Alex Chow Yong-kang (left) and Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang

Flow HK: An Overseas Magazine for Hongkongers — A Symbol of Resistance and a Sensitive Discussion for Defending Freedom of Speech

Half a year after the implementation of the National Security Law, Hong Kong’s resistance movement ended up with deafening silence. The Law’s wavering red line, coupled with the numerous injustices done by the Department of Justice, forced many social movement activists into exile.

In January this year, a new Facebook page announced the founding of the first overseas physical magazine for Hongkongers – Flow HK. A glance of the editor list was all names familiar to Hongkongers, such as Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, ex-spokesman of Network DIPLO; Alex Chow Yong-kang, ex-secretary-general of Hong Kong Federation of Students; Ray Wong Toi-yeung, ex-convener of Hong Kong Indigenous; and Brian Leung Kai-ping, ex-editor-in-chief of Undergrad, University of Hong Kong.

Sunny Cheung, who leads the project, is now in exile; Alex Chow is now studying in the US. In their video interview with Stand News, both described Flow HK as a platform for political experimentation, to connect Hongkongers abroad and local. ‘Exile is something new to Hongkongers.’ However, with an ever-increasing number of Hongkongers being forced into exile, it is pressing to think about how to make this unfinished campaign sustainable.

In the current context of internet censorship and social media exodus, Flow HK will be published quarterly as a physical magazine and distributed to Hongkongers abroad and local.

Flow HK, said Cheung, is to pass down real historical records of Hong Kong. ‘When local [freedom of speech] becomes ever limited, I am wondering whether Hongkongers abroad can do something to preserve some thoughts…. I think this is important in terms of value of thought.’

Connect Hongkongers globally and prevent erosion of free speech

With more and more Hongkongers scattering worldwide as exiles, some organizations began to provide them with daily life assistance and counselling service, whereas some people focused on advocacy work and international lobbying. How to live an exile’s life becomes a new issue.

Chow said, ‘while one strives to survive, one needs to humbly think what can be done practically abroad if liberating Hong Kong is still a goal.’

The birth of Flow HK was to fill a gap left behind by a series of overseas actions, by building an ideal public discussion space and revising issues of importance to Hong Kong’s future.

In the post-National Security Law era, freedom of public discussion is increasingly narrowed down. Chow believes that overseas Hongkongers will not help slow down the disappearance of public space if they work as individuals. ‘However, they may unite and create more fronts of free speech, so that thoughts may circulate and exchange among these fronts.’

He said this was just like ‘erecting banners’, to shift the discussions regarded as ‘sensitive’ and ‘dangerous’ in Hong Kong to Flow HK, and through the magazine to slow down erosion of free speech.

Besides the exiles, there are settled emigrants from Hong Kong; under the influence of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, their concern of the democracy movement is no less than those in Hong Kong.

However, though they have all settled abroad, their views towards social movement, Hong Kong’s maneuver on the international front and the controversial US election are far from unanimous. Flow HK may play a role to bridge all Hongkongers, who may discuss and exchange ideas there, ‘so that we may have some breakthroughs in thought for our actions, or such breakthroughs may help untie some knots.’

A symbol of resistance force

In the interview, Cheung emphasized the importance of making the magazine physical.

‘In an authoritarian era, much has to be done underground, and sometimes we need to “play edge ball” and do not speak aloud…. The stronger the suppression, the more essential it is to have something physical. It is inadequate to just understand vaguely and tacitly [on the part of people in Hong Kong]. [A physical magazine] is thus a symbol of resistance force.’

He continued, ‘I think speaking out some thoughts is already a kind of resistance by nature, especially in the age of National Security Law if we insist to express our thoughts by words and resist self-censorship.’

《如水》雜誌創刊號。(圖片來源:如水 FB @flowhkmagazine)

Editors remaining anonymous with the wavering National Security Law red line

After the National Security Law became part of life, some magazines fearing the red line had ceased publication, whereas some publishers accepted self-censorship. Edited by exiles and wanted persons, this overseas magazine seems to be similarly ropewalking.

Merely three days after announcing the publication of Fellow HK, Ta Kung Pao, a paper under the control of Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, reported the news under the heading ‘Absconding Hong Kong insurgents published “Hong Kong Independence” magazine, violating National Security Law’. Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan from DAB commented that those who helped promote or distribute the magazine might violate the law.

Sunny Cheung said, the regime intended to rule by ‘white terror’, ‘making everyone fear and tremble’. ‘Definitely the National Security Law makes Hong Kong laws weaponized [by the CPC]…. We are quite worried about the possibility of the outcome as described by the pro-establishment lawmakers.’

While some editors are well known names to Hongkongers, some choose to remain anonymous. Cheung explained that the editors have their own concerns, especially now that ‘the regime does not tolerate any dissenting voices’.

He also said that it was difficult to estimate ‘where the red line of the National Security Law will be drawn’. The magazine includes writings by the editors as well as contributions on certain topics. ‘If they (editors) are wanted under the National Security Law, can [others] talk to them? Is it meant to be assisting wanted criminals to subvert China by merely sending them a message?’

However, they asserted that they would not submit to the regime by giving up the opportunity of letting people in Hong Kong flip through the magazine.

At their online ‘shop now’ link, the ‘To Hong Kong’ part says ‘we have yet to confirm sales channel in Hong Kong’. Chow said that copies would be sent to Hong Kong ‘probably by stealth’. ‘In Hong Kong, not everything can be talked under the sun. We simply have no choice…. If we disclose all the details, the project will be doomed, as they will certainly shut you down. Now we got to keep on playing this tiresome game with them.’

He said it was just like a ‘silent revolution’. ‘We will know about that when success finally comes,’ he laughed.

Causing another revolution?

Billed as an overseas magazine for Hongkongers, the magazine was inspired by Taiwan under martial law, said Cheung.

Cheung, who took the lead of the project, said that at the time Taiwan suffered from thought censorship, with sensitive political publications banned. One of his enlightening books was The Tâi Oân Chheng Liân (Taiwan Youth), a banned magazine that discussed society, democracy and identity, and was initiated by Taiwanese who studied in Japan during Japanese rule. Cheung was deeply inspired. ‘It helped spread ideas and enlighten people during the white terror period.’

Talking about Taiwan under martial law, ‘Formosa Magazine’ might pop up to one’s mind. The magazine advocated freedom of speech and democracy, eventually leading to the Formosa Incident with severe suppression. The incident turned out to be a milestone of Taiwan’s democratization process.

‘If you ask me whether Flow HK will cause a revolution, my answer is an explicit no.’

Cheung was frank that ‘I do not regard myself too important, neither will I think that people can be mobilized to the street simply by one publication or some articles; it will also not lead to a revolutionary proclamation followed by mass protest. Nothing like that.’ On the contrary, he thought that Flow HK would shape a ‘healthy’ public sphere, and let Hongkongers put aside political differences to discuss issues about Hong Kong and build up empathy and respect.

Chow concurred. ‘It (Flow HK) is to build a platform on which social movements will be nurtured.’

Mutual understanding under political suppression

After the list of editors of Flow HK was disclosed in its Facebook account, the fact that its members coming from a wide political spectrum caused curiosity about how they could get along with each other in meeting.

Chow smirked that people indeed could not imagine how they could sit at the same table after the Umbrella Movement of 2014. ‘People would say, wow, “Fascist” Ray Wong, “Big Love Leftard” Alex Chow…. Will they fight?’

Despite the joke, Chow thought that political spectrum was merely a kind of label. He was glad that Flow HK could put people of different stances together. The board of editors meets every week, each 4-5 hours; ‘it is really mind-twisting…. All are serious to reflect [about issues on Hong Kong], despite difference in views…. But political suppression let us understand each other after all.’

Chow described Flow HK as a beginning of dialogue, among members of different positions in the political spectrum, and Hongkongers abroad and local.

Their commonality is love to Hong Kong.

Detached and irrelevant? Importance of daily self-reflection

The editors come from different parts of Europe and America. They can no longer be at the spot when things break out in Hong Kong. One may suspect whether they can still unite with Hongkongers and they will become ‘irrelevant’ as time goes by.

Both admitted that they felt detached from what’s happening in Hong Kong as they were ‘physically not in Hong Kong.’ They could only depend on the internet to keep updated on the territory. ‘It feels like some kind of serious imperfection; it is difficult to really understand Hongkongers’ [emotional] ups and downs.’ Therefore, they kept on reminding themselves to be humble and reflective, to take a serious attitude when discussing important issues. ‘Are we in a position to comment?’ ‘Should we talk about this publicly?’

However, being reflective is not a sign of retreat. They hoped to take the advantage of being abroad to continue connecting with Hongkoners abroad and local through Flow HK.

Chow said, ‘during the 2019 movement, we all talked about pushing Hong Kong back to the international stage. To achieve on the international front, Hongkongers in different parts of the world need to make their own efforts.’

Source: 【專訪】辦海外港人雜誌《如水》 張崑陽:以實體雜誌象徵反抗 周永康:以敏感討論守言論自由