I read in the daily press that China is squeezing the last drop of freedom from Hong Kong, a city I have always loved. I first visited Hong Kong in 1962 as a respite from working in South Vietnam, trying to find a way to save the Vietnamese from the communists commanded by North Vietnam. Over the next thirteen years, as I struggled without letup in my efforts along with other Americans to thwart the North Vietnamese conquest—and ultimately failed—I sought rest and recuperation as often as I could in Hong Kong, the gracious city whose name, 香港, pronounced Syang Gang in Mandarin and rendered as Hương Cảnh in Vietnamese, means “Perfumed Harbor.”
The people of island city of Hong Kong were gracious and welcoming. They were charmed by my efforts to speak their language which ultimately failed because I spoke the Mandarin dialect, now called gwo yu ( 國語—“national language”) by the Chinese Communist Party, whereas the local dialect was Cantonese. They could understand me, but they spoke a heavily accented version of gwo yu which I couldn’t decipher.
In those days, Hong Kong was an international commercial center renowned for its lack of barriers to outsiders. It had its own government, distinct and free from the communist dictatorship of the mainland. It was a place to shop for duty-free bargains. I still own and listen to daily the two huge Wharfdale stereo speakers—nearly three feet high, more than a foot deep, and over two feet wide, so heavy that I can’t lift them—that were designed and engineered in Britain but manufactured in China. Among the many other bargains I got there is the green and white marble chess set and playing board I’ve blogged about here.
The old Hong Kong is no more. The Chinese Communist Party has arrested dozens of local politicians. Free speech is a thing of the past. I’m sure the marvels of the city—among them the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, Victoria Peak, the elaborate temples, Repulse Bay—remain. But the open cordial demeanor of the residents has undoubtedly been replaced with the enforced and rigid courtesy so typical of tyrannies.
The congenial island city is gone forever.