Some of the most insightful words I’ve heard about greater China came from an eccentric, Little-Edie-esque Hongkonger named Michelle.

The conversation began over aliens.

In the Hong Kong Museum of History, there is a Silk Road exhibition which features artifacts from along the trade route. It all seems very propagandistic; a way for China to brainwash Hong Kong into embracing President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road initiative.

In the midst of this skeptical contemplation, my classmates and I came upon a display with two small statues, described to be “important in alien culture.”

Michelle approached us as we were joking about History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.

“Interesting, yes?”

She wore a classy white wool coat/skirt set with heeled boots and long, red painted nails. My first impression was that she ran the place…

…Then she started to describe to us the many ways in which the CCP has censored all evidence of alien existence from the public sphere.

Her alien argument boiled down to this: the party shuts down any and all avenues of thought which conflict with their intended ideology. Evidence of aliens and UFOs would point people towards seeing “the bigger picture.” As such, the party must hide the evidence as an act of self-preservation.

I’ve always loved talking to people who operate in such a different frame of reality than my own. One of my regular cafe customers this summer could talk for hours about the conspiracies he believed so genuinely to be true; his theories ranged from Lincoln’s faked assassination to the mislabeling of Coca-Cola’s nutrition facts.

But there’s something real and emotional behind Michelle’s theories that points to Hong Kong’s vulnerability under the looming power of the China. The more she talked, the more I could sense her uncertainty over her country’s (or Special Administrative Region’s) future. And the more I believed her. Not so much the ancient alien bit — she made some valid points beyond that.

Michelle told us that she’s Hong Kongese. Absolutely not Chinese. She told us that she has to start waving goodbye to her freedoms as China grows more influential in Hong Kong media and politics. When she said this, we responded empathetically, recognizing how terrifying it must be to hand over your rights like that. She laughed and said, “No, we’ve just become zombies. We don’t have the time to feel like that.”

This may not be true for everyone, but it’s true for Michelle. Loss of democratic freedom is inevitable in this transition back into China. It’s just a matter of when, and how.

Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997, when a joint agreement “transferred the sovereignty” of the colony back to the PRC. Right now, Hong Kong technically runs itself under the principle of “one country, two systems.” But this transitional period of marginal sovereignty will expire 50 years after the transfer, in the year 2047. Already, the CCP is taking political prisoners who resist the party for democracy’s sake. Joshua Wong, 21, was imprisoned for protesting in favor of a 2047 referendum over Hong Kong’s sovereignty.

Despite the imminent transition, Hong Kong is less Chinese than ever. Young Hongkongers, technically raised under Chinese establishment, are even more distanced from Chinese culture and identity than those raised under British rule. Yet, if you pick up a Hong Kong newspaper today, the opinions of the majority are less than obvious. Hong Kong papers tend to censor their content in order to better align with CCP ideology.

The author of “Hong Kong Generation,” Ben Bland, talked with our group about the growing rift between popular opinion and media coverage.

I asked him why he thinks a free press would intentionally limit their own freedoms like that. He said that it tends to start with a cautious editor. They cut one sensitive story, then another, until eventually, writers learn what will print and what won’t. Bland called this self-censorship a “quickly deflating balloon.” There will never be a day when there is a safer platform to discuss the prospect of Hong Kong independence — if anything, it’s growing more dangerous.

If you censor yourself today, what incentive do you have to speak up tomorrow?

This is why Michelle hates WeChat. Due to government surveillance over this popular Chinese social media application, its users can’t post anything with anti-CCP sentiment. The users know what kinds of posts will be removed, so they just don’t post them. It’s self-censorship on individual expression.

Right now, it’s aliens. Next, it could be free speech.

The way things are going, it soon will be. The independence movement is losing speed, and it’s hard to blame anyone for that. (Besides the CCP, of course.) Hongkongers are facing a Leviathan which has already started to take prisoners.

Michelle’s message was admittedly nihilistic, but I think her very existence offers a glimmer of hope.

As long as there are whimsical anarchists drawing museum-goers into conversations about CCP alien censorship, there’s a resistance.


  1. Kurt Nelson

    Hi Livi – I am a distant cousin from Wisconsin following your beautiful writings of possibly the most important trip of your life. It is inspiring – keep up the good work!


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