The third-most read post on my blog is a simple book review of “In Order To Live”, the auto-biography of Yeonmi Park. More interestingly, most of the hits come from Hong Kong. I didn’t notice this at first; the visits did not arrive in a torrent of virality but in a slow creeping drip, ten one day, twenty the next until my four year old post climbed the list. Yeonmi, that wafer thin little North Korean girl who dared to defy the dictator not only to escape her nation-prison, not only to write about it – but to become the public face of North Korea’s beleaguered hungry oppressed.
The reason this struck a chord in Hong Kong is obvious, or should be. As China goes full totalitarian, the youth of Hong Kong are slowly at first and now faster and with greater courage defying the red giant. How could they not? When it’s too late, its very much too late indeed… As it was for Yeonmi, born into a system where she had to trade herself for food – where she had to watch loved ones die and who only freed herself from the regime’s mind-control when she was well and gone.
The struggle to be free is utopian, which is not to say it is wrong. One would even wonder why we bother, knowing that the human condition is one of limited slivers of light in a sea of darkness. And the sacrifices? Most go unwritten – sure Mandela became president but how many tens, thousands died unsung? Yes, Guaido gets to be tweeted about by world leaders – but what about the 500+ political prisoners rotting and starving in Venezuela’s jails? And to what end – right? After it all, it is to ashes and dust we also go, and “the rains fall on the good and the wicked alike.” But nevertheless we fight on as our hair thins and streaks of grey march resolutely down our chins.
So today we think of Hong Kong – we all saw this coming, of course. “One nation two systems”? – rubbish. Why are they reading Yeonmi? Do they get inspiration from the porcelain dissident? Or do they need to remind themselves of the consequences if they lose? I don’t know. But I am glad there are voices out there which still dare to speak up, in a world that has grown tired and frayed, bored of the contest it would seem – so much so that only those openly powerhungry even bother anymore, mask-less and naked before the madding hoards.
Our dream of Rome, spoken in only a whisper still inspires, for those of us who care. A beleaguered community of rebellious, long after all rebellions have been smothered.
Or have they?