Made for the “Subjects” article by Evan Fowler for Mekong Review
Hong Kong was not a democratic colony,’ writes Mark L. Clifford, ‘but it was a free city. This was the issue in 1982, and it remains the issue today.’
There are few people better placed than Clifford to tell the story of the regression of Hong Kong’s freedoms under Beijing’s rule. A former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post and executive director of the Asia Business Council, he was one of the most respected and well-connected journalists in town. Unusually for someone with such establishment credentials, he was also, between 2018 and its forced closure in 2021, a board member of Next Media, the owner of the Chinese language Apple Daily. He is, in other words, an insider.
Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily was not simply an openly pro-democracy paper. It was a Hong Kong Chinese paper. Its popularity was due not only to its political stance—connecting with a group of people who were, or are, the children of refugees from Communist China—it was also the first and only mainstream paper to write Cantonese as it is spoken, adopting its specific terms and phrases. The distinction was lost on most non-native journalists in Hong Kong, let alone business executives. But, as Clifford understood, identity mattered. Continue