Moon Festival Brings Scant Cheer to China's Dissidents, Lawyers

A Hong Kong activist goes on hunger strike in Taiwan to warn the island that Beijing didn't keep its promises of autonomy for his city.

Hunger striker Hendrick Lui is shown camped outside Taiwan's Legislative Yuan in an undated photo.

As half of China's population takes to the road, rails, and air for a week of fun, feasting, and moon-gazing on the annual Golden Week holiday, a social activist from Hong Kong has begun a hunger strike outside Taiwan's parliament in protest at the mainland's ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Social worker Hendick Lui, 35, was camped on Wednesday outside the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan's capital Taipei, and is refusing food and drink in a bid to warn the democratic island's 23 million inhabitants not to have any truck with "reunification" proposals from Beijing.

"I am from Hong Kong, and I would like to tell the people of Taiwan that they shouldn't believe the Chinese Communist Party," Lui told RFA. "[The promise of] one country, two systems has turned out to be a lie in Hong Kong."

Hong Kong ended its days as a British colony in 1997 amid pledges of "a high degree of autonomy" under the one country, two systems model.

The 1984 Sino-British treaty governing the handover said the city would maintain its tradition freedoms of press, protest, and its independent court system for at least 50 years after its return to Chinese rule.

But the cross-border detentions and interrogation of five Hong Kong booksellers has been cited by U.S. and European officials as evidence that Hong Kong is losing the "high degree of autonomy" and traditional freedoms guaranteed under the terms of the 1997 handover from the U.K. to Chinese rule.

A string of violent attacks on outspoken media figures, the expulsion from the legislature of six pro-democracy lawmakers, and the jailing of three former leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central democracy movement have led many to believe that the city's traditional freedoms are now a thing of the past.

Lui said he plans to go without food for seven days in a bid to warn Taiwan, a former Japanese colony that has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, that similar pledges made by Beijing over its plans for eventual "reunification" with the island won't be honored.

Support for self-rule


China's Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist government, then known as the Republic of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, relocated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.

Lui pointed to Beijing's human rights record and its penchant for locking up peaceful critics of the government, including Taiwan democracy activist and NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh, who was recently tried for subversion in a Chinese court.

"There are political prisoners ... who won't be able to spend Mid-Autumn Festival at home, for example Lee Ming-cheh from Taiwan and Joshua Wong in Hong Kong," Lui said.

He said people shouldn't forget Hong Kong's political prisoners, jailed after the government pressed for harsher sentences on public order charges for their role in the Occupy Central movement.

In Hong Kong, rights activists marched in support of political prisoners this week bearing effigies of mooncakes, the sweet baked cakes eaten to celebrate the harvest moon, a symbol of longing for home and loved ones.

"Release all human rights lawyers!" they chanted, in a reference to dozens of lawyers detained in a nationwide police operation since July 2015.

"End political persecution! Release Liu Xianbin! Release Tang Jingling! Release Wang Quanzhang!" protesters shouted.

They also called on authorities to allow Liu Xia, the widow of late political prisoner and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, her freedom from house arrest and constant surveillance.

Families separated

Richard Choi of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said the Mid-Autumn Festival should be a time for family reunion in traditional Chinese culture.

"Dissidents and rights lawyers in mainland China are subjected to unreasonable detention, and to being jailed on trumped-up charges," Choi said. "They are separated from their loved ones for long periods of time, while dissidents in exile overseas are unable to return home."

Friends of disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng said he has now been missing for weeks, after disappearing from house arrest at a cave home in the northern province of Shanxi.

"I call on the the international community and human rights groups and friends at home and overseas to pay more attention to the disappearance of Gao Zhisheng," fellow activist Ai Ming told RFA. "He has now been missing for more than 50 days ... with no legal procedures whatsoever. This is illegal detention."

Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally a harvest celebration, starts on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon appears at its roundest and largest. It is marked in China on Wednesday.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing and Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.