The forced disappearance of the five shareholders from Mighty Current Publishing and Causeway Bay Books formed a complete picture in December 2015 when Lee Po, its owner, was seen boarding a van at his Mighty Current publishing office in Chai Wan at around 6pm. He was then taken across the border without any official record of his departure.
The incident raised fears for the city’s autonomy and concerns over the potential loss of freedoms. There was supposed to be a notification mechanism, whereby Hong Kong and the mainland authorities were obliged to notify each other if a resident of one is detained by the other. Mainland authorities had broken all the rules right under the noses of Hong Kongers who were still holding back until the Extradition Bill in 2019 dropped the last straw.
Lee’s disappearance joined the dots for a planned crackdown on writers and publishers critical of mainland politicians. Hong Kong realised that Lee, a HK-born British national, was in fact the last of five bookstore associates to go missing. The first was Gui Minhai 桂敏海 (alias Ah Hai), co-founder of Mighty Current Publishing. As an author and publisher, he had written extensively on Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang and Xi Jinping. Born in China, Gui was already a Swedish national by then.
Gui’s disappearance from his home in the Thai resort of Pattaya in October 2015 was a mystery at first. People following the news only managed to join the dots and see the connection after Lee’s abduction. Hong Kongers realised that it was an audacious extrajudicial abduction, apparently ignoring Thailand’s sovereignty. This caused great concern for many Hong Kongers who realised that even people residing in Thailand were not safe, let alone those living in Hong Kong. Less than four years down the road, the implications of the Extradition Bill became horribly clear.
One of the shareholders, Lam Wing Kee 林榮基 was released 8 months after detention in the mainland. His “crime” was stated as illegal sale of books 违法经营书籍销售. Sales of books at Causeway Bay Books plunged 70%. Potential customers were afraid of being abducted for purchasing books from Lee. Their fears were not unfounded. Back in Hong Kong, Lam was released on condition that he would bring back the store’s computer to them and reveal his customers’ personal information. He took the store’s computer and just before he left for Shenzhen, he called his teacher. His teacher told him “我们不是生下来就被人打败的.” Lam’s conscience got the better of him. He turned back from the railway station, insisting on protecting his customers’ confidentiality and made plans to leave Hong Kong before he got abducted again. Below is an enactment.
After release, owner Lee Poh declared that he just wanted to lead a “normal life” and the store was forced to close down. All books in the shop were sent to Shenzhen where they were burned. Undeterred, shareholder Lam Wing Kee moved to Taiwan when a sponsor promised to support him. Not surprisingly, his sponsor was threatened and backed out. Lam then resorted to crowdfunding, raising NTD 6,000,000 in just one day. raised funds from crowdfunding and set up a new Causeway Bay Books over there. At the grand opening, Tiananmen massacre survivor Wang Dan presented Lam with the words “freedom” 自由.
But it was not all smooth sailing even in Taiwan. Lam had been splashed with red paint at a cafe before his store’s opening. It was a warning from agents working for the mainland.
Although Gui was released from detention in October 2017, he was once again abducted by suspected state security agents – a group of men in plain clothes – in January 2018 while on his way to Beijing for a medical visit. Swedish authorities called for his release.
Shortly afterwards, while under detention for breaking “unspecified laws”, he once again confessed, denouncing Swedish politicians for instigating him to leave the country and for “using me as chess piece”. Gui was then sentenced in February 2020 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”.
Back to Mr Lam, he seems very optimistic about physical book stores and he has big plans for the future, but as young people read less and less, I’m really not sure about the future of his book store. If something like this is not possible in Singapore, then perhaps in Taiwan.
With prominent figures like Anthony Wong (Anthony William Perry) making the move to Taiwan and considering settling down there, many Hong Kongers are thinking of making the move. The video below made by a “mixed” couple offers very practical, down-to-earth advice targeting Hong Kongers considering settling down in Taiwan.
The best comment is the one I captured below. The translation is just below the image. I wish Singaporeans could have the courage to say the same thing to the numerous immigrants we have been accepting all these years.
I would suggest that if you’re coming here just to escape from calamity and not become one of us, then don’t come to Taiwan. First of all, what’s the definition of a Taiwanese? A Taiwanese is someone who always puts Taiwan’s interests first, sees all issues from Taiwan’s perspective and be willing to to protect Taiwan at all personal cost. This is what it means to be Taiwanese. The biggest problem in Taiwan is that there is a bunch of people who live in Taiwan but lack a sense of belonging and identity towards Taiwan. They keeping thinking that they are “中国人” (example mainland refugees 1949) first and Taiwanese second. With the current situation in Hong Kong, Taiwan is once again facing the situation of accepting a large number of immigrants, this time Hong Kongers. As a Taiwanese, I want to know whether the Hong Kong people coming here are willing to become Taiwanese or do they just want to be a Hong Konger living in Taiwan? Can you put Taiwan’s first even when those interests are in conflict with Hong Kong’s interests? If your intention is just to escape from the regime, then I suggest that you don’t come. Taiwan does not need to accept a group of refugees whose hearts are not with Taiwan. Many from the last batch of refugees have not been able to integrate. With another batch of refugees who do not really want to be Taiwanese, then Taiwan will suffer yet another setback.
Travelling as a tourist and migrating are totally different ball games. The Hong Konger here is realistic and down-to-earth. He admits that he is pessimistic and hopes that aspiring immigrants would not waste their time or lose their money. Doing one’s homework may be the easy part. Putting what you’ve learned into practice is the real challenge.
Some 12 years ago when I was working at Lucky Plaza, my landlord put up a signboard bearing a red cross to indicate where the medical centre was. They were immediately asked to take it down. The reason given was that people may mistake the medical centre as one run by the Red Cross! So typically Singaporean.
It dawned on me that only the Red Cross has the right to use the red cross and they’re probably afraid that their reputation may be tarnished if the sign can be used by just anybody. Interestingly, some 10 years ago, China’s internet star Guo Mei Mei (not to be confused with Singaporean singer Jocie Kwok) associated herself with the Red Cross in China, claiming to be the organisation’s general manager. Her original profile on Weibo said that she was an “actor”. It was verified that she did attend Beijing Film Academy.
Coming from a single-parent family (and picking her mother’s surname), Guo was born in Yiyang, Hunan in 1991. Guo Mei Mei’s father was imprisoned for fraud when she was still a baby. Her mother’s sister had also been incarcerated for pimping and an uncle of hers has been executed for drug offences. Her mother was later revealed to have operated shady massage parlours in Shenzhen but claimed during TV interviews that she made her fortune from trading stocks. Madam Guo also claimed that Miss Guo grew up surrounded by opulence and was thus unaware of the negative reactions from flaunting her wealth on social media. Ironically, the reactions were far from negative Most shallow and dishonest influencers have that defining moment when they fall from grace.
From a young age of 20 (circa 2010), Guo Mei Mei (real name: Guo Meiling 郭美玲) shot to fame on the internet when she flaunted her wealth and fabricated a distinguished family background on social media, making no mention of her mother’s shady business.
Like many female “lifestyle bloggers”, she drew numerous fans but also irked some netizens by bragging about her “noble” background, the elite schools she attended and showing off her Lamborghini, Maserati, luxury bags and designer clothes. She even called herself “princess”. While some of her detractors were probably just jealous, others raised questions about Guo Mei Mei’s source of wealth. They also raised concerns that Red Cross donations might have been misused. The more netizens chided her for her outrageous behaviour on social media, the more attention she drew, especially when she appeared to have deliberately flashed her undies at one event to go viral. Like ants to honey, advertisers and fledgling entertainment companies flocked to her.
At the same time, donations to the Red Cross quickly plummeted, prompting the organisation to publicly declare that Guo Mei Mei was no employee of theirs. In response, Guo Mei Mei clarified that she didn’t work for the Red Cross Society but a company with a similar name. Regardless, the damage to the Red Cross’ Society’s reputation had already been done. Another victim of Guo’s flamboyant publicity was Hong Kong singer Jocie Kwok whose real name is Guo Mei Mei. Fans mistook her for China’s Guo Mei Mei and boycotted her. The real Guo Mei Mei was so devastated by the mistaken identity that it almost ruined her career with many of her gigs cancelled because of boycott and condemnation.
This being the age of the citizen journalist, China Guo Mei Mei’s former schools were soon identified. Amateur investigators uncovered that not only did she not attend elite schools, she often played truant and didn’t even turn up for her examinations. A former teacher testified that she was mediocre, timid and often bullied.
Worse, a highly resourceful netizen found out that the Shenzhen-registered yellow Lamborghini Guo Mei Mei was photographed in belonged to a man by the name of Wang Jun 王军, Deputy Minister of Finance and also the Chairman of China’s Red Cross Society! So she was associated with the Red Cross after all.
Guo Mei Mei quickly did some damage control. Her wealth had nothing to do with the Red Cross. She explained that Wang Jun was a friend who told her that he would give her a managerial post after investing in a company associated with the Red Cross. That’s what gave her the idea of impersonating the Red Cross’ general manager. She swore that she did not spend a single cent of public funds.
The New York Times reported in July 2011 that real estate developer Wang Jun had already left the China Red Cross Bo’ai Asset Management Ltd. Corp., a for-profit company that coordinated activities for the Red Cross. Wang Jun was a shareholder in this company. He was said to have withdrawn 10 million yuan from this company in the wake of the Lamborghini scandal. However, the lack of information on the company fueled further speculation about how Red Cross funds were managed.
Like many female “lifestyle bloggers”, Guo Mei Mei also flaunted her “beauty” and her figure. Many netizens suspected that her pictures have been cleverly photoshopped, but it was soon revealed that she had spent a bomb on plastic surgery after an employee at her plastic surgeon’s office leaked her photos taken before and after surgery.
When Guo Mei Mei finally appeared in public and was photographed by reporters, the rather unflattering pictures confirmed that the pictures she showed online were all heavily edited and she was going all out to fool everyone. Undeterred, she announced her intention to enter the entertainment industry. Her detractors investigated and revealed that no film or recording company would pay her to perform. Below is her self-funded MV.
Yes, it’s harder to fool people with videos than with photos. And with a voice like that, it’s no wonder that nobody in the entertainment industry would finance her. Apart from this, China Guo Mei Mei also shot an audacious self-promoting documentary entitled “I’m Guo Mei Mei” in which she unabashedly opined that there is no such thing as bad publicity. But to any astute netizen, Guo’s rise to fame/infamy was carefully planned and orchestrated. An average girl like Guo Mei Mei couldn’t have been able to earn so much as a blogger and have the means to engineer this whole scheme. Who could the person behind all this be?
After the white hot scandals of 2011 cooled down, Guo Mei Mei was suddenly arrested in July 2014, not for impersonating a Red Cross employee but on charges of operating a gambling racket. So what’s the source of her staggering income? She admitted to prostituting herself, but then again, netizens (who are too familiar with televised “confessions” of accused persons) doubted it and suspected that she could be shielding her illustrious sugar daddy.
Then, news broke around 10 pm on July 25 2014 that Wang Jun was taken away by the Beijing Dongcheng District Public Security Bureau. Nobody doubted that it had something to do with Guo Mei Mei.
Since 2011, when the ownership of the Lamborghini was revealed, netizens had come to the conclusion that Wang Jun was Guo Mei Mei’s sugar daddy. Very little was heard from Wang Jun after he was taken away. Guo Mei Mei, however, was convicted of operating a casino and jailed for 5 years.
Who is Wang Jun? Netizens did not stop probing, suspecting that Guo Mei Mei’s claim of earning her millions from prostitution was just a cover up. Eventually, Guo Mei Mei’s mother Guo Deng Feng decided to “come clean” with the public. She strongly refuted the rumour that her daughter was the second wife of Wang Jun. At the same time, she made a startling “confession”. Guo Mei Mei was in fact the illegitimate daughter she had with Wang Jun!
If true, this would mean that Guo Mei Mei is not only the illegitimate daughter of Wang Jun but also the granddaughter of the legendary (infamous) former head of military, General Wang Zhen! General Wang Zhen 王震 (1908-1993) was head of the provincial government in Xinjiang from 1950-1952. Wang was so deeply trusted by Mao that he was the only military man allowed to carry his pistol when seeing Mao. While governing Xinjiang, Wang Zhen had once proposed to Mao that the minorities should be exterminated.
After, Guo Mei Mei was sentenced to 5 years in prison for opening a casino in 2014, all newspapers in China, without exception, covered the story. Some cynics saw it as an attempt to distract the public from questions about Wang Jun’s dealings with the Red Cross or that mysterious Red Cross-related company.
In July 2019, Guo Meimei was released from prison. This time, however, the mainstream media seemed to have sidelined her. The picture of her wearing a black dress and a black skirt and walking out of Hunan Women ’s Prison in a low-key manner appeared online. Netizens were cruel as usual, commented about how ugly and rounded her face looked.
What will the future of 30-something Guo Mei Mei be like? Will she fade into oblivion, become a low-profile billionaire or return to social media as a philanthropist? Meanwhile, Wang Jun has been completely forgotten.
A Hong Kong school has apologised after a teacher gave incorrect information to pupils during an online lesson on the first opium war, the 19th century conflict which resulted in China ceding Hong Kong Island to Britain.
The Education Bureau said the teacher’s retelling of the hostilities was “obviously untrue and unacceptable”, adding it would investigate the incident.
A video circulating on social media platforms this week showed a teacher, believed to be from Ho Lap Primary School in Tsz Wan Shan, telling a class that the conflict – which erupted in 1840 – was the result of Britain’s attempt to ban opium smoking in China.
In the three-minute video, the teacher said: “Britain wanted to attack China in an attempt to ban smoking … Because Britain had found back then many people in China were smoking and the problem was really serious.
“Therefore, they [Britain] initiated the opium war so as to destroy these items called opium.”
Fake history? So what’s real? The Opium War happened some 180 years ago and there is only one country that still keeps talking about it. There is hence only one official narrative that is being repeated over and over again. Condemnation for the Hong Kong teacher has been fast and furious. One particularly serious accusation I’ve come across was 认贼作父 or taking a thief/villain for a father. Coming from a Singaporean, I’m not sure if he was just echoing the views of his cronies from China, but referring to the British as thieves or villains is indeed overly simplistic in this case.
No, the British navy did not invade China in 1840 because they wanted to stop opium smoking. That teacher in Hong Kong certainly got it wrong, but she was not that far off. Surprised? Well, the first people in China to call for a ban on opium smoking were not the Chinese people themselves but the Christian missionaries. Yes, they were British.
Let’s go back a little. Although Emperor Qianlong adopted an arrogant and unyielding attitude towards Westerners, he died 1799. During the early 1800s, Canton finally opened up and became the only port which was allowed to trade with Europe. A relatively small trading district was established and Western traders were only allowed to stay there during the trading season (sail-powered ships from Europe only arrived at certain times of the year). At other times, British traders had to reside in the Portuguese colony of Macao.
The trading district in Canton was easily the most prosperous in Canton if not in China. Factory buildings housed offices, living quarters and warehouses, all managed by local businessmen, providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers. Contrary to popular belief, the flourishing trade in Canton enriched many Chinese people. Chinese merchant 伍秉鉴 Wu Bingjian became a leading merchant in Canton even though he was from Quanzhou, Fujian. Operating under the name of Houqua “浩官”（pronounced haoguan in Mandarin) Wu is believed to be the richest man in China and possibly even the world at that time.
In Canton, foreign traders brought in textiles, cotton, furs – all of which were not in really great demand in China. In return, the British got tea and silk which were in very high demand in Europe and America. To fill this gap, British traders had to buy tea and silk with silver. Back then, China was the largest silver importer in the world. But as the demand for tea kept growing, the British began to run out of silver. They had to come up with another commodity, something that the Chinese couldn’t resist – opium.
While it was illegal to trade in opium in China, enforcement was virtually non-existent. As tons of opium were unloaded in Canton, wealthy Manchu officials quickly snapped it up. With ample supplies, the habit soon reached the masses. It became a favourite recreational drug. For decades before and up to a century after the Opium War, opium smoking was well tolerated in China. The legendary Ip Man was an opium smoker.
The demand for opium soon equalled the demand for tea. The trade deficit was closed in 1828. From then on, it was the Chinese who started paying for opium with silver. Things hit a snag circa 1839 when the country ran out of silver. Why was it such a concern for the Chinese government? That’s because there were two currencies in use in China back then – copper coins 铜钱 and silver taels 银两. As silver got depleted, you would need more copper coins to exchange for a silver tael. Most citizens used only copper coins in daily transactions, but land taxes had to be paid to the government in silver taels. Many landlords had to cough out a lot more copper coins to pay for their land taxes. This had immense sociopolitical implications at a time when the White Lotus Sect was causing civil unrest.
All this while, many Christian missionaries had been fighting for the ban on opium smoking without success (even though some saw opium ships as excellent vehicles for smuggling bibles). The preachers faced strong opposition from Chinese society, with many arguing that smoking opium was a Chinese tradition that foreigners had no right to question or criticise. In the end, it was not moral consciousness that made the Chinese act against opium trade. It was economic and political necessity that finally drove the government crackdown.
Today, the honour for fighting the opium trade goes to 林则徐. And for good reason. Lin was a no-nonsense bureaucrat who was ruthlessly efficient. In 1839, Emperor Daoguang 道光皇帝 （爱新觉罗绵宁）commissioned Lin to wage a war against opium. Lin took his task seriously. Perhaps a little too seriously. Opium merchants received a letter from him.
“We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. The purpose of your ships in coming to China is to realize a large profit. Since this profit is realized in China and is in fact taken away from the Chinese people, how can foreigners return injury for the benefit they have received by sending this poison to harm their benefactors?
They may not intend to harm others on purpose, but the fact remains that they are so obsessed with material gain that they have no concern whatever for the harm they can cause to others. Have they no conscience? I have heard that you strictly prohibit opium in your own country, indicating unmistakably that you know how harmful opium is. You do not wish opium to harm your own country, but you choose to bring that harm to other countries such as China. Why?
The products that originate from China are all useful items. They are good for food and other purposes and are easy to sell. Has China produced one item that is harmful to foreign countries? For instance, tea and rhubarb are so important to foreigners’ livelihood that they have to consume them every day. Were China to concern herself only with her own advantage without showing any regard for other people’s welfare, how could foreigners continue to live?
I have heard that the areas under your direct jurisdiction such as London, Scotland, and Ireland do not produce opium; it is produced instead in your Indian possessions such as Bengal, Madras, Bombay, Patna, and Malwa. In these possessions the English people not only plant opium poppies that stretch from one mountain to another but also open factories to manufacture this terrible drug.
As months accumulate and years pass by, the poison they have produced increases in its wicked intensity, and its repugnant odor reaches as high as the sky. Heaven is furious with anger, and all the gods are moaning with pain! It is hereby suggested that you destroy and plow under all of these opium plants and grow food crops instead, while issuing an order to punish severely anyone who dares to plant opium poppies again.
A murderer of one person is subject to the death sentence; just imagine how many people opium has killed! This is the rationale behind the new law which says that any foreigner who brings opium to China will be sentenced to death by hanging or beheading. Our purpose is to eliminate this poison once and for all and to the benefit of all mankind.“
Lin Ze Xu
Being a patient of Dr Peter Parker (Lin suffered from hernia), the letter reproduced above, was almost certainly written by the American. Instead of hitting the opium dens, Lin decided to go for the jugular. He arrested all Chinese opium dealers in Canton. He confiscated opium stocks from European merchants and dumped them into the sea.
Meanwhile in London, the war drums were sounded. Parliament debated on the pros and cons of invading China. Some warn of the dangers. Others suggested a treaty. The decision was not unanimous, but in June 1840, the British navy sailed into Canton. It was an uneven battle. The British pummeled the Chinese and emerged victorious, killing about 3,000 Chinese people in the process. The Treaty of Nanking was pushed before the Chinese. More ports had to be opened up and trade restrictions had to be lifted. The British not only seized Hong Kong, they even demanded for compensation for their losses in the war. China was thoroughly humiliated but its richest man “Houquan” footed the bill.
Today, the British are often portrayed as villains in this conflict. Lin Zexu who suffered from the dirty trick No. 11 of 李代桃僵 (if you’ve read my book) is regarded a hero. Statues and memorials of this courageous and principled man can be found all over China, Taiwan and even Chinatowns in America. Chinese society today also takes a very dim view of opium. Nobody will say that it’s a tradition that foreigners have no right to criticise anymore.
But by now, you shouldn’t be surprised that in the aftermath of the Opium War, Lin Zexu was made a scapegoat. All fingers (in China) pointed at him as his immoderate actions on the foreign drug dealers were blamed for starting the war. Emperor Daoguang had Lin dismissed and even exiled him to Xinjiang. Lin’s career was destroyed by his own people. While the Opium War killed about 3,000 Chinese people, civil unrest before and after the war started by various cults and gangs directly or indirectly caused the death of millions of Chinese people.
It makes us wonder whether those who criticised the Hong Kong teacher for 认贼作父 understand who the real 贼 are.