique knack for riling people up again. Lam is due to give her annual policy address as LegCo reopens this week, so we shall see if she manages yet again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Also this coming week, US Congress is scheduled to debate a number of Hong Kong-related motions including voting on the Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act, so we should expect plenty of rhetoric coming from Beijing in response to that.

Clippings & Links

Last week, I was delighted to chat once again to Living National Treasure Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live, giving an update on the latest from Hong Kong. You can listen to that conversation here.

I have been writing extensively on the ongoing protests for various outlets. Given this is the first of these email updates, I will highlight just a couple of the most recent pieces:

For The Atlantic, I compared the utopian, optimistic tone of the Umbrella Movement with the current much darker, death-themed protests: read it here.

And for Quartz, as part of their coverage of the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, I did a deep dive comparing the music of the two protest movements, which you can read here.

And which I suppose means I partially contributed to this:

Twitter avatar for @maryhuiMary Hui @maryhui
From @qz CEO @zseward: "We abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet, and have great coverage of how to get around such bans around the world:
qz.com/re/vpn/. You can also follow our coverage of the Hong Kong protests here [qz.com/re/hong-kong-p…]."

The Verge @verge

Apple removes Quartz news app from the Chinese App Store over Hong Kong coverage https://t.co/0qz7V8QlsF https://t.co/DJtGThEnmQ

In Closing

Finally, below are a few of my recent photos from the protest front lines.

This new book is on an ambitious timeline: manuscript to be delivered by mid-December and aiming for an early 2020 publication. I also have a couple of other writing assignments to finish up. So what better way to spend my weekend than writing an email newsletter, agonising over the layout and design, carefully compiling the recipient list...

This has been A Procrastination. Thanks for reading.

Antony