Learning Cantonese: Unthinking Hong Kong’s Democracy

The recent arrest of 53 people connected with the democratic movement continues the sustained effort to establish an authoritarian style of government in Hong Kong and to criminalize dissent of any kind.

In July 2020, 戴耀廷 Benny Tai and others organized a primary election for people associated with the democratic camp. Identifying the most popular candidates, he hoped, would enable the democrats to win a majority of seats in the Legislative Council (click here to see a brief report on this by HK01). According to the Secretary for Security 李家超John Lee Ka-chiu, himself a former policeman, these primary elections constituted “a malicious plan to paralyse the SAR government”. The man largely responsible for implementing the National Security Law in Hong Kong, 李桂華Steve Li Kwai-wah used the phrase “to bring our government to a complete standstill” with regard to the primaries and then compared Tai’s actions to that of a person intending to commit robbery. The idea that a government is not a fixed entity but one that evolves in response to the wishes of the people it governs is absent from both views.

You can view the HK01 video by an unnamed reporter here, but scroll down if you want the Cantonese transcript, notes and translation. For interest’s sake, I have also added the official English translation of Article 22 of the National Security Law dealing with “subversion” [顛覆國家政權罪]. If you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.


李家超(保安侷局長):. . . 涉嫌顛覆國家政權罪活躍份子 | 圖謀以一個歹毒嘅計劃 | 去癱瘓特區政府 | 如果呢個歹毒嘅計劃得逞嘅話 | 而香港亦都可能要再經歷過一個萬劫不復嘅深淵

● 活躍份子 = active element; activist| ● 圖謀 = to plot; to scheme; to conspire | ● 歹毒 = malicious | ● 得逞 = (pejorative) to have one’s way; to succeed; to prevail | ● 萬劫不復 = beyond redemption; never to be recovered or restored | ● 深淵 = abyss

John Lee Ka-chiu (Secretary for Security): . . . activists suspected of the crime of subverting state power and plotting with a malicious plan to paralyze the SAR government. Had this malicious plot succeeded, Hong Kong could possibly have experienced yet another abyss, never to be recovered from (?).

記者:警方國安處派出過千個警員 | 拘捕 53 個發起或者參與 | 舊年35+民主派初選嘅人士 | 話佢哋涉嫌干犯《港區國安法》廿二條 | 顛覆國家政權罪 | (Democrats chanting slogans) | 民主派唔同板塊見記者 | 批評係濫捕

● 發起 = to start; to launch | ● 「35+民主派初選」= The 35+ Primaries for the Democrats | ● 干犯 = to offend; to encroach upon; to break (the law) | ● 板塊 = main parts; sector | ● 濫捕 = (?) to arrest people excessively/indiscriminately

Reporter: The police Office for Safeguarding National Security dispatched over a thousand police officers and arrested 53 individuals who had initiated or taken part in last year’s 35+ Primaries for the Democrats, claiming [話] that they were under suspicion of having violated Article 22 of the National Security Law, [dealing with] subversion. (Democrats chanting slogans.) Members from the democratic groups [民主派唔同板塊] criticized [the action] as “an excessive use of arrests” [濫捕] during a meeting with the press.

羅健熙(民主黨主席):初選係任何陣營裏邊可以自由進行嘅事 | 每一個陣營或者每一個政黨,要做一個初選 | 去揀一啲人選出嚟係【1:00】非常之合理、非常之正常 | 完全任何不妥當嘅事情 | 可以 [UNCLEAR]「生案白造」| 話係會危害國家安全嘅話呢 | 國安法成爲「萬能 key」之後 | 大家見到嘅就會係白色恐怖

● 初選 = a primary election | ● 生案白造 saang1 on1 baahk6 jouh6 = to fabricate; to cook up a story; to make up without evidence | ● 危害 = to harm; to jeopardize; to endanger | ● 萬能 key (or 萬能鑰匙) maahn6 nahng4 (yeuhk6 sih4) = a master key; a skeleton key; a passkey | ● 白色恐怖 = white terror

Lo Kin-hei (Chairperson of the Hong Kong Democrats): Primary elections are something that any (political) camp can freely undertake. Any camp or any party having to do a primary election to choose candidates is perfectly reasonable, perfectly normal, something completely devoid of anything inappropriate. To cook up some story and say that it jeopardizes national security. After the National Security Law became a master key, what we have all seen is white terror.

李桂華(國安處高級警司):. . . 係咪唔人初選呢,做呢啲咁呢?| 大家都知道 | 初選係其他嘅國家都會 [UNCLEAR] 嘅 | 但係呢啲嘅運動呢,通常呢,去到嚟選擇啲合適嘅人選呢 | 同埋選擇啲適當嘅人選去參加佢哋嘅議會 | 但係正正我哋今次依個呢,並非如此 | 佢哋係只有一個目標 | 希望能夠令到我哋嘅政府停擺 | 有一個人揸車去打劫 | 揸車冇問題嘅 | 但係佢諗 [UNCLEAR] 去打劫 | [UNCLEAR] | 咁就係犯法嘅

● 人選 = a candidate | ● 並非如此 = not at all like this | ● 停擺 = (of a pendulum) to come to a standstill; stop | ● 打劫 = to rob; to plunder; to loot

Steve Li Kwai-wah (Senior Superintendent of the National Security Division): . . . is it that we aren’t letting people hold primary elections? As everyone knows, primary elections are also held in other countries, but such events [運動] are usually for the selection of suitable candidates and the choosing of desirable candidates to become members of parliament [參加佢哋嘅議會]. But this is not what we have in this instance. They only have one aim: to bring our government to a complete standstill. [If] a person drives off in a car to commit robbery, the driving of the car is no problem, but if that person was doing so in order to rob someone, for this reason it is against the law.

黃浩銘(社民運主席):即係而家唔係我攞支槍去打劫 | 係個政府俾張支票【2:00】人民 | 我要民意代表入去兌現張支票 | 去運用《基本法》一早已經寫落嚟 | 咁多年嚟都冇人挑戰過嘅權力 | 我哋今日入去到啲錢 | [UNCLEAR] 你同我哋講話我哋係打劫

● 兌現 = to cash (a cheque) | ● 挑戰 = to challenge

Raphael Wong (Chairperson of the League of Social Democrats): I mean, now it’s not me grabbing a gun and [heading off] to commit robbery but a cheque issued [俾咗] by the government to the people. What we want is for the representatives of the will of the people [民意代表] to go and cash the cheque, to use what was written down in the Basic Law right from the start [一早], a right that for ever so many years no one has ever challenged. But at this time (?) when we want to go and get our money, you tell us that we are committing robbery.

梁家傑(公民黨主席):李桂華或者,呃,李家超嗰啲呢,將佢嗰啲,呃,文章呀,係無限上綱,咁樣呢 | 我覺得係完全不容於我哋個普通法嘅 | 即係只係檢控一啲刑事作爲、行爲嘅一個法制呢

● 無限 = infinite; limitless; boundless | ●上綱 = to raise to the higher plane of principle; elevate an issue to the level of principle | ● 不容 = not tolerate; not allow; not brook | ● 檢控 = to prosecute | ● 作爲 = conduct; a deed; an action 法制 = legal institution; legal system; legality

Alan Leong Kah-kit (Chairperson of the Civic Party): Steve Li Kwai-wah [and (?)] John Lee Ka-chiu have been elevating without limit his [that is, Benny Tai’s] essays to the level of principle. In my view, this is not allowed under our common law in any shape or form [完全]. It is merely a legality for prosecuting [certain] criminal acts or behaviours.

[A list of some of the major people arrested is given. For the list in English, see this report on the Hong Kong Free Press website]


Reporter: The police say they do not rule out [the possibility] of further arrests.

The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Part 2 Subversion

Article 22 A person who organises, plans, commits or participates in any of the following acts by force or threat of force or other unlawful means with a view to subverting the State power shall be guilty of an offence:

(1) overthrowing or undermining the basic system of the People’s Republic of China established by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China;
(2) overthrowing the body of central power of the People’s Republic of China or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
(3) seriously interfering in, disrupting, or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the body of central power of the People’s Republic of China or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; or
(4) attacking or damaging the premises and facilities used by the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to perform its duties and functions, rendering it incapable of performing its normal duties and functions.

A person who is a principal offender or a person who commits an offence of a grave nature shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years; a person who actively participates in the offence shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than ten years; and other participants shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, short-term detention or restriction.

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