The Initium is a Hong Kong-based, Chinese-language digital media outlet that covers news, opinion, and lifestyle content directed to Chinese readers worldwide. It was founded in 2015.
Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game
Yip Wing Sum

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

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Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture
food / travel
Zhang Yan,

Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture

Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea was one of many products hard hit by the pandemic. But the internationally-beloved, tapioca-based drink isn't just any import any longer — it's an entire culture.

TAIPEI — In mid-April, a report entitled "Another Unlikely Pandemic Shortage: Boba Tea" appeared inThe New York Times. This rang alarm bells for fans of the great Taiwanese delicacy, also called bubble tea, milk tea or Zhenzhu Naicha in Mandarin Chinese. The bad news came just as the weather was warming up, the tensions brought about by COVID-19 were easing, and the food and beverage industry was hoping for a pick-up in business.

The global pandemic caused a major shortage in the supply chain of tapioca pearls, bubble tea's most important ingredient that sets it apart from other beverages. More than 90 % of tapioca starch comes from Taiwan, as the three partners of Boba Guys, a franchise chain, explained to their clients in an Instagram post.

Bubble tea shops everywhere were obliged to limit customers to one boba tea per order, hampering not just a product but a global mascot for Asian-American pride.

Cashing in on tapioca pearls

According to Alan Yu, founder of Lollicup, a restaurant chain as well a major supplier of North America's raw tapioca material, at least 20,000 stores in the U.S. specialize in this drink, and the tea is also sold in an additional 30,000 restaurants.

Even fast-food chains such as Sonic Burgers, Chilli's and Taco are Mr. Yu's clients for raw materials. They all aim to profit off boba tea which has gone far beyond the Chinese speaking diaspora to become a trendy drink among mainstream American yuppies and young people.

An immigrant from Taiwan and originally making a living in Los Angeles renting VCD and DVD Chinese films, Mr. Yu opened his first Lollicup store in 2000. Today, he is the CEO of Karat, a Nasdaq listed company and a supplier of tapioca starch as well as disposable dining ware. He even opened a "boba school," training people how to cook tapioca pearls and create boba tea with various flavors. Among his students are coffee baristas who hope to transition to this new beverage craze.

Boba tea represents a suburban, middle-class Asian American culture

Boba Guys

The Taiwanese-American immigrant history

According to Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, Associate Professor of the Practice in Chinese and Japanese Cultural Studies at Duke University, bubble tea has evolved from an identity label for Asian American youngsters into the online "Milk Tea Alliance," a group rallying young netizens from Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, and Burma to protest against authoritarianism and advocate for democracy. Even when there were numerous hate crimes against Asian in the U.S., boba tea never became a target.

Ms. Zhang Xinwei, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki specialized in the globalization of food, believes boba tea's global popularity is closely associated with Taiwanese emigrants and capital flow.

"At first, a part of these Taiwanese emigrants went to Hong Kong and China and took along the bubble tea shops, incubating the first batch of boba tea drinkers outside Taiwan. In turn, when their clients traveled abroad, they took this daily consumption habit with them to new destinations."

Through the tea, they started to ponder their identity.

After the 1960s, a batch of Taiwanese immigrants landed in the U.S. and earned their living in the catering business. Once a "hidden menu" item in Taiwanese-American run restaurants, bubble tea was only ordered by Taiwanese clients already familiar with the beverage. It was particularly popular with their offspring who introduced it to their peers, spreading the trend.

"Through the tea, they started to ponder their identity, to create songs and music videos about bubble tea. Just like Kpop, sushi, and Japanese ramen, boba tea also flowed into North America, becoming a cultural trend around the year 2000," Ms. Zhang commented.

Like bars for minors

Considered "bars for minors," boba tea stores are places where youngsters from migrant families can gather with their friends after school.

"Most of the boba tea stores' customers are teenagers. After going to SAT classes, they meet up there. This a place to cram for exams, but also a place for dates and being broken-hearted. In this space, they can feel a sense of belonging, which surpasses the meaning of milk tea itself as a drink," says Clarissa Wei, a foodie writer born in Taiwan but who grew up in Los Angeles.

Born in the U.S. in 1984, Philip Wang is a second-generation Taiwanese American and a renowned YouTuber who creates original Asian-themed films. He still recalls his teenage years when the term "Asian pride" was on everyone's lips. It was the moment when Japanese animation and South Korean pop music entered the U.S., and Asian Americans were increasingly asserting themselves as the export of Asian pop culture confronted a mainstream American culture that was overwhelmingly white.

"For the first time, boba tea made me feel there was a cultural product belonging to the Asian community in the United States", said Philip Wang, who also owns a tapioca tea shop called the Bopomofo Cafe.

People queue up in front of a bubble tea shop in Hong Kong

Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto/ZUMA

More like Starbucks than chop suey

Xinwei recalls the theory of Krishnendu Ray, associate Professor of Nutrition & Food Studies at New York University: To a certain extent, the price of foreign food overseas is a reflection of the combined economic, military, and immigrant strength of the origin country. The higher the food's price, the higher the group's socioeconomic status.

Compared with the chop suey dishes associated with Chinatown's working class culture, boba tea represents a suburban, middle-class Asian-American culture. To Professor Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, bubble tea's trajectory in the U.S. "resembles that of Starbucks, not that of Chinese food".

Today, numerous tapioca tea stores are run by second generation Taiwanese or Chinese Americans who were born and grew up in the U.S.. Take Andrew Chau and Bin Chen, founders of the Boba Guys, as an example. As Americans, they leverage English dietary jargon and completely fit in with American middle-class consumption habits, such as using organic milk or vegetable milk. While the chain still relies on imports of cassava starch, the ingredient for making tapioca pearls, they possess their own manufacturing facilities.

More than just Asian eateries, these are American stores selling Asian food, continuing America's melting pot tradition in step with their personal trajectory.

In 2017, a New York Times article, "Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow along with Drink's Popularity," used words like "exotic" and "Far-East" to describe the tapioca tea drink, causing a huge uproar. Readers criticized the author, saying his concept of the beverage was stuck in the last century. A few days later,The New York Times was obliged to publish an apology piece titled, "Our Readers Call Us Out Over Bubble Tea. They Are Right," admitting that bubble tea has long been part of American culture.

Xinwei confirmed boba tea's heritage in a study where European consumers defined the tapioca drink as a beverage enjoyed by North American foodies, even if some of the subjects knew it originated in Asia. Xinwei finds the drink's American-ness crucial to its success: "If boba tea hadn't gone to the U.S. and become a part of the young American lifestyle first, I don't think it would have been globalized so quickly."

Hong Kong's International Food Scene Gets Political
Lee Chiu Hing

Hong Kong's International Food Scene Gets Political

In its diaspora around Asia and the rest of the world, Hong Kong's identity is closely tied to its food and tea. Now with the pressures from the mainland, the stakes are suddenly multiplied.

HONG KONG — Hot wonton soup, a cup of milk tea: These are among the dishes Hong Kongers around the world long for when they want a taste of their hometown. Leaving Hong Kong is a challenge for some, less so for others, but virtually all expats eventually grow tired of dishes from their adopted countries, and seek familiar flavors. But more and more, this desire has developed beyond nostalgia to become a question with much more at stake.

The evolution of Hong Kong food culture has, in retrospect, become a construction of the city's identity, from the internationalized food scene in the early years of the last century, which gathered regional cuisines from around the globe, to exportation, which has brought about a new generation of Hon Kong-style tea restaurants in China, Taiwan and even Japan.

The challenges to Hong Kong's independence, and even its possible disappearance, is evident to all. In light of that risk, the reconstruction of this national identity through the new international trend of Hong Kong cuisine is its own story.

An international culinary republic

Over the past few decades, when you walk into a Hong Kong bistro, the names of the dishes are as varied as a map of the world. The massive entry of foreign dishes into a city reflects the process of establishing a kind of culinary republic, from the gathering of northern and southern cuisines to the construction of an internationalized metropolis.

With the Chinese diasporas coming to Hong Kong over the last century, local dishes were a way of citing different provinces and cities of China: Fujian fried rice, Zhenjiang pork ribs, Yangzhou fried rice, Beijing stuffed duck, Shunde double-skinned milk.

Russian shredded beef tenderloin with rice, Swiss chicken wings, baked Portuguese chicken

That's how Hong Kong came to be the most open place in Asia for absorbing international food culture. In addition to the names of local Chinese food, there was also a range of more far-flung flavors. The gourmet mixing testified to Hong Kong's position as the springboard for Chinese to leave the country and as the center of the Chinese immigrant community in Southeast Asia.

Needless to say, there are now more "Hong Kong-style international" flavors that even people from those countries say they have never tasted: Russian shredded beef tenderloin with rice, Swiss chicken wings, baked Portuguese chicken with rice and Kagoshima pork cartilage. (Another famous dish, German salted pork knuckles, does have a real origin).

People queue up in front of a bubble tea shop in Kennedy Town, western Hong Kong — Photo: Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Becoming a cosmopolitan food capital

Through the internationalization of homemade food, a collective awareness of the vitality and direction of the city sprouted before it was truly internationalized. Whether it was due to the movement of people bringing in exotic cuisines or their quest for virtual globalization (actively inventing international foods to make themselves appear international), the result was the same: Hong Kong has since, literally step by step, become a cosmopolitan food capital, and has marked its culinary traditions on the world food map.

To see how the dual effects further shape Hong Kong's culinary characteristics, we can take the example of its most famous output — Hong Kong milk tea. It is an exotic product; it was first introduced into the British diet, and at the height of the British colonial era, Sri Lankan black tea, accompanied by milk, was traditionally served for breakfast or afternoon tea.

But the Hong Kong version is an easy replica of this foreign drink. Although it will not be called English milk tea (exotic enough), its foreign nature is actually the same. The localization process of Hong Kong milk tea to English black tea is done through a simplified pragmatism; that is, the milk is directly washed into the black tea, creating a taste of kitchen mastery but also enhancing the efficiency of the drink.

With the milk tea story becoming a Hong Kong story of its own, Hong Kong tea restaurants have been expanding across China as well as the world. It is worth noticing that, even with the challenge and reshape of Hong Kong's identity, Hong Kong restaurants are becoming a trend in mainland China. But it is more of a reconstruction of nostalgic Hong Kong aesthetics being imagined by mainlanders, associated with Hong Kong TV series from the '80s and '90s that fascinated Chinese audiences and eventually became part of their zeitgeist.

Can this preserve Hong Kong's DNA?

The development of this situation is of course highly ironic, as the old Hong Kong customs and identity are now suffocated in the "real Hong Kong," facing extinction or exile, and those TV shows are also drifting away from Hong Kongers; it is surprisingly transformed to survive in the mainland, in another form.

How much of this is the preservation of Hong Kong's DNA? It is hard to say, but it does reconstruct Hong Kong — or at least an illusionary "Hong Kong" — full of misinterpretations. Those tea restaurants are just symbols and replicas from second-hand texts, especially the cafeteria in film and television, but completely ignoring the development of Hong Kong's story over the years.

A political storm brewing

Another recent trend of Hong Kong tea restaurants elsewhere is related to the political clashes of recent years, making Hong Kong food a calling card for exiles in the diaspora. More than just food suppliers, from Japan to Taiwan, the yellow-labeled (which indicate resistance) tea restaurants are political statements promoting Hong Kong's sovereignty. With new immigrants and those abroad dining in these establishments and continuing their discussions on Hong Kong, the meeting places are endeavoring to preserve Hong Kong's identity, and to witness the continuing social movements.

Chinese and Hong Kongers clash over food and politics.

In Japan, with its culture of discreteness and privacy, it is hard to tell whether the tea restaurants are "yellow" or not; while the millions of Chinese immigrants would also clash with the Hong Kongers due to their different views, either on food or on politics. The situation is better in Taiwan, but Hong Kongers are also teaming up to defend their cultural output, with the recent case of Hong Kong communities rejecting Taiwan bakeries for naming a pastry "pineapple bun," as the authentic ones are only Hong Kong products.

Nevertheless, for Hong Kong food itself, it is both actual nourishment, the life-sustaining element, and also an identity, maintaining the collective Hong Kong experience throughout the world. The diaspora tea restaurants might even be called monuments, as they are the locales that reunite the scattered people and memories, passing on the experience and knowledge of an era in Hong Kong through taste, both in visual language and rituals. But of course, no matter their missions and stances, as essentially economic entities, their food only holds power if it is delicious.

G7 Afghan Talks, Paralympics Open, Summoning The Candyman
Meike Eijsberg, Alessio Perrone and Bertrand Hauger

G7 Afghan Talks, Paralympics Open, Summoning The Candyman

Welcome to Tuesday, where G7 leaders meet to discuss Afghanistan, Kamala Harris accuses China of "coercion" and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games open. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based media The Initium reports on the pressure still put on unmarried women in Chinese society.

• G7 leaders plan to pledge unity on Taliban recognition: The leaders of the G7 are expected to pledge unity on whether or not to officially recognize or sanction the Taliban, the organization that took over Afghanistan last week. The G7 will meet virtually today to discuss the situation in the Central Asian country.

• COVID-19 update: New Zealand is bracing for its biggest outbreak of the pandemic after it recorded an additional 41 new cases in a day, taking the total to 148. Experts say the cluster could grow to 1,000 and take four to six weeks to eradicate. In Israel, however, there is hope: the country's COVID-19 vaccine booster program shows signs of taming the Delta variant. Officials began administering booster shots — a third dose of the vaccine — to people above 60 on July 30. Meanwhile, after almost a year of emergency use, the U.S. drug regulator, the FDA, granted the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval.

• Haiti desperate for "right" aid: Ten days after the earthquake that struck southern Haiti, more than 2,200 people have died, and at least 30,000 families had to abandon their homes. And yet, many Haitian families are wary of the massive international aid response underway, saying that "the international NGOs do what they want, not what we need."

• Floods linked to climate change: According to new research, the climate crisis made the record-shattering rainfall that caused the floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands earlier this summer "up to nine times more likely". The work reinforces the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report this month that there is "unequivocal" evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the main cause of worsening weather.

• Paralympic Games kick off: The 16th Summer Paralympic Games are beginning in Tokyo today after being delayed for a year due to the pandemic. But the city — the first ever to host two editions of the Paralympic Games — is still grappling with COVID as cases continue to rise.

• Duterte to run as VP in 2022: The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has agreed to be the ruling party's vice presidential candidate in next year's elections. In the Philippines, the president can only serve one six-year term, but political observers say Duterte's vice-presidential un could be an attempt to hold on to power.

• Dare to summon the Candyman: The trailer for the latest installment in the horror movie series Candyman is out — but there's a catch: to unlock it, you must whisper the killer's name, Candyman, five times in your computer's microphone. Spooky …

"Amatrice, 5 years of nothing," headlines Italian daily Il Tempo, as it reports on the fifth anniversary of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that ravaged more than 100 towns of central Italy, killing 300, displacing some 65,000 people and razing the town of Amatrice to the ground. Today, as they witness the fifth Italian prime minister who visits Amatrice in as many years, locals are still waiting for any of the crumbled houses and buildings to be rebuilt.

In China, women still have to fight for their right to be single

Nowadays, Chinese women are gaining higher social status through access to better education. And yet, the traditional norm of "getting married as early as possible" is still popular, albeit women have gained new social powers, Hong Kong-based media The Initium says. The writer argues that societal norms make marriage the only significant relationship for women to be accepted in society. That discriminates women who have not walked down the aisle as being somehow "leftovers".

The issue of single women was also brought up, interestingly, in a 2017 IKEA commercial that aired in China. In the ad, which stirred up more than a bit of controversy on social media, a girl dines with her parents and calls out to her mother, who slams her chopsticks on the spot and turns against her: "Don't call me mom if you don't bring your boyfriend back!" Then, when the girl's boyfriend comes to visit, the girl's parents completely change their attitude and immediately set up a happy and warm home.

In another ad (SK-II's "She Ended Up at the Matchmaking Corner," from 2016) several "leftover women" are shown speaking with their parents. It opens with the parents putting pressure on their unmarried daughters. But in the second half of the commercial, the daughters explain to their parents that they "don't want to get married just for the sake of getting married." In the end, the parents seem to understand, and there's a reconciliation between the generations.

While social norms pressure women to choose between infertility and marriage, some single Chinese women are looking for a third way: single parenthood. A particularly well-known case is Haiyang Ye, CEO of a cosmetics company, who traveled to the United States in 2017 to buy sperm and gave birth to her daughter Doris through artificial insemination. The effort cost her more than $75,000.

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День незалежності

Ukraine celebrates Independence Day ("Den nezalezhnosti") today, 30 years after the country separated from the Soviet Union. Celebrations come amid tensions with Russia after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed yesterday to reclaim areas of its territory that were annexed by Moscow.

We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.

— U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a speech delivered in Singapore on the first leg of her Southeast Asian tour. She referred to the landmark international legal case the Philippines won over China about its territorial incursions in the South China Sea. Despite the ruling, Chinese coastguards remain present with Filipino fishermen frequently reporting harassment. Harris also touched on other issues, such as the Afghanistan pullout, which she described as "courageous and right."

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Alessio Perrone and Bertrand Hauger

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single
Wang Yu-jie

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

A stand-up comedian in China recently used the term "single panic" to describe fears among women about being alone, and the words have since resonated in online discussions.

The "panic" is a product, the female comedian pointed out, of pressure and prejudices in Chinese society against single women. The only way for single women to be regarded as "not that miserable," the entertainer joked, is to live a more glamorous life than a married woman. "But even then, people will still say, 'look, she lives in such a big house and there's not even a man in it.'"

In reacting to the comedian's bit on "single panic," many online argued that it speaks to gender inequality within traditional Chinese values. As one love-and-relationships blogger wrote: "For centuries men have been the masters of the house, while women are the caregivers, and they are born to satisfy and serve the others."

Nowadays, Chinese women are gaining higher social status through access to better education. And yet, the traditional norm of "getting married as early as possible" is still popular, albeit with new social powers given to women, the blogger argues. "When being single is stigmatized, aging becomes a restriction. The mentality of Chinese women is always in conflict."

The writer goes on to say that societal norms make marriage the only significant relationship for women looking to be accepted in society, and that in turn discriminates women who have not walked down the aisle as being somehow "leftovers."

Two women glance at a mobile phone together in central BeijingArtyom Ivanov/TASS via ZUMA Press

At the same time, inflated ideas about marital life lead people into situations they haven't really though, the blogger argues. That, in turn, can result in full-blown financial, emotional and spiritual turmoil. In that sense, marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

Others on social media take a different view, and criticize what they see as efforts, among certain sectors, to "promote non-marriage" and "infertility" — things that are ultimately "dangerous for the country." And it's not just older voices who take this kind of reactionary stance. One recent social media post (that garnered 4,000 likes) compared the so-called "leftover women" to the milk poured out during the economic crisis.

The issue of single women was also brought up, interestingly, in a 2017 IKEA commercial that aired in China. In the ad, which stirred up more than a bit of controversy on social media, a girl dines with her parents and calls out to her mother, who slams her chopsticks on the spot and turns against her: "Don't call me mom if you don't bring your boyfriend back!" Then, when the girl's boyfriend comes to visit, the girl's parents completely change their attitude and immediately set up a happy and warm home.

Some believed that IKEA's ad is a reflection of Chinese reality, that parents pressuring their children to marry is widespread. They saw nothing wrong, in other words, with the message. But others took real issue with the commercial, saying it demeans women and promotes a distorted concept. "If you don't have a boyfriend, you can't even call your mother?" one social media user asked.

Marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

IKEA subsequently issued a statement apologizing and withdrew the ad.

Many argued that IKEA's "urge for marriage" ad simply missed that mark, that in trying to address a hot topic in Chinese society, it failed to grasp the psychology of the target group.

In another ad — SK-II's "She Ended Up at the Matchmaking Corner," from 2016 — several "leftover women" are shown speaking with their parents. It opens with the parents putting pressure on their unmarried daughters. But in the second half of the commercial, the daughters are able to explain to their parents that they "don't want to get married just for the sake of getting married." In the end, the parents seem to understand, and there's a reconciliation between the generations.

In addition to choosing between infertility and marriage, some single Chinese women are also looking for a third way: single parenthood. A particularly well-known case is Haiyang Ye, CEO of a cosmetics company, who traveled to the United States in 2017 to buy sperm and gave birth to her daughter Doris through artificial insemination. The effort cost her more than $75,000.

In a short documentary she revealed how some people on the internet criticized her for being selfish, saying that the family she had formed without a man was incomplete and that the child would have a miserable life. Ye believes that she has done everything she can to give her daughter the love she needs and that her family choices shouldn't be anyone's business but her own.

In the commenting section for the documentary, many women expressed their appreciation for her choice. Some argued that a responsible single mother can offer more happiness to her children than two parents who don't get along, while others pointed out that in two-parent families, many fathers today don't take responsibility and aren't, in the end, "essential.''

Others criticized Ye for trying to start a trend, something the CEO denies. She responded by saying that what she'd like rather is for women to have more freedom of choice. That, she said, is what she'd like to see become more mainstream.

Freedom is also the message that the comedian was trying to get at with her "single panic" routine. She too wants every woman to choose as she sees fit, and to not have to face pressure or criticism from those around her.

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold
In The News

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold

Welcome to Thursday, where the Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city, Google tightens its remote work policy and a Japanese mayor gets the medal for post-Olympic bad taste. We also feature an Initium reportage on the lives and competing identities of Chinese adoptees in the United States.

• Kabul within site for Taliban: The Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city that brings them closer to the capital Kabul following the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops. The Afghan army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, has been removed just two months after his appointment. In the past month alone, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed as the Taliban have taken 10 of the country's 34 provincial capitals.

• COVID-19 down under: As the delta variant spreads in Australia, Sydney has entered another lockdown, even while neighboring New Zealand is carefully making plans to open up its borders for the fully vaccinated early next year. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are expected to announce the authorization of booster shots for the immunocompromised.

• Google pay cuts if working fully remote: Employees of Google are facing a pay cut if they decide to switch to working from home permanently. The decision is part of a pay calculator which determines salary based on where employees live; the less expensive your area is, the lower the salary.

• Fires rage around Mediterranean: Fires continue to burn in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia. Temperatures hit a high of 120°F in Tunis and 104°F in southern Italy, where thousands of acres of land have been scorched. In Greece, more than 580 fires are currently prompting evacuations throughout the country; in neighboring Turkey, 300 blazes have ravaged in the past two weeks.

• Election in Zambia: Incumbent Edgar Lungu and businessman Hakainde Hichilema face off for the third time today in Zambia's presidential with 16 candidates. The impacts of the pandemic, especially on the East African country's economic outlook, have weighed on the election, which is expected to result in a runoff.

• Polish lower house passes media reform bill: Polish lawmakers advance a bill that prevents non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. According to the opposition, the legislation, which earlier led to the collapse of the right-wing ruling coalition, aims to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.

• Medal-biting Japanese mayor begs for forgiveness: Takashi Kawamura, Mayor of Nagoya, bit the gold medal of Japanese softball player Miu Goto. The celebratory gesture usually reserved for the winners themselves, received a lot of backlash on social media, especially in light of COVID hygiene practices. The Mayor apologized for the biting shenanigans and offered to have the medal replaced.

"Environmental Eviction" headlines the Colombian daily, El Espectador, as it reports on the government's recent decision to modify legislation that will allow police to evict people from 'environmentally important' areas. Legislators argue the amendment is intended to curb cartel activity, while others fear it could be used against thousands of others living in protected zones.

For Chinese adoptees in the U.S., identity comes in layers

For Chinese adoptees, like Mary Ruth Tomko (Mei), discovering their identity can be especially challenging, particularly for those who are raised in predominantly white areas. Chinese-language online media, The Initium, explores the stories of Mei and other Chinese adoptees as they search to understand their triple-layered identity: interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, many develop a complicated understanding of race and often experience identity crises because they do not see themselves or their experiences reflected in the people around them.

For Mei, who was raised in a predominantly white part of Pennsylvania, finding community with other Asian Americans and Chinese-adoptees at university helped her to learn more about her "triple-layered" identity. Others have sought this community out in other ways - one adoptee even created an internet software to connect families and adoptees.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commented on how interracial adoptees tend to have a flight or fight response when confronted with racial discrimination. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, he hopes that Chinese-born adoptees will use their experiences to unite with other groups who experience racism in the United States. Mei is doing just that, by engaging with both her university and Pennsylvania community.

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Yet another drama for Copenhagen's Little Mermaid sculpture

Since its unveiling in 1913, the Little Mermaid sculpture has become one of Copenhagen's main tourist attractions. But Edvard Eriksen's five-foot unassumingly perched homage to Christian Andersen's fairy tale has also had its fair share of drama.

The first came in 1964, when the bronze sculpture became the victim of an abandoned lover's rage and was beheaded with a hacksaw. Then, in 1998, it happened again; this time by an extremist feminist group. The list of survival events also includes a severed and stolen (but then returned) arm, being launched off her rock and into the water (explosives), stabbed in the neck and in 2015 — perhaps most brutal of all — getting banned from Facebook for breaching nudity guidelines.

Now, according to the Eriksen hiers, Den Lille Havfrue is now under fresh attack. In a letter to Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of the northern municipality of Brønderslev, the heirs claim that a more recent sculpture, put in place four years ago in Asaa Havn, bears too much resemblance to the original, and demanded that the copy be demolished.

It's not the first time the heirs have taken legal action to protect their ancestors' heritage. Several publications have been charged with copyright infringement after publishing pictures of the mermaid, there among daily Berlingske Tidende that was fined 285.000 Danish kroner ($45,000) last year for a caricature depiction of the Eriksen work.

While Brønderslev Mayor Mikael Klitgaard questions the heirs' motives in claiming patent right "for a whole animal species," the Little Mermaid's century-long fight for survival has no doubt earned her a special place in Danish society. Many of the less violent attacks seem to be an outlet for locals' expression, including spray paint and political messaging: For a while she wore a burqa — apparently a protest against Turkey joining the EU — and last year she had both "Free Hong Kong" and "Racist Fish" scrawled across her base.

Meanwhile, the defendant in the plagiarism case, Palle Mørk, dismisses the claim that his work isn't original. Responding to the charge that his creation is perched in the same position, Mørk said to Danish TV2: "Well, how the hell else should a mermaid sit on a rock? She doesn't have legs."


Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding, a slice of their wedding cake has sold for £1,850 (2,567.71 USD) at auction. Auctioneers expected the tasty treat to go for at least £500, so they were very pleasantly surprised when it caught such a high price.

I worry my daughters will never know peace.

— Rahima, a 60-year-old Afghani woman, discussed her fears of the Taliban as the Islamist group continues to gain ground in Afghanistan. Rahima, who uses her home in west Kabul to provide shelter for women fleeing violence, told The Guardian that her house has been full of displaced women and girls for the last two weeks.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Genevieve Mansfield

For Chinese Adoptees In The U.S., Identity Comes In Layers
Simin Ma

For Chinese Adoptees In The U.S., Identity Comes In Layers

Over the past 30 years, more than 170,000 Chinese-born children have been raised by U.S. families. Most of the parents are white and many live in areas where Asians are almost nonexistent.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Yang Chunju was born 20 years ago in Guangdong, China, and was abandoned at birth. A year later she was adopted by a couple from Pennsylvania, in the United States, and along with a new family, she got a new name, Mary Ruth Tomko, though most people call her Mei.

The young woman grew up in the small town of York — "the American countryside," as she describes it. And in the schools she attended, there were no other Asians. In other words, no one else looked like her, and Mei recalls being very lonely throughout her childhood.

Nor did anyone show any real interest in Asian culture, and although her parents encouraged her to study her roots, they themselves didn't really participate. Growing up in a white community bearing a white name, no one told her what it meant to be Asian American.

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992, when the Chinese Adoption Law went into effect, according to the organization International Adoption. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, they see themselves subconsciously as white and often experience identity crises because they do not look like the people around them.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that when they are exposed to racism or experience racial discrimination, they often have two responses: flight or fight. "To run away is to give up their Asian identity and disassociate," says Le. "The other reaction is to fight, to unite with others who have similar experiences."

No one told her what it meant to be Asian American.

For a long time, Mei would purposely conceal the fact that she was adopted. She would avoid walking alongside her parents so that people would not think that they are related. She recalls too how her mom one remarked that all the boys in school were interested in her because she's "very exotic." For years, the phrase made her uncomfortable.

Later she told her mom that she had to "make herself white" to integrate with her family and community: She turned her brown eyes blue in Instagram photos and pretended to be interested in parties, games and relationships to have more things in common with white friends.

Mei wrote in her diary that she "never had an Asian-American role model," even when it comes to learning how to dress. Only in adolescence, when she discovered the world of K-pop — modern Korean pop music — did she begin to realize that "Asians could also be beautiful."

"I didn't know why I was so addicted to K-pop, but now looking back, it answered my doubts and gave me confidence," she says.

At university, Mei joined an Asian student community and got to know a group of peers who grew up in Asian immigrant families and were "of similar appearance." In doing so, she fulfilled her dream of finally being part of a group that she could really identify with. From her new friends she began to learn different Asian traditions and religious cultures. Among other things, she discovered that for Asians, the concept of "family" is entirely built on blood kinship, while for her, as someone who was adopted, "family" was constructed around love and emotions.

More generally, she began to realize that her experiences were unique and valuable and to construct her triple-layered identity as an "interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

Another Chinese-born adoptee who wishes to remain anonymous describes the experience as a continuous journey with no end point. "When it comes to adoption, many people only see the positive aspects, such as the fact that the adoptee has a great life," the person explains. "But in fact, there are gains and losses. In gaining, we lose our family of origin, culture, language and country, things we may never get back. I feel very lucky and grateful for what I have, but I also want to acknowledge the complexities of adoption."

The murder in 2020 of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer, led to a nationwide anti-racism campaign. For Mei, who studies international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., the movement had a personal impact, causing her to look back at the moments of being "whitened" or "labeled" as a child and to re-examine her relationship with her parents.

Philanthropist Wang Jiayu holds an orphaned baby in China's Yingshang provinceXinhua/ ZUMA Wire

Her parents had always told her in the past "we don't see you as Asian, we just see you as our daughter." But for Mei, there's something unsatisfying about that line of thinking. She remembers her mother — a Democrat and the mother of two Asian children — feeling defensive, for example, when Mei read a book about white privilege.

"I realized that for many white parents, it's hard to be really aware of their own behavior, or to face their own inherent biases and their own deeply rooted racism," Mei explains. "It's also hard for them to face their own inherent prejudice and embedded racism."

Yi Wendong (Emma Coath), who was born in 1999 in Jiangxi, China, also grew up in a mostly white Pennsylvania neighborhood. The difference in her case, however, is that Wendong has three sisters who were also adopted from China, plus a neighbor who adopted three Chinese girls. As a result, she grew up with six similarly aged adopted children from China. And although she was troubled by "not knowing whether to eat salad like an American or Chinese food like a Chinese," she felt "very fortunate to have people in my family who look like me, who have dark hair and dark skin."

The young woman was studying graphic and interactive design at Temple University in Pennsylvania when she accidentally discovered that two of her female classmates were also Chinese adoptees, and they were both eager to meet more adoptees from similar backgrounds. And so, as part of a design assignment, Wendong excitedly showed her professor the social software she had created to serve Chinese adoptees and adoptive parents.

"Many people don't see adoption as part of history, but it needs to be mentioned."

She named the software Péngyou, or "friends" in Chinese, to not only allow adoptees to connect with each other, but also give adoptive parents a way to form an online community to share their parenting experiences. Unfortunately, the professor failed to grasp why the idea held such significance for Wendong. "Many people don't see adoption as part of history, but it needs to be mentioned," she says.

On the heels of the Floyd killing, another anti-racism campaign — the Stop Asian Hate movement — took shape and gained considerable momentum in places like New York and San Francisco. But in Wendong's small Pennsylvania town, it hardly made a ripple. At any rate, the young woman will soon be moving on. She recently landed a designer job in another city. She's excited about the change, but also worried. Not being with her white parents presents another kind of identity crisis.

As researcher C.N. Le explains, the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements have shown everyone, especially Asians and Asian Americans, that they can't take for granted that they'll automatically be accepted into mainstream U.S. society.

"Their social status is still very fragile and precarious," he says. "I hope that Asian adoptees will not run away from their identities and will confront their hostility and unite with others who suffer from racism, whether they be other Asian Americans, African Americans, or other people of color."

Mei is doing just that. At her university in Washington, D.C. she is researching ways to raise white racial sensitivity. She has also returned to her high school and community to speak and urge people to donate and care about people of different identities. She says she's "learned her identity as an interracial adoptee to engage in more meaningful discussions."

Protesters hold a banner during a protest against the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in front of Sendagaya Station on July 23
Zhang Bin

Are The Olympics More Trouble Than They're Worth? The View From Asia

From global politics to the pandemic, problems abound for the Tokyo Games. Next year, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, things could get messier still.


BEIJING — After a five-year wait, the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, but the challenges remain palpable. Delayed for a full year, the event has been agony for Japan, audience ratings are down to all all-time low, and politics continue to cast a shadow over what is supposed to be the world's premiere sporting event.

Three days before the Games began, the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, voted on July 20 to add the word "together" to the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger." This is the first time in more than 100 years that the motto has been changed, underscoring the fact that in the context of the pandemic, the global political environment has become more complex. The political meaning behind this addition is obvious.

The Olympics can never be separated from politics. Even without going further back in history, there were several boycotts of the Olympic Games in the latter half of the 20th century. Such was the case with the 1980 Moscow Games, when the U.S.-led Western countries launched a boycott and dozens of other countries, including China, joined in, and with the Los Angeles Games four years after that, when the Soviet Union, East Germany and many other socialist countries refused to participate.

The myth that the Games are apolitical has been well and truly dashed by their involvement in grubby geopolitics.

Tokyo 2020 comes with its own complicated backdrop of world geopolitics, especially with regards to Sino-U.S. and Russian-U.S. relations. Adding to the unrest are issues related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

This April, the IOC banned protests and campaigns during Tokyo 2020, but the rules were changed in July, allowing athletes to kneel in protest before the games, but prohibiting actions during the games and on the podium, including wearing clothes with the BLM slogan. Early on in the Games, Hong Kong badminton player Angus Ng Ka Long was caught in controversy as he was wearing a black shirt in combat, and many claimed that a black shirt relates to the protests in Hong Kong, therefore making it a political act.

LGBTQ issues are at play as well. The Tokyo Games mark the first formal admission of transgender athletes, and in total, 135 participants belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are competing. The emergence of transgender athletes has drawn widespread skepticism, though most critics take issue with the IOC, rather than the athletes themselves. They accuse the Committee of compromising fairness. Supporters, on the other hand, argue that the participation of transgender athletes paves the way for a more inclusive future in sports and can inspire young LGBTQ people around the world.

Female athlete participation in Tokyo 2020 stands at 49%, a great achievement for gender equality. And for the first time in history, the IOC required participating delegations to have at least one female and one male athlete, and encouraged delegations to have one male and one female flag bearer at the opening ceremony. In addition, nine new mixed-gender events were added to the Olympic Games, including mixed pairs table tennis and mixed swimming and running relays.

"There's considerable tension between the notions of fairness and inclusion, and the desire and need to protect the women's category," the IOC acknowledged in a statement published by CNN.

Fireworks during the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony — Photo: Daniel A. Anderson/ZUMA Press Wire

The Olympics are caught in a dilemma, in other words, over whether to be more inclusive or more protective of women's rights. Many fear that the fame and fortune that come with the Olympics will encourage more men to compete as transgender, and that women, who have always aspired to gender equality, will ultimately pay the price.

There's another shadow on the horizon, as talk has already surfaced in some Western countries about boycotting the Beijing 2022 winter games. China, for its part, strongly opposes "politicizing sports." So far, there are no IOC members or athletes joining the boycott in public but many reports suggest that the U.S. and the EU are preparing bills to resist Beijing. There's also been pressure on British government officials and members of the royal family not to attend.

Even without a formal boycott, this tense political environment will still be projected onto the Olympic world, and that can have a direct impact on sports, as exemplified by the National Baseball Association's situation in China. This is not a big international picture that the IOC is happy to face.

"The myth that the Games are apolitical has been well and truly dashed by their involvement in grubby geopolitics. The way they sanitize despotic regimes make us all unwittingly complicit in repression," columnist Melanie Phillips wrote in the British daily The Times.

The good old days

It's worth, therefore, asking the question of how humanity welcomed the modern Olympics in the first place. "The inauguration of the revived Olympic games today was a delight to the eye and an impressive appeal to the imagination," The New York Times reported in 1896.

The modern Olympics, wrapped as they were in the banner of idealism, were a phenomenal success.

It was a beautiful moment of history that lasted two weeks, wrapped in the aristocratic atmosphere of Europe, and that coincided with the so-called Belle Époque, the "Gilded Age" of European and North American optimism and colonial romance. It was also the golden age of the World's Fair, a time of social dynamism. Those first modern Games, in Greece, came at the right time, in other words. And although only 241 white men competed, the marathon event drew 80,000 spectators to the Pan-Athenian Stadium.

The modern Olympics, wrapped as they were in the banner of idealism, were a phenomenal success. And in the century that followed, the Games — despite being repeatedly hit hard by politics — were still seen as a common dream by athletes around the world. As time went on, the Olympics also became a valuable and successful commodity.

Even so, critics still believe that the event is trapped in time. As The Japan Times suggested: "It is a 19th century construct floating through a 21st century world."

Japan's Naohisa Takato defeats Kazakhstan's Yeldos Smetov in the men's judo semifinal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. — Photo: David G. Mcintyre/ZUMA

In an interview, former U.S. table tennis player Han Xiao described the Games as a system that is completely separate from the rest of society. "And that's where a lot of the problems come in, whether it's with corruption or imbalances in power that lead to athlete abuse or human rights violations," he said. "If you're not keeping up with the advances that other areas of society are making, or you're not subject to the oversight of society as a whole, it's kind of predictable that these things are going to happen."

This then leads us to a question worth pondering: Does humanity still need a sporting event with such a hefty program and bloated schedule?

For the many people struggling right now, there is no way to watch the Olympics with pleasure.

Truth be told, people may not really need the Olympics that much anymore. Many of the events aren't all that exciting, and the schedule is dense. All of that affects the viewing experience. It appears, in other words, that the Olympics are gradually losing their meaning. Their idealistic color is faded. They're no longer a symbol of world peace, and their importance as a source of national pride has diminished.

And then there's the pandemic, which has widely affected the global economy. For the many people across the world who are struggling right now, there is no way to watch the Olympics with pleasure. The modern Games were a product of the "good times." But now, in this not-so-good time — coupled with all the other problems affecting the event — the Olympics find themselves inevitably on a dangerous and rugged road.

Member of Hong Kong's Police National Security Department with the three incriminated children's books
Dan Wu

''Seditious'' Sheep? Inside Hong Kong's Crackdown On Children's Books

Hong Kong’s national security police recently arrested five people over the publication of children’s books featuring sheep, which it says represent Hong Kongers, attacking wolves, allegedly standing for mainlanders.

The Hong Kong National Security Police was on the move again last week, although this time the surprising target was a series of children's stories.

On July 22, authorities arrested five people over conspiring to publish seditious publications. The accused, all relatively young (between the ages of 25 and 28), are members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, as Hong Kong-based media The Initium reports. The operation against them marks the first time the National Security Law has been used to target stories directed at children.

The three books in question center around an imaginary village of sheep: The most recent, titled Dustman of the Sheep Village, was published in March and is accused of alluding to last year's Hong Kong medical workers' strike; the other two, Guardians of the Sheep Village and Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village, was blamed for making direct links to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement in 2019 and the detainment of 12 Hong Kong residents in 2020. Authorities say the books are "creating hatred and instilling anti-government ideas among children."

Books should never make people hate the government.

In a press conference, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the Police National Security Department, explained in detail why the books are considered "illegal": The characters in the story, wolves and sheep, respectively symbolize mainlanders and Hong Kongers, local news website Stand News quotes Li as saying. By portraying wolves as "dirty," he said, the book implies that mainlanders are responsible for introducing "viruses to Hong Kong."

Li also said that the images of sheep fighting wolves and of sheep being eaten up by wolves are an attempt to incite violence and hatred against the regime. "Sheep are gentle animals, but highlighting that they can attack is publicizing violence," he said.

A page from "Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village" Photo: The General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists

Li urged bookstores to hand in remaining copies to the police, and encouraged owners of the books to destroy their copies. Teachers, he added, are forbidden from using books for educational purposes.

"This isn't about criticizing the government," Li explained. "It's that actions, books and so on, should never make people hate the government."

When asked whether political fables such as George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm would be illegal in Hong Kong, Li responded that he had read the latter and thinks it is different from the children's books in question.

Young people pose for photos at the site of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai
China 2.0
Jo Tei, Chan Yat Do and Jeung Yet Gwang

Why Chinese Youth Are Still So Eager To Join The Communist Party

BEIJING — "Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to join the party..." Yanru, a 22-year-old university student studying at a well-known university in northern China, just became a CCP member last year. For her and her peers, joining the Chinese Communist Party is something that just seems natural: "It has led us to victories, fought back the foreign colonists, and built up the strong and prosperous new China today."

For Yanru, the purpose of joining the party is to serve the society, and to be useful for the country. "There is only one correct motive for joining the party, that is to serve the people with full hearts, and to eventually fully achieve communism," she wrote in her membership application letter.

But for others, being a party member is also a proof of excellence, a sign of elite status. Another young Chinese university student, Jieru, wants to join the party simply because she wants to become a civil servant. With young people becoming more focused on finding employment in the public sector, and the national civil servants admission exam becoming more competitive, all are aware of a tacit soft rule that CPC members have more chances of being selected for such posts.

In online forums, there are countless articles explaining the benefits of joining the party: a CPC membership would be an advantage when working in public administration and state enterprises. Some enterprises and institutions will list "Party members first" in their job postings, and some positions are deemed exclusive to the CPC.

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with students at a primary school in Zhongyi — Photo: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/ZUMA Wire

In a 2016 speech, President Xi Jinping declared that the Chinese state-owned enterprise system was "special" for the integration of the Party's leadership in corporations. According to a bank manager from southern China, there now exists an atmosphere in enterprises where everyone is actively joining the party without external motivation, which was gradually formed since Xi came to power. "Without party membership, you don't even dream of promotion."

But the party is also limiting membership admission under Xi, with its focus shifted to monitoring "the quality of membership." Following this initiative in 2013, newly admitted numbers in the party have been declining each year, meeting its lowest point in 2017 with 117,000 new members. Even so, in some universities, teachers have to motivate students to join the party in order to fulfill the "quotas and orders from above."

Nevertheless, it is no simple task to join the CPC. Apart from the strict examinations on political profile, academic performance and social engagements, candidates also need to take classes, while going through at least six months of waiting to pass on to the next selection steps. Loads of paperwork is also unavoidable, especially when some of the CPC branches' administrations are in chaos.

The irony is that, in reality, becoming a CPC member does not change one's life much. Qiuyuan, a university student, recalled that the only highlight was the admission ceremony, where 30-40 new members solemnly made the vow: "We are ready to sacrifice everything for the party and the people." Qiuyuan was shocked by the pledge: "Were they actually serious about this?"

Still, for most people, party membership only leads to more meetings and orientation activities, such as visiting "patriotic travel sites," and group meetings where members are encouraged to communicate and conduct "constructive critique." The latter is a response to Xi's initiative in 2016, "Criticism and self-critique are the medicine and care for our comrades… we need to name the problems, raise opinions and evaluate the harms."

Every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Another issue is the difficulty to pull out of the party. Theoretically, members have the freedom to quit; according to party protocols, ordinary citizens will not be expelled from the party, yet withdrawal is only granted under two circumstances: when a member voluntarily requests, or when a member "lacks revolutionary will, does not fulfill his/her obligations as a party member." But no specific guidelines were given. Official documents only suggest that withdrawal should not be announced to the public, and the party should not force the members to remain. Still, one university teacher confessed that in most cases, every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Still, being a party member is indeed different. Qiuyuan is beginning to sense the benefits in her career, as her housing aids and social benefits have been augmented. Under certain circumstances, party membership seems to be a trouble, especially in today's geopolitical conflicts: the Trump administration had forbidden current and former Communist Party members to immigrate to the U.S., and even their families are restricted in getting travel visas. As there are currently about 91.9 million CPC members in China, about 200 million Chinese are affected by this policy.

A group of children with red scarves and national flags pose for photos in Beijing Tiananmen Square under the party emblem — Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire

At the end of the day, young CPC members are just more or less as apolitical as most of the population in this country. "Every country has its own mode of administration, while public opinion is controlled for the stability of the country, not only in China," says Yanru. "Young people are easily incited, and we all think the CPC is pretty good anyway."

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong
China 2.0

For Chinese Regime, Suicide In Hong Kong Is An Act Of Terrorism

If someone is unhappy, that's one thing. But if a city is unhappy, that means something very different.


HONG KONG — On the evening of July 1, outside the Sogo Department Store in Hong Kong, Leung Kin-fai stabbed a police officer from behind with a knife and later killed himself. The incident was described as a "local lone wolf terrorist attack" by authorities. According to Ming Pao, a local newspaper, Leung, a man in his 50s, had no accomplices and wrote a suicide note before the murder, mentioning his dissatisfaction with society and criticizing the brutality of police, who he said harbor criminals and are not subject to checks and balances. Further, he expressed his belief that "freedom has been lost" after the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law. The police have not yet released the full contents of the suicide note.

According to the theory of French sociologist David Émile Durkheim, such acts are classified as fatalistic suicides. Durkheim argued that when a society over-regulates individual life and even suffocates people with repression, then there are bound to be suicides as the only outlet to escape this control. But has Hong Kong reached this point of desperation?

Even wearing black clothes is considered a political statement

In the past two years, Hong Kong's government has indeed become increasingly suppressive, and the situation has taken a sharp turn for the worse ever since the enactment of the National Security Law in 2020, with most civil movement leaders either fleeing or being detained as freedom of speech is severely curtailed. This April, pollster Gallup released its Global Happiness Index, which ranked Hong Kong 113th in terms of freedom of choice in life, lower than mainland China or Taiwan; it's worth mentioning that Hong Kong ranked 66th in this index in 2019. In other words, Hong Kongers are becoming more depressed and pessimistic. If someone is unhappy, they could try changing their environment or leaving the source of pain; but if a city is unhappy, is forbidden to speak out and cannot complain, its residents would only die or explode in silence.

This theory might also explain other suicidal attacks in China, with citizens retaliating against government officials for unfair treatment and injustices. The Chinese government is, of course, sensitive to those issues, but hardly counts those incidents as terrorism attacks. In the Chinese understanding of national security, attacks that target government agencies, police and military are defined as terrorist activities.

On the other hand, Chinese state media often combines violent terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism (referred to as the Three Forces) in narratives, so the fight against terrorism is in fact the same as eliminating those three forces. The terrorist attack on July 28, 2014 in Xinjiang is a typical example: A group of armed Uyghurs attacked the government and police stations and burned cars along the way, resulting in 37 civilian deaths. 59 Uyghurs involved in the attack were shot. 215 others were arrested and evidence of "terrorism" including "jihad" flags were seized.

A 2017 anti-terrorism drill in China's Henan Province —Photo: Wang Zirui / SIPA Asia / ZUMA

The separatist movement in Xinjiang has a long history, but it is only recently that it was labeled as terrorism. After 9/11, the Chinese government used the U.S.-initiated international counterterrorism mechanism to officially classify the Xinjiang independence movement as terrorism, thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of the crackdown on Xinjinag and reducing external criticism of China's handling of the region. However, from 2001 to 2013, even though there were many attacks orchestrated by Xinjiang independence activists, the Chinese government did not act much to put an end to the independence movement other than just monitoring and handling the attacks. It was not until 2014, when a number of major terrorist attacks took place in various parts of China by such activists, that the government began to establish the Xinjiang Vocational Skills Education and Training Camps.

So how would the Chinese government tackle suicidal attacks like the one in Hong Kong? Take for example the series of self-immolations by Tibetans since 2009. Most of those who set themselves on fire are lamas and nuns, but also quite a few are peasants. Although such incidents are occasionally mentioned in state media, not all were reported or confirmed. The administration has taken a relatively conservative approach to the self-immolations, blaming them on the Dalai clique, but not publicly labeling them as terrorism.

Back in Hong Kong, the context is naturally different from that of Xinjiang and Tibet, but the authorities have already been treating attacks on the government as "local terrorism" and defined its meaning as secession. As a result, all those who support Leung Kin-fai are being recognized as supporters for secession and have become government targets. Officials are now on high-alert for similar attacks on police, with all mourning activities for Leung regarded as support for terrorist activities. Even wearing black clothes is considered a political statement.

In today's context of rule under the National Security Law in Hong Kong, when a tragedy of fatalistic suicide happens, it is undoubtedly the biggest outbreak of conflict between the powerful and the powerless. What is worrisome is that this incident might not be the end of it.

A LGBTQ home party in Beijing, China
China 2.0

China's New Crackdown Against LGBTQ Activists At Universities

Reports have come in from LGBTQ activists around the country that the government has shut down the organizations pages on WeChat, the top Chinese platform.

SHANGHAI — On July 6th, when the day was finishing for most Chinese university students, a pop-up notification began to appear on the phones of certain campus LGBTQ activists: "The Wechat account that you are managing is permanently blocked."

He Zhang is the founder of Z Society, a Shanghai-based student academic hub that focuses on gender issues, with more than 70,000 followers on its official account. Suddenly, the page was all blank. " I knew this day would come sooner or later, but I never thought it was going to be so soon."

About 20 influential official accounts that focus on LGBTQ, feminism and gender issues were blocked that night, precisely at 9:53 p.m. All their past articles are gone, back pages were completely blank, and even their names were all turned into "unnamed official account." Tencent, the company that runs Wechat, did not offer any explanations on the ban, and the students in charge of the accounts had no way to appeal. China's Foreign Office responded to related inquiries on July 8 with a single dry sentence: "We manage the internet by the law."

It's notable that in July 2020, the Chinese delegation spoke at the UN Human Rights Council on the issue of violent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, stating that "China opposes all forms of discrimination and violence." Still, LGBTQ-themed films, television dramas, speech, and activist movements have been repeatedly suppressed, and student organizations, which are officially considered difficult to control, have been subjected to increasingly harsh conditions.

They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces.

Blocking the official accounts was not the first move. In May, LGBTQ and feminism campus communities were questioned by their home universities. Each event organized by these communities has been a test of the limits for the ever-tightening space. Students were interviewed by the school several times, pressured by teachers who tried to figure out "the foreign forces' behind the communities.

"They never believed that there is a group of audience out there for our society," said one student activist. "They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces."

According to observers, the shutdown is related to controlling the influence of minority groups by the administration. As social media creates space for free discussion and could even influence public opinion, especially among the young, the government instinctively moves to control and supervise. "The government is actively increasing its monitoring efforts to prevent any unstable factors," noted another activist. "It's especially true this year, which is the centenary anniversary for the founding of the Communist Party of China."

Universities used to be a relatively tolerant environment for discussion in China, especially for spreading ideas of gender equality and providing a sense of community for sexual minorities. But as the government continues to tighten controls, Wechat official accounts had become the "last stand" to voice such ideas. Now, this small haven too looks to also have been completely erased. "It's pretty desperate," said He Zhang, "One by one, things like this are getting worse, and it feels like it's futile to make any effort, and you don't even need any reason to be banned."