From Hong Kong’s Olympic champion to dissidents, pro-government political veterans, musicians and filmmakers, Hong Kong Free Press met dozens of public figures and ordinary Hongkongers alike in exclusive interviews that captured the zeitgeist of the city in 2021. Below are our favourites of the year.
Fencer Edgar Cheung, Hong Kong’s first Olympic gold medallist since 1996, told HKFP he credited his success partly to using meditation videos on YouTube. They helped him ride through critical moments and move beyond bottlenecks in his career as a professional sportsman.
Australian singer Kimberley Chen’s runaway hit song Fragile with Malaysian singer Namewee, which satirises the sensibilities of Chinese nationalist keyboard warriors, garnered over 36 million views on YouTube. The singer told HKFP how she decided to “stand on the right side of history” and speak in her true voice despite China’s censorship.
While on bail, democrat and former lawmaker Ted Hui made a daring escape from Hong Kong under the guise of a trip to visit environmental groups in Denmark. HKFP spoke with young Danish politicians Anders Storgaard and Thomas Rohden, who arranged the trip. “We didn’t even really know that he wanted to flee — we were just counting on it,” one of them said.
The director of the documentary Revolution of Our Times, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, told HKFP how he intended it to be a vehicle for the emotions and trauma experienced by Hongkongers during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. Although unable to air it in the city due to looming national security censorship, Chow said he rejected giving in to fear and would continue to live in the city.
Academic and artist Sampson Wong spoke with HKFP on creating a YouTube channel that shows people doing not much more than walking around their neighbourhoods. Sensing that Hong Kong was going through enormous social and political changes, Wong hoped the channel would serve as a way for people to rediscover the city they love and explore what it means to be “local.”
Adrian Ho founded Hong Kong’s largest online community for police and pro-establishment supporters, SaveHK. The nephew of Macau’s former leader shared with HKFP his wish to provide a “safe space” for this community and “set the record straight” on what he sees as the pro-democracy camp’s biased views of the government and police.
Veteran pro-establishment politician and businessman Michael Tien told HKFP the city was at its lowest point in history, but would soon get back on track after the electoral overhaul. The self-styled “voice of reason” believed “elite” lawmakers under the new system would help the government push through painful but necessary reforms, instead of being incentivised to lobby for populist policies to help with their own re-election.
Raphael Wong, former leader of the League of Social Democrats, shared with HKFP his experiences of preparing for prison and using the courtroom as a platform for a political manifesto. Cutting deals with pro-government opponents as the overhauled election system would require was out of the question, Wong said. Joining the legislature was no longer one of the cards to play in the pursuit of democracy.
Taiwan politician Wen Lii decided to stand for election in the small islands of Matsu, just off the coast of mainland China, one of the few places in the country where the Democratic Progressive Party has no foothold. He shared with HKFP how he donned a mussel costume and hiked around the islands to rally support, all the while being at the forefront of fending off pressure from the mainland Chinese government.
Journalist Bao Choy was convicted over obtaining a vehicle licence plate record while compiling a documentary that uncovered suspected culprits in the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks and related police failings. With HKFP, Choy shared her thoughts on being found “guilty of reporting,” and the fragility of the city’s press freedom that used to be taken for granted.
Hong Kong artists can still find ways to express themselves despite the challenges posed by growing political censorship, leading Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei told HKFP in September. “I want to say to those who are falsely and unjustly charged that they are standing on the right side of history. The authoritarian regime will not be able to erase their glory,” the artist told HKFP.