Night and Fog in Hong Kong

In 1941 Hitler instituted a program referred to as Nacht und Nebel — “Night and Fog.” Put simply, it called for dissidents and enemies of the state to be disappeared without a trace, with no notice to their families. They were simply captured and killed. This policy was implemented to instill fear in potential “enemies” and partisans in conquered territory.

China is not Nazi Germany, of course, but the recent articles about Hong Kong booksellers who have disappeared brings the notion of Night and Fog to mind. No one knows where these booksellers have gone, and that’s probably the point: their vanishing is meant to instill fear in others like them, who have sold books critical of the CCP. Bookseller Lee Bo is the latest of five disappearances.

Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told CNN that he believed that Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, had been taken across the border to China against his will.

“It’s a forced disappearance. All those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books,” said Ho.

Ho said that the publishing house had been planning on publishing a book about the “love affairs” of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working “in the provinces.”

Lee was reported missing to police Friday. Swedish national Gui Minhai, the owner of the publishing house Mighty Current that owns the bookstore, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.

Maybe the five victims will reappear and get back to their work. But for now, this is a truly alarming story. As Jack Ma takes over the South China Morning Post and as political “enemies” disappear in Hong Kong, one must wonder if One Country, Two Systems is working. I see it as being slowly chipped away, and I’m afraid similar clampdowns on those who have the temerity to stand up to the mainland government will only increase, all a part of Xi Jinping’s ruthless campaign to control what people say and think about the CCP. I hope I’m wrong.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Slowly chipped away? I’d say the goons up north are in a hurry…

Don’t worry…you’re not wrong.

January 5, 2016 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

All of this whilst British officials are visiting China. At least they have actually gone and condemned this as a breach of the Sino-British agreement, albeit with the caveat “if these kidnappings happened”. One of the people kidnapped appears to have a British passport.

January 8, 2016 @ 12:36 am | Comment

BTW – seeing the pro-Beijing crowd trying to explain this is a sight to behold. We have the former HK immigration minister (Regina Ip) saying they could just have got on a boat, left Hong Kong, and no offence would have been committed by doing so (actually, not true). We have another HK pro-Beijing politician saying that they probably went to Shenzhen to visit prostitutes (from Thailand? without their ID cards/passports?) and then apologising for having done so. We have the Global Times essentially declaring that “they weren’t kidnapped, and anyway they deserved it”.

If the lives and safety of five apparently perfectly innocent people weren’t in jeopardy, it would be comical.

January 8, 2016 @ 4:29 pm | Comment

Oh, don’t worry. They’re just helping government authorities.

January 9, 2016 @ 4:07 pm | Comment

next the CCP could kidnap dissidents or critics in the US, Australia, UK or the EU using contractors drugging the kidnapped, then drop them off days later inside PRC.

March 30, 2016 @ 5:02 pm | Comment

I was deeply moved by the 2014 student protests in Hong Kong, which I perceive as a clash between the nihilistic worship of money and power (on the part of the CCP) and the desire for justice and equality (on the part of the students). In my view, the efforts the student movement should have received much more media coverage than they were given, as what was at stake had implications for the world. Since both mainland China and the West fester in nihilistic, consumerist decay, it is of immense importance that people of all nations understand that even in our decadent age, one should find it desirable to stand up for a cause greater than the illusive quest to obtain satisfaction through the next consumer good or gadget. Thus, there is much more at stake in Hong Kongers’ political activism than merely the fate of Hong Kong itself. If Hong Kong is able to effectively resist Beijing, it may influence individuals from other nations to escape their submersion in consumerist delirium and instead battle oppression. The very soil from which our perception of reality sprouts may be in the balance. China’s increasingly invasive efforts to force its authority upon Hong Kong, perhaps as a backlash against the student movement, are another dimension of this struggle.

There are similarities to the poignancy the protests (especially their climactic ending) took on for me and the powerful effect the Tiananmen Square protests had on Richard. Although the 2014 student movement did not lead to any deaths, I was awed by the courage of the students while angered and saddened by the efforts of police to smother their dreams. For me, the lack of willingness to support the protestors on the part of the international community and many Hong Kongers was also a source of anger and sorrow. It was as if people were walking around blindfolded, oblivious to the world’s most beautiful sunset. In past posts, Richard has noted that the Tiananmen protesters were often flawed in various ways. Perhaps there were similar flaws in the Hong Kong students, but this should not diminish the heroism of their efforts.

It is possible that the failure of the 2014 protest movement was (on an unconscious level) a factor generating my current flirtation with nihilism, a pull that I am constantly struggling against. To me, life often seems absurd and futile. Hard work and passion certainly increase one’s chances of finding fulfillment in life, but a hard working, passionate person may well find herself permanently jaded and unable to succeed despite her efforts. Are, then, all human endeavors inherently pointless because one’s ability to flourish in life is in part up to chance? I think this issue is a way in which politics and existentialism intersect, since political events and viewpoints will influence our conception of what makes life meaningful (or un-meaningful), and vice-versa. I hope that Hong Kongers are able to respond tactics like kidnapping in creative ways, showing people from around the world (including myself) that living a meaningful life is possible.

May 29, 2016 @ 6:57 am | Comment

*able to respond to tactics like kidnapping

June 27, 2016 @ 12:42 pm | Comment

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