China Policy Institute: Analysis


Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s clouded future

Written by Mark Beeson.

As the world struggles to come to terms with the potentially monumental geopolitical changes Donald Trump’s election threatens to unleash, it’s easy to lose sight of the fate of the small fry. Few places epitomise what’s at stake in the evolving international order better than Hong Kong. Continue reading “Hong Kong’s clouded future”

Tony Leung: Hong Kong Talent in China’s Film Industry

Written by Mark Gallagher.

Since the early 1980s, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai has been one of Hong Kong’s most prolific talents. While Leung’s acting output slowed in the 2000s, his work on collaborative productions, particularly in mainland China, offers insights into Chinese film-industry practices and suggests strategies successful film workers have used to navigate that fast-growing industry. Continue reading “Tony Leung: Hong Kong Talent in China’s Film Industry”

Johnnie To, Hong Kong cinema and the mainland

Written by Yiu-wai Chu.

Billed as the film to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong production company Milkyway Image, action film Three (2016) marks the return of director Johnnie To to his signature gangster movie after Drug War (2013), the first gangster film he shot entirely in Mainland China. The famous director and the company he co-founded in 1996 are walking a fine line between Mainland China and Hong Kong: For staunch supporters of To and Milkyway Image, his unexpected interim project, the stage-to-screen musical Office (2015), had just been another Mainland movie in order to “walk with two legs”: using commercial films such as rom-com Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011) to support the production company’s unique brand of “action thriller meets art-house cinema.” Two years earlier, his 50th film Drug War had seen mixed reviews in Hong Kong. I have argued elsewhere that this was due “the untranslatability of Milkyway-cum-Hong Kong flavour that distinguished To from other Hong Kong directors, who were assimilated into the Mainland market as a simple mélange.” Straddling their home turf and the highly profitable Mainland market, To and Milkyway Image may be emblematic of challenges faced by Hong Kong cinema more widely – and of ways to tackle them. Continue reading “Johnnie To, Hong Kong cinema and the mainland”

“New” Cross-Border Crime between Hong Kong and China

Written by Sonny Lo.

Since the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, cross-border crimes have surfaced repeatedly. Mainland Chinese have been involved in illegal activities in Hong Kong, including drug trafficking, cross-border prostitution, human smuggling, and even attempted kidnapping of a few wealthy people. On the other hand, Hong Kong citizens have committed criminal offences on the mainland, such as triads, which have recruited mainland members, and promoted office bearers in Shenzhen.
Continue reading ““New” Cross-Border Crime between Hong Kong and China”

Is Chairman Xi taking China back to the Cultural Revolution?

Written by Jackie Sheehan.

Before considering today’s parallels with the Cultural Revolution, first let’s deal with the characterization of China’s current leader as Xi Zedong, or if you prefer, Mao Jinping. Accusations of a Xi personality cult are accumulating, and incidents like last month’s poetic outpouring by Xinhua News deputy director Pu Liye provide compelling evidence. Inspired by Xi’s visit to the newsroom, Pu, with “fingers burning on [his] cellphone”, invoked in verse the “admiring gaze” of Xinhua staff at their departing leader’s back as he “march[es] on with vigorous steps and rising head.”

It was natural that Mao’s “little red soldiers”, teenagers brought up to worship the Great Helmsman and with no access to alternate realities, might be overcome with emotion in his presence at the great Tiananmen Square Red Guard rallies in autumn 1966, and might even be moved to write embarrassingly gushing odes to mark the occasion, but it is less obvious what the excuse is for Pu, who from his job title we must assume is a competent adult.

Personality cults, however, are usually launched by someone other than their subject – starting your own, like choosing your own nickname, never quite sticks. For Xi himself to have instructed the People’s Daily to pepper its front page with a record number of mentions of his name is as unlikely as his having personally chosen the cute-yet-sinister “Xi Dada” appellation (“Uncle Xi” – at least whoever came up with it had the wit to avoid “Big Brother”) for the promotion of a folksy, down-to-earth image.

Xi does exercise personal control over every committee that matters in Zhongnanhai, but they still seem to be properly constituted committees that meet regularly, so this is not a Stalinist by-passing of normal lines of command by a charismatic leader overriding the principles of collective leadership. As Kerry Brown has pointed out in these pages, there is no evidence that Xi faced opposition from party comrades to the concentration of power in his hands that has occurred, or even that it was his idea originally.

More convincing than an individual power grab is the idea of a project of, as Matthew Johnson’s post has it, “re-building and re-legitimizing the party through the figure of Xi.” If this is to succeed, then clearly Xi’s leadership and conduct cannot be called into question, hence Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo’s TV interview urging his former industry to shut down its production of unofficial Xi commentary. Lee and two other Hong Kong detainees in the Gui Minhai case have all briefly appeared back in the SAR to warn the local police off further investigation, with Lee insisting on his freedom even while using the code that it was “not convenient” to disclose who was waiting outside the Phoenix TV studios to drive him directly back to the mainland.

The latest round of disappearances in China has also been sparked by an unwanted intervention in the Xi leadership debate, this time an open letter calling on Xi to resign supposedly written by “loyal CCP members.” It was published on an overseas website and then briefly, possibly unintentionally, appeared on the Wujie News website. 20 people had gone missing in connection with this letter at the time of writing, though most seem unlikely to have had anything to do with its writing or publication.

The first to vanish was journalist Jia Jia, detained at Beijing airport where he was due to board a flight to Hong Kong on 17 March. He had previously told friends he believed he was under investigation and might be detained, but he is clearly not one of the letter’s authors, as they “experienced the Cultural Revolution”, which had finished before Jia was born. Possibly his detention was simply because he had contacted Wujie News’ editor to ask about the letter and because he’s one of the usual suspects of the still-critical, non-Xi-worshipping Chinese media; at any rate, he has now been released.

The letter speaks of Xi’s concentration of powers in his own hands as leading to “unprecedented problems and crises in all political, economic, ideological, and cultural spheres”, and accuses him of “stunning the country” with further restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s hard to deny that we are back to early-70s levels of repression, persecution, and the proliferation of forms of arbitrary detention, all the more sinister second time around for being carried out with the full support of the law, as in the provision for detainees to be held away from home under “house arrest” which effectively legalized the disappearance without charge or trial of inconvenient people.

So if we are being taken back to the Cultural Revolution, it is definitely to the years 1969-76, as in the first three years of the movement, at times the most radical Red Guards were free to urge their peers to “doubt everything”, even to “doubt Chairman Mao.” It was precisely this brief taste of freedom early on that made them feel the backlash so acutely as the most radical groups became the first to be suppressed.

Mao’s personality cult eventually developed its own antidote as his 180-degree turns broke the spell over some of his most loyal followers, and once they lost faith in him, they gained the useful habit of questioning all authority. As the “Thinking generation,” some former Red Guards continued their activism past 1976 to help found China’s indigenous human-rights movement – it never was a foreign import.

Given this background, it was natural that the key demand of the subsequent Democracy Wall movement (1978-81) was for the ruling party itself to be brought within the law, so that citizens’ rights could be enforced rather than being in the gift of those in power. This still has not happened, and although Xi’s anti-corruption campaign might enable him to claim he will put “good bureaucrats” in charge of the system, that wasn’t enough for Democracy Wall, so why should it be enough 35 years later?

For Xi to establish Constitution Day and hold a party plenum on the rule of law can only be a standing provocation to dissent when in reality it is harder than at any point for the past 40 years for China’s citizens to speak, write, assemble, organize, associate, or worship as they wish.

Jackie Sheehan is a professor and Head of the School of Asian Studies at University College Cork. Image credit: CC by GovernmentZA/Flickr.

Unreliable evidence in the case of the missing Hong Kong booksellers

Written by Jackie Sheehan.

So, the Chinese authorities – you remember them, they’re the people who had absolutely no idea what had happened to five missing booksellers and publishers from Hong Kong, and certainly had nothing to do with their disappearance – have now paraded Gui Minhai on television confessing that he went back to China of his own accord last October, stricken with guilt at having left the country 11 years ago in contravention of the terms of a suspended jail sentence he received for causing death while drunk-driving in Ningbo.

He ran then, he explained in his emotional confession, because he was so afraid of going to jail. It’s not the most logical series of events: having received a suspended sentence, he was so afraid of prison that he immediately broke one of the main terms of the suspension that was keeping him out of prison. And then, having escaped from China, in order to lie low and do his utmost to avoid attracting Beijing’s attention, he set up a publishing company specialising in books about the CCP leadership such as Yu Jie’s Xi Jinping, China’s Godfather, using the same name (more or less) under which he was supposedly convicted in Ningbo in 2003.

Two friends of Gui, poet Bei Ling and publisher Jin Zhong, have said they had heard that Gui had been involved in a fatal drink-driving incident in China in 2003, but for everyone else, the credibility of his supposed confession has not been helped by crude continuity errors in the film shown by CCTV, with Gui’s hair changing length and his undershirt switching from grey to black and back again. There are also discrepancies between an original Xinhua report on the fatal accident from April 2005, which gives Gui’s age as 46, and current Xinhua and CCTV statements that he was born in May 1964, and so was aged only 40 in April 2005. The Min in his given name is also represented by a different character in the Ningbo records and in Hong Kong references to him.

But there’s no need to spin conspiracy theories about events in Ningbo more than a decade ago, as they clearly have nothing whatever to do with the real reasons for Gui’s detention and that of four or his colleagues from Hong Kong. In another well-timed letter from detainee Lee Bo to his wife in Hong Kong, Lee has revealed that he has only just found out that Gui “has a complicated history” and is “a morally unacceptable person”, so it’s hard to see what he could add to the evidence in a case he’s only just heard of and which was settled more than ten years ago. Nor does it explain why Lee had to be taken over the border to Shenzhen to help with enquiries, or why the three other associates of Lee and Gui are still missing and unacknowledged as guests at Xi Jinping’s pleasure.

Conveniently enough for Beijing, Gui also used the opportunity of his televised confession to try to wave away the Swedish authorities who, due to his Swedish passport, have been investigating his disappearance. Fortunately they regard his citizenship as more relevant in strictly legal terms than the deep sense of being Chinese which he claimed, under what duress we can imagine, properly brings him under Beijing’s jurisdiction, and continue to seek clarification as to his whereabouts. His daughter, Angela Gui, also has no intention of letting up on her efforts to secure her father legal representation.

But it’s not easy to find a good lawyer on the mainland these days. Pu Zhiqiang’s three-year suspended jail term looks less like leniency for a high-profile figure than it does a way of exercising complete control. As others noted as soon as Pu’s fate was announced, this is exactly how the ordeal of his fellow lawyer and rights-defender Gao Zhisheng started. As Gao was repeatedly disappeared into detention and brutally tortured, so the Chinese authorities denied all knowledge of where he was, right up until the moment they returned him to prison days before the period of suspension expired. It’s a worrying precedent for the missing men from Hong Kong.

In the crackdown which since last July has seen 317 lawyers or law-firm employees detained, taken in for questioning, or having other restrictions placed on their liberty, the Fengrui legal firm in Beijing has been a particular target. Ten of its staff, including Wang Yu, are now facing serious criminal charges under state-subversion legislation following up to six months of detention, mostly incommunicado and without legal representation. Three more staff who are supposed to be out on bail also remain incommunicado.

Meanwhile in Shandong, lawyer Shu Xiangxin has been jailed for six months ostensibly for defamation, but actually, most believe, because of his investigation into links between Jinan officials and organized crime as part of his work on a land dispute. While in detention he was reportedly punched, dragged across the floor, left in the cold with inadequate clothing, and suspended by a handcuff from an iron bar for eight hours, as well as being denied medical treatment, food, water or access to a toilet.

It’s no great surprise that these cases continue to occur given China’s official response to questions before a UN committee in November 2015 about the disappearance and torture of Gao Zhisheng and many other lawyers: “The ‘report’ about the incommunicado detention of some ‘dissidents’ for more than three months and about the ‘torture’ they have suffered is not true.” Three years earlier, the torturers of lawyer Jiang Tianyong put it equally directly but with greater candour to him: “Here we can do things in accordance to law. We can also do things not in accordance to law, because we are allowed to do things not in accordance to law.”

Jackie Sheehan is a professor and Head of the School of Asian Studies at University College Cork. Image credit: CC by 黃埔體育會/Flickr

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: