As those who care about such matters take a moment to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an incident in Hong Kong on Monday was a reminder of just how fragile freedom is, of how vulnerable it is to those who would cage it for their own selfish interests.
Just as he was leaving his office in Hong Kong’s Chai Wan district, Chen Ping (陳平), the 58-year-old billionaire publisher of the political weekly iSun Affairs, was assaulted by two baton-wielding thugs in their 20s or 30s, sustaining injuries to his head, arms and chest, and requiring hospitalization. An investigation has been launched and it is not known who was behind the attack, but one can guess.
Just 12 when the Cultural Revolution was unleashed upon China, Chen was beaten and detained for comparing former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) — the architect of the madness — to an “emperor” and a “tyrant.” He was also branded the offspring of a “Soviet revisionist rebel” after his father, a military expert within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was captured by Soviet forces. After being “rehabilitated,” Chen worked as a businessman and as a researcher at a government policy think tank, but left all that after the events at Tiananmen in 1989.
He once said in an interview that those experiences had a strong influence on his desire to promote democratic change in China, and were behind his decision last year to launch iSun Affairs, which quickly built a reputation as a hard-hitting critic of Beijing and of the self-censorship that now haunts Hong Kong media as it courts the rich and powerful in Beijing (the weekly will turn into an online-only monthly publication later this year).
Needless to say, the weekly, which is also distributed in Taiwan, Macau and Malaysia, is banned in China, as is Chen’s TV channel, Sun TV. An issue of the magazine in December last year, which showed the heart-wrenching scene of a Tibetan man setting himself ablaze, highlighted the extent to which Chen was willing to criticize the Chinese government. His reporters, some of whom are veteran journalists based in China, have faced harassment by state security authorities, and his chief editor was denied a visa to work in Hong Kong.
June 3, about 6pm, and Chen is assailed. A coincidence, or a random act? Perhaps, but given how China treats — or mistreats, that is — freedom of expression, one can be forgiven for assuming the worst: that the attack was politically motivated and an attempt to silence a man of means who stands up to the CCP.
It is a stark reminder, one day ahead of the anniversary of the state-sponsored atrocity, that the CCP and its cronies in the much freer territory will stop at nothing to muzzle those who refuse to be co-opted and who continue to fight for liberty, freedom and the democracy that has long eluded the Chinese.
As Taiwan continues to deepen its interactions with China, its freedom-loving people must keep a close eye on what goes on in places like Hong Kong and China, as the fate of individuals like Chen is, like it or not, increasingly tied to that of each and every one of the 23 million Taiwanese. Twenty-four years after Tiananmen, the butchers of Beijing, as one former US president once referred to them, remain relentless in their willingness to crush dissent both at home and, increasingly, in the near-abroad.