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Farewell to the Hong Kong I loved

Twilight in Hong Kong. Dukas/Universal Images Group/Getty

“Hong Kong isn’t what it was,” says Matthew Brooker in Bloomberg. The “exuberantly free and pluralist” society I’ve lived in for thirty years has vanished. Colourful activists fighting for a “kaleidoscope of political and social causes” no longer line the road outside Causeway Bay station. People who were part of the fabric of public life for decades are in prison. “Walls have been scrubbed clean of graffiti.” More than 100,000 people have taken steps to move from Hong Kong to the UK in the past year. Sometime in the next two months, I will join them.

The funny thing is, “it would be so easy to stay”. The guilty secret of Hong Kong is that, for all its difficulties, the city is “kind to foreigners like me”. Probably it will continue to be, as long as they play nicely and go on serving the city’s function as an international financial and business centre. “Taxes are low, domestic help is cheap and available, transport connections are fast and efficient.” It was one thing to enjoy these comforts when the city was a “benign autocracy”. There was never meaningful democracy, sure, but individuals endured “minimal interference by the state”, and a vigorous civil society flourished. “Now the benign part has gone.” To go on enjoying the ease of life when the people of Hong Kong have had so many of their freedoms stripped away feels like complicity.