The best is yet to come: an Apple columnist looks into the future

【By Michelle Ng】

In the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution, when for intellectuals the mere act of meeting in the privacy of their own homes was forbidden - they lived among busybodies who were all too happy to report on them - the writer Zhang Yihe (章詒和) was present at one such secret gatherings when she caught sight of the exquisite embroidery on a fellow attendee‘s cheongsam.

“It’s a mischief of fate,” Zhang pondered to herself, “this Chinese habit of placing such fragile handiwork on the very parts of the garment that are most prone to fraying. And yet, aren’t such trimmings a haunting lament on the fate of all men of letters who have run afoul of the authorities?” (中國人為什麼以美麗的繡紋所表現的動人題材,偏偏都要裝飾在容易破損和撕裂的地方?這簡直就和中國文人的命一模一樣。)

If, as it’s commonly observed, the mark of a superior intelligence is its ability to simultaneously regard two opposing ideas as valid, then the current state of Hong Kong really does put one’s mental agility through a trial by fire: is it possible mourn the imminent demise of Apple Daily and yet dare hope for better days ahead?

I have no doubt the correct answer is a resounding “yes.” The impact of a publication doesn’t end when the curtain falls on it. In 2016, Beijing suddenly took over the reformed-minded mainland journal “Through the Ages” (炎黄春秋), (The Death of a Liberal Chinese Magazine ) causing its graying staff great distress by shutting them out of their office. To this day, whenever I review the periodical’s archives - I’m sure there are others who treat their old articles as a treasure trove too - I always wish the magazine’s staff would know in a way their good work has just begun, for the leg work they’ve done in piecing together a truthful picture of CCP history will continue to enlighten even those after me. Likewise, I’m sure Apple Daily’s imprint - in particular the last series of battles Apple people launched to safeguard the paper - will resonate far and wide long after this proud Hong Kong institution has closed down.

Then there’s the likelihood that some Apple alumni will continue on with their vocation in one capacity or another. In 2009, when the CCP’s tentacles extended overseas and halted the operation of the influential US-published Modern China Studies (當代中國研究) - Beijing successfully turned its staff against each other (程晓农:《当代中国研究》杂志2009年被破坏始末|【见证历史】 - 野兽爱智慧 (@philosophia1979) ) - its chief editor Cheng Xiaonong (程曉農) left to pursue a doctorate. Today, as one of the most revered KOL on mainland affairs on YouTube, Cheng can count numerous discerning fans in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora overseas.

To avoid being overly preoccupied with the here and now, we should also give thought to the reasoning of those who are advanced in age, as they tend to view history in more sweeping terms. A couple of years ago, as Xi Jinping’s dictatorial ways became more and more pronounced, the liberal-leaning economist Mao Yushi (1929- ) (茅于軾 ) remained sanguine about China’s future. “In the 1980s, when the Chinese society was much more tolerant, I published at least eight books and gave as many as 60 talks a year. After June 4th, things slowed to a trickle. These days I can’t even get one book published. But since the moneyed class has been sending their kids to study overseas, sooner or later China will become less constrained again. Of course, I won’t be around to see it, for I’m already 90.” ( 茅于轼谈改开四十年: 经济发展要有政治清明作保障)Echoing Mao Yushi’s sentiment is longtime China law expert Jerome Cohen (1930 -) , who is proud of the optimism he displayed in 1968, when Mao worship was at its most frenzied countrywide, and many China watchers could foresee nothing but gloom: “even back then, I predicted the Cultural Revolution wouldn’t last forever. Change would come. I feel the same today about Xi. Perhaps this time round change will come even sooner.” (孔杰荣:别低估习近平反面教员作用,中国之变可能早于人们的想象 )

My personal plan is to decamp to being a fulltime English writing coach for the foreseeable future. Not that I’ll ever forget my association with Apple Daily, brief though it may have been. “To someone who’s never been to school, the ability to master a subject gives me dignity, ” Apple founder Jimmy Lai said when an interviewer asked him why he would pore over philosophical texts as abstruse as Michael Polanyi’s “Personal Knowledge.” ( 梁文道:黎智英的另一個腦袋 ). The current norm in Hong Kong - the prioritizing of fealty to the party over professionalism - won’t last forever; I can weather this phase by enriching my knowledge base and deriving my self-worth from it. The Hong Kong government and the CCP can crush Apple Daily on a whim, but history has proved they can never quite stamp out the human need for dignity and meaning.

I teach English writing. Interested parties can contact me through https://michellengwritings.com/contact/