Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clear and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow, forever
Bless my homeland forever.
The song Edelweiss came from the musical “The Sound of Music”, where Captain von Trapp sang the song at a Festival concert prior to fleeing an Austria that had been annexed by Nazi Germany. The concert had a number of German officials attending, and was heavily guarded by Nazi soldiers, who were ordered to escort the Captain to his post in the German Navy after his performance; so when the Captain began his song, and upon looking at the audience with their stony-faced demeanour, he gradually lost his words and voice as the music played until his wife Maria and children came to his side in support. Boosted in confidence by his family, he urged the audience to join him in the song that told of their love for Austria; however, everyone remained silent for a time until a couple and a few others joined in while others remained silent, afraid of the Nazi presence at the concert. Gradually, more audience became emboldened and joined in singing the song, in defiance of the Nazis.
In Hong Kong, there is a growing defiance against China and its annexation of Hong Kong. Whereas the von Trapp family sang their song Edelweiss to defy the Germans, some Hong Kongers chose to boo China’s national anthem as it is played as Hong Kong’s anthem, prior to the start of football (soccer) matches. In an earlier article, Political Gallery of Sino-Idioms (3): Ears and Stealing Bells, I had outlined the origin of this act of defiance, which stemmed from a football promotion poster that insulted and offended Hong Kong fans with barely veiled discriminatory remarks. China’s retort at the incident brought on further reaction by Hong Kong’s football fans whereby they continued to boo during the playing of China’s anthem. Ultimately, China legislated the national anthem law to criminalise anyone who insults or does not show reverence to its anthem, and passed the motion to have the law incorporated into Annex III of the Basic Law, a document akin to Hong Kong’s constitution, and declared that Hong Kong must legislate the same law on its own terms due to discrepancies between Hong Kong and China’s legal and political systems. Despite the proposal to legislate a Hong Kong version of China’s national anthem law, football fans in the city-state continued to boo, albeit with less numbers, to which pro-china Maria Tam responded that the proposal had indeed acted as a deterrent for some and the law should be enacted in Hong Kong to halt further attempts to “insult” China’s anthem.
On Passion Times’ morning show, Good Morning Hong Kong, the show hosts were in agreement that continuing to boo China’s anthem has trivialised the act itself, turning what had been an act of defiance with a specified target (the offensive poster) into a pointless farce where even the Hong Kong football team began criticising against the act. However, while listening to the programme I pondered to myself: if we stopped booing, the pro-China forces would hail the national anthem law as a success in achieving its aim, yet if we don’t stop booing we are providing a target for the Chinese forces to further restrict our rights and freedoms, as well as loosing popular support. The latter point could also lead to a well-used pan-democrat argument that further acts of defiance against China would lead to further corrosion of Hong Kong as a free society. So is it a catch-22? A case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t? After some discussions with the show host in concern as well as one of Passion Times’ editor for clarification, it isn’t about whether we do it or not, nor is it about self-censoring to avoid further active corrosion from China, but simply having a point in what we do. In other words, we need to carefully choose our battlefields.
Monkey see, Monkey do
The act of showing defiance during a football match in Hong Kong can be traced back to contentions between Catalonia and Spain, whereby the supporters of the Barcelona team would often display banners that proclaim “Catalonia is not Spain” and showed disrespect for the Spanish. The scene had been viral in Hong Kong, where Hong Kong independence supporters made copycat gestures, such as Yau Wai Ching and Baggio Leung’s unfurling their banner proclaiming “Hong Kong is not China” during their oath swearing ceremony at the Legislative Council. However, the problem began when these Hong Kongers milked it for all its worth to the point of trivialising it, forgetting the original reason why they booed in the first place.
This trivialisation is not new in Hong Kong, for its social activists in general often fall into the same trap over and over again. Back before 2013, left-wing activists (often called leftards) would love to use the song “Do you hear the people sing?” from the musical Les Misérables as the anthem of protest, or make parody versions of it such as the promotional video of Occupy Central to advance the cause for universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s Chief Executive elections. In 2014, pan-democrats and yellow ribbons turned to the song “Under a vast sky” (海闊天空)* instead to promote their Umbrella “Movement” (we say “revolution”), without realising the song was talking about failing to uphold an ideal due to the pressures of reality. Hong Kong localists would often ridicule this misuse of the song by referring to it as “Today, I…” (今天我) **. The other major trivialisation is the abuse of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior’s non-violent resistance and civic disobedience respectively, without considering the type of opponent and situations we are facing in battling against China.
Going back to the scene where Captain von Trapp sang Edelweiss, he had made the point to his audience that in singing the song he is reminding them of their love of Austria and that they are Austrians, not German. The audience also knew that in joining in the song they are in defiance against the Nazis presence within the concert. For the Catalonians from whom Hong Kongers drew inspiration, their agenda for independence had been brewing for some time, where anyone who saw their in-game protests knew why they are doing it. For Hong Kong however, the agenda for independence is new and very much niched where even local Hong Kongers would find it an alien concept much less the rest of the world. For the Catalonians, the act itself is not the end, where as for Hong Kongers mistakenly perceive of booing China’s anthem as an epitome of resistance.
So when Hong Kong football fans first booed China’s national anthem, many people knew the reason why in that it was to avenge the insult from the Chinese football team’s offensive poster, but by seeing the football match as a battlefield in itself, Hong Kongers lost the plot. The whole act of defiance should have ended at the first instance, rather than becoming a knee jerk response to China’s provocations. According to the show hosts for Good Morning Hong Kong, there must be a clear and critical point to our acts of resistance against China, a defined goal to which our acts are only a means to that end. When we borrow from others, we must translate it into a form appropriate to our situation, and not a case of “monkey see, monkey do”.
* The song was sung first by the once highly popular band Beyond.
** The first three words are the opening words to the lyrics.