Why Going Viral Was a Source of Fear for One Hong Kong Citizen Journalist

Screen capture of Hung Lai Fong's article on inmediahk.net that gives her panic attack.

Screen capture of Hung Lai Fong's article on inmediahk.net, which she says makes her feel panicked.

Since the beginning of the protests demanding an open nomination system of candidates for Hong Kong's top leaders, a large number of anti-government protesters and netizens have been prosecuted. The Chinese government has blocked hundreds of them from entering China for fear that they would bring the protests to mainland. “White terror” is sweeping the city, so much so that critical voices are worried that they will be prosecuted like others under the computer crimes law or banned from going to mainland China.

Hung Lai Fong, a newly registered writer at citizen media platform inmediahk.net, recounts her panic at seeing her article go viral on social media in a follow-up post for inmediahk.net. The Chinese-language post was published on November 24, 2014, and translated into English by Cheung Choi Wan.

This was how it started. I assumed that when you post an article on inmediahk.net, you must use your real name because when I read the articles written by Ho Kit Wang, Tang Man Lam and Ip Iam Chong, their names always appeared in full, and other articles published also had names of organizations and groups. That was why when I registered on the platform I used my real name, which is a very ordinary and old fashioned Chinese name.

I shared the link of my article on Facebook because I wanted to share with my friends the progress, however small, I had made in my dream of writing. My friends were all very kind. They expressed their support and told me to keep it up. Once, inmediahk.net quoted a line I wrote about myself when they distributed my article on Facebook. People forwarded the articles with the quote and their own comments. The article then went viral and I started receiving comments through WhatsApp.

The first thing people talked about when I met them was that quote of mine introducing myself: “I came to Hong Kong when I was 8 and I am now 23.” Up until this point, I was still rather elated because as a writer, you are glad that people are actually reading your work. Then a friend commented, “You are courageous. You disclosed your name in full and even circulated it on Facebook. Don’t forget, don't try going to the mainland in the near future. XD” The smile on my face stiffened immediately. A second later, I smiled and said nonchalantly, “I’ve only written an article. It’s no big deal.”

But then countless headlines crossed my mind: recently, a low-profile volunteer for student activist group Scholarism and a flight attendant who were among the arrested on July 2 at a sit-in protest were not allowed to enter the mainland; the cabinet running for CityU Student Union’s election was threatened [for their critical political stance]; a number of people had been arrested for dishonest use of computers… Okay, I know you think I’m exaggerating but from that moment on, my fleeting happiness was overshadowed by a sense of uneasiness. I woke up all of a sudden and wondered whether this was what people called “white terror.”

“White terror” is frightening not because what you fear has come true. Its terror lies in its power to instill fear and to intimidate you, and then… and then you stop right in your tracks. You start to self-censor and hold back and end up not doing anything anymore. To tell the truth, I actually looked at inmediahk.net’s webpage immediately and, lo and behold, many people posted their articles without giving their real name! There was no rule that you must publish your FULL NAME! In that instance, I cowardly wanted to change my name but found that I didn’t have the user permissions to amend the information!

Now the article is still on inmediahk.net and nothing has changed. I did not listen to pro-Beijing civic group leader Chow Yung’s advice to try crossing the border and see if I were able to enter. I was actually thinking, should I continue to write or not? When you read this, you may think, “Is she stupid? It’s such a minor thing and she worries so much. Who would know about her, anyway…” or “Why are you such a coward?!” I remember someone defending themselves after breaking into the Hong Kong Legislative Council building, saying, we are not student leader Joshua Wong, nor are we Alex Chow or Lester Shum or the three spokesmen of the Occupy Central protests. No one would pay attention if we were arrested. We must protect ourselves and that’s why we wear masks, and we won’t sit there waiting to be arrested.

Actually I don’t quite agree with this argument. Before now, few people knew Wong, Chow, Shum and the three Occupy Central spokesmen, but when they fought against the National Education Curriculum, called for a strike or organized Occupy Central, they never wore masks (except when they were sick.) They won their fame with their actions and courage. For me, breaking into the building of the Legislative Council was not a problem. What was unacceptable was stealing away while telling people to go into the building after you broke into it. Now what I want to say is that most people are timid (if you are not, you have my true admiration.)

Apart from a small number of people who have a strong sense of mission, most people do not want to make sacrifices and do not want their life disturbed. They do not want to lose all they have for an unknown future. Fear can be infinite — never mind how irrational it might be. This is the reality. We must acknowledge that this may be the reason why some Hong Kong people do not support the movement. Please do not reprimand them for being selfish. Every person has his or her own way of thinking and his or her own concerns. There’s no point in criticizing others from a higher moral ground. What we must do is to help them realize the significance of the Umbrella Movement.

By the time you are reading this sentence here, you must be wondering, “Why are you writing when you are so afraid?” I would have to talk about my other identity. Apart from the fact that “I came to Hong Kong when I was 8 and I am now 23 years old,” I have gone to church for the last nine years. […] As a Christian, I am very moved by the Umbrella Movement. I would talk about this whenever there is the opportunity. However, I must say that had I not been a Christian, I think I would have chosen to close my eyes and stay in my comfort zone.

With so many people in this world, why the hell should I stand up? In psychology, there is a very professional term for this phenomenon or way of thinking — “the bystander effect.” To put it simply, the more people there are, the less responsibility one feels. One is therefore least motivated to act. However, I believe in Jesus and the Bible tells us that we must act justly and love mercy. Jesus taught us to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven and not hold onto our possessions on earth. He was always on the side of the poor and the weak… […]

I have no choice. Either I leave the church or I grit my teeth and walk with Him. It is time to put on the helmet again. I don’t mean that everyone has to fight on the front line, but you cannot turn your face away from injustice and do nothing. […]

Because of all the reasons mentioned above, you will still see me posting articles under my real name, which is absolutely old-fashioned. It is not that I do not have fear, but I have to do what I must do. And please give up the idea of “one more is not many, one less is not noticeable.”

If you could, please do something for the Umbrella Movement in any way you can. For example, I don’t have the hardiness, the sacrifice or the means to go to the occupy sites every day. I have started to go to class again. However, I can study the Umbrella Movement in school projects and bring the movement into the campus. I can also write. Some people choose to write songs, paint, take photos, go into the community, spread the messages. There are innumerable things that can be done, so please do not lose heart and do not give up. You have many fellow travelers. I will always remember the night in the Citizen Square. It was a long night and I was very afraid, but after daybreak, more and more people arrived at the square to show their support. We no longer felt that we were alone and our hearts were warmed.

Let us pray for the dawn.

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