Hong Kong’s political situation can be confusing at times as events whirl about in a never ending maelstrom, but when seen through simple classic Sino-idioms, the absurdity becomes clearer and understandable. These idioms are often in the form of short narratives, sometimes historically based, which explains the meaning behind the idioms or where the saying originated, or sometimes from which historical literature the phrases were coined. Below is an example which highlights a pressing issue in Hong Kong’s politics, especially for the pro-democracy factions. There are variations of the stories, but the example used here goes by the version used in an old Hong Kong cartoon show known as the Animated Gallery of Sino-Idioms (成語動畫廊).
Covering ears to steal a bell ( 掩耳盜鈴 )
A man walked past a large bronze bell outside of someone else’s villa one day and decided he fancied it and wanted it for himself, but it was much larger than himself and cannot simply carry it home. After much thought, the would-be thief decided he would smash the bell into smaller pieces to better facilitate taking it home, but upon hitting the bell he was deafened by the resulting loud gong. Fearing that other people would come and see the ruckus, the thief plugged up his own ears to soften the noise, somehow thinking that the noise reduction would happen for everyone else as well. Naturally, the loud noise from breaking down the bell alerted the residents within the villa, who came out and found the thief/vandal. The message of this Sino-idiom is laughing at fools who think that by playing ostrich it’s as if nothing happened.
On Saturday, 4th November, it was confirmed that China’s freshly legislated National Anthem Law would be incorporated into Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, where Hong Kong people must show solemnity and seriousness upon hearing China’s national anthem, and should people hear it when out and about they must stop and stand upright until the anthem has finished. Any violators could be sentenced to 3 years maximum and would be liable to administrative detention or arrested and detained without trial. The national anthem law was formulated supposedly to stop China’s domestic misuse of its national anthem such as playing it during marriages and other irrelevant venues, but for many Hong Kongers it is clear that the legislation is in response to the episodes of Hong Kongers booing the Chinese national anthem during regional football (soccer) matches when it was played as Hong Kong’s anthem.
The first case of Hong Kongers booing China’s national anthem came about during Hong Kong’s World Cup qualifier match against Bhutan in 2015, in response to an earlier slight by China’s own football association against the Hong Kong team and other national teams in the group such as Qatar and Bhutan. Back then, the Chinese football association set up a series of posters jeering at their various opponents, including Hong Kong. The poster made the racist sarcasm that Hong Kong, in having players with different skin colours, somehow indicates there was different “skill levels” amongst its players, and that the Chinese team should be “on guard” against Hong Kong. This affront was met by Hong Kong fans booing the Chinese national anthem when it was played as Hong Kong’s own anthem prior to the match. At the time, the Chinese regime and its Hong Kong stooges immediately responded in condemnation and the Asian Football Confederation issued a fine of $40000 Hong Kong Dollars, as well as threatening to punish the Hong Kong team with a closed-door match. Hong Kong fans’ response was more booing and holding up banners such as “Hong Kong is not China”, mimicking Barcelona fans who held up a “Catalonia is not Spain” during their own matches.
In addition, Hong Kong in having came to draw for both its home and away games in Mongkok and Shenzhen respectively, Chinese fans went online criticising their Hong Kong counterpart, saying that Hong Kong as the “little brother” should have let their “older brother” win the match, again infuriating Hong Kong fans. Many Hong Kongers flooded the stadium during the Mongkok home game while others gathered throughout Hong Kong where the match was publicly broadcasted in makeshift open air theatres, in demonstration of solidarity with the Hong Kong team. Naturally, there was deafening sounds of booing both inside and outside of the stadium when China’s national anthem was played. Ever since then, Hong Kong football fans kept up with the booing at the start of every football match in Hong Kong when China’s national anthem was played as Hong Kong’s anthem.
Expectedly, China and its underlings in Hong Kong were in condemnation, citing that Hong Kong youths and young adults are insulting “their country’s” national anthem, suggesting that it is for the lack of “national education” that young Hong Kongers are derisive of their “heritage”. When their criticisms were met with Hong Kongers’ middle finger, the Chinese regime decided to legislate the National Anthem Law in conjunction with its National Flag Law, in order to deter Hong Kongers from ever booing China’s anthem again. It is a case of “covering one’s ears to steal the bell”, whereby China thinks that by plugging up their ears with the National Anthem Law they will silence young Hong Kongers’ rebellion and discontent against China. A similar gesture was made when Hong Kong’s various junior high schools were to cancel all classes and livecast Li Fei’s Basic Law seminar for their students, who will be made to voluntarily attend and watch the whole thing, with the believe that the students will come to know the Basic Law “better” and come to their “senses” that Hong Kong is china’s and its citizens should be subservient to the Chinese regime’s every command. When accused of being a brainwashing propaganda session akin to something from the Orwellian novel 1984, the incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam responded that students unwilling to watch it could close their eyes during the seminar livecast at school instead, another rendition of “covering one’s ears to steal the bell”.