My fellow ‘cellmate’|Michelle Ng

Published (HKT): 2020.10.10 09:38

In the eyes of the prison authorities in Dalian, it wasn’t enough to lock up this woman who had dared to launch a complaint against the cadres in her hometown. To instill the full terror of the state in her, they ordered her cellmates to rough her up. This the female prisoners happily complied with, so desperate they were to unleash their long-suppressed rage at the injustices they had suffered on a target more helpless than themselves. They broke four of her ribs.

Unlike most Carrie Lam haters in Hong Kong - they detest her through and through for her zeal to carry out the CCP’s orders - my loathing for her is more nuanced, tempered by my realization that, minus the trappings of her office, she occupies the same limbo position as those prisoners-turned-goons in Dalian.

My personal history has a hand in tipping me off to her entrapment. Having once been the company secretary of a mainland company charged with helping CCP expand its influence overseas - I was never privy to the decision making process, was simply their messenger to the outside world - I can' help but feel I have privileged access to the inner sanctum of Lam’s mind.

Every time Lam does the CCP’s bidding, I wonder whether she struggles as I once did: when I was working under mainlanders who were part of the CCP system, I always dreaded the occasions when they briefed me on what to say to outsiders. Invariably, while acting as their mouthpiece my sense of decency would be breached. I’d feel like this hostess of a banquet I’d once read about: when she realizes to her horror that one of her guests is gulping down the contents of his finger bowl - he thinks the lemon water is meant for drinking - she forces herself to drink from her finger bowl too, to pretend that this is normal and shield him from his faux pas.

On the basis of a vignette of how Lam was like 30 years ago, I’m convinced that Lam still has a sense of decency to breach. According to the veteran Hong Kong journalist Johnny Lau (劉銳紹), in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre - back then Lam was still a mid-level civil servant - he and Lam were discussing a public figure in Hong Kong who had mysteriously turned pro-Beijing when, in an unguarded moment, Lam exclaimed “what drove him to change so drastically?” (Lau’s anecdote on Lam starts at 1:30:20)

Put aside for now the irony that since pushing the extradition law last year, in both behaviour and appearance Lam has come to resemble the “Butcher of Beijing” Li Peng (李鵬)more and more.

People just don’t transition from where Lam was three decades ago to where she is today without being consumed by shame in secret.

Indeed, Lam’s facade as a hardliner has cracked frequently enough to indicate that she is conscious of her culpability and shamed by it. Grilled by Reuters on whether she had the autonomy to withdraw the extradition bill, she blinked uncontrollably and steadfastly refused to say yes or no;

Right before declaring to the Financial Times that she found " President Xi more and more charismatic and admirable," she forestalled accusations of shoe-shining by admitting “you may say that it’s shoe-shining”; she insisted to the BBC “I’m no puppet of Beijing”, insisted in a local televised interview that she is “no betrayer of Hong Kong”; and she told a group of business people concerned about the protests that her government’s battle to impose its version of truth on Hong Kong people is the “weakest link,” only to add “I dare not say (my) government carries out propaganda, but at least in terms of (the) dissemination of factual information we are very, very weak.”

I quickly became tired of keeping a straight face while dying from the drink-from-finger-bowl level of embarrassment inside, so I resigned from my company secretary job; I was able to do so without incident, for the company weighed little in CCP’s overall plan to conquer the world, and at any rate I was too junior to matter. Lam, in contrast, doesn’t have the luxury to leave; she has in effect confessed that she’s still here because the CCP is not letting her quit. And now that she has been sanctioned by the U.S., she really has no choice but to throw her lot with the CCP. She is therefore a menace to Hong Kong because she no longer has any reservations about being the butcher of Hong Kong.

Rights activist Wu Jianmin (吳建民), who was imprisoned in mainland for 10 years after taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, has this to say about the prisoners who yield to the prison’s command to turn on their cellmates: “they were probably once persecuted by the CCP, but within the four walls of their cell they immediately obey the CCP like a dog.”. If there’s one contribution Lam has made to Hong Kong, it is to let the anti-CCP camp see the workings of the regime in greater clarity: by dint of its cunning in manipulating human frailty - in tapping into the reptilian brain that we all have and fanning primitive desires like greed and fear - the CCP has been able to not only gobble Hong Kong but also extend its reach to the four corners of the earth.

(Michelle Ng (吳若琦) is an independent bilingual writer based in Hong Kong. Her blog is https://michellengwritings.com, and she can be reached at michelle.ng@gmail.com)

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