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.

Learning Cantonese: Lennon Banners Kick off in 2021!

The Lennon Walls that appeared as a spontaneous form of protest across Hong Kong were dismantled in the latter half of 2020, but on Day 1 of 2021 they have come back to us in a new form: the Lennon Banner. The one featured in the photograph bears the words 釋放政治犯 (“Release Political Prisoners”) and references the Lennon Walls with its orange and purple post-it note squares.

The report, from 劉錦華 Làuh4 Gám2 Wàah4 at HK01 provides some of the background to the banners. As one of the councillors of the Kwai Tsing District said in a speech, the main thing is 並指希望藉行動表達過去一年港人雖受打壓,但依然人心不死的訊息 — to express the message that the will of the people will never die, despite the repression Hongkongers have endured over the past year.

For the original report and extra photographs of the Lennon Banners, just click here.



● 發起 faat3 héi2 = to start; to launch | ● 巡遊 chèuhn4 yàuh4 = usu. to make an inspection circuit | ● 連儂布 Lìhn4 Nùhng4 Bou3 = a Lennon (Fabric) Banner cf. Lennon Wall | ● 響應 héung2 ying3 = to respond; to answer | ● 聲援 sīng1 wùhn4 = to express support for; to support

Today (1 January) the Civil Human Rights Front launched a kind of touring protest [巡遊] in many districts, to display to the public [inscribed] “Lennon Banners”, [featuring] signatures and short written messages [字句] previously collected in a number of districts. As part of this [當中], democratic councillors in the Kwai Tsing District also responded with an action, expressing support for the 12 Hong Kongers at the Kwai Chung Plaza.


● 輪流 lèuhn4 láu4*2 = to take turns; to do sth. in turn | ● 在囚 joih6 chàuh4 = (?) in prison; imprisoned | ● 人心不死 yàhn4 sām1 bāt1 séi2 = (?) the will of the people will never die | ● 訊息 seun3 sīk1 = message

Quite a number of councillors in the Kwai Tsing District took it in turns to make speeches, calling on citizens to continue to be concerned about Hong Kong people in prison or in exile, and called on China to release all political prisoners. They also hoped that, by means of this action, they could express the message that the will of the people will never die, despite the repression Hongkongers have endured over the past year.


展示 jín2 sih6 = to display | ● 衝鋒車 chūng1 fūng1 chē1 = (?) assault vehicle | ● 戒備 gaai3 beih6 = to be on standby; to guard; to be on guard

While councillors in the Kwai Tsing District were displaying the “Lennon Banner”, three assault vehicles and more than ten police officers were on stand-by in the vicinity, observing [proceedings]. However, they did not interfere with the carrying out of the action.


單仲偕 Sihn6 Juhng6 Gāai1 = Sin Chung-kai | ● 權益 kyùhn4 yīk1 = rights and interests | ● 612基金 is short for 612人道支援基金 yàhn4 douh6 jī1 wùhn4 gēi1 gām1 = 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund | ● 捐贈 gyūn1 jahng6 = to contribute (as a gift); to donate | ● 審判 sám2 pun3 = to bring to trial; to try

Chairperson of the Kwai Tsing District Council Sin Chung-kai said that democratic councillors of the District will continue to show concern for the rights and interests of political prisoners in jail in Hong Kong or abroad. Sin also appealed to citizens to donate to the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, saying that at present the Fund had only ten and a bit million [Hong Kong] dollars left [in it], and could not necessarily cover [應付] cases the hearing of which had not yet been completed. He called on citizens to actively support the Fund.

葵青區議員梁錦威表示,多個葵青區民主派區議員在聖誕節前後,於大窩口,青衣,葵涌等地收集市民的說話,以製成該「連儂布」,並於今日元旦日展示。十二港人案日前由內地法院作判決,當中兩名未成年港人不獲起訴,梁錦威表示即使如此,他們依然坐了130日「冤枉監」, 呼籲市民繼續關注在內地在囚的其餘10名港人,又指如果市民不作關注,難以想像他們會受到什麼對待。

● 梁錦威 Lèuhng4 Gám2 Wāi1= Leung Kam Wai (Simon) | ● 日前 yaht6 chìhn4 = a few days ago; the other day | ● 不獲起訴 bāt1 wohk6 héi2 sou3 = cf. 起訴 = to bring an action against sb.; to prosecute | ●「冤枉監」yūn1 wóng2 gāam1 = ? cf. 冤枉 = to treat unjustly

Leung Kam Wai, a Kwai Tsing District councillor, said that many democratic councillors in the Kwai Tsing District had, during the Christmas period [在聖誕節前後], collected comments from residents in Tai Wo Hau, Tsing Yi and Kwai Chung in order to make this “Lennon Banner”, and had put it on display on New Year’s Day. A few days ago, the Twelve Hongkongers had been sentenced by a Mainland court, [but] no action was brought against two of them who are under-aged. Despite this being the case, Leung Kam Wai said, they still had to spend 130 days in “unjust imprisonment” [「冤枉監」] and he appealed to citizens to continue to be concerned about the other ten Hong Kong people [still] in prison on the Mainland. He also added that, if local residents take no interest [in this case], it won’t bear thinking about [難以想像] how they might be treated.


張文龍 Chēung1 Màhn4 Lùhng4 = Cheung Man-lung (Dennis) | ● 與生俱來 yúh5 sāng1 kēui1 lòih4 = to be born with; inherent; innate | ● 處境 chú2 gíng2 = unfavourable situation; plight | ● 剝奪 mōk1 dyuht6 = to deprive; to expropriate; to strip

Cheung Man-lung, another Kwai Tsing District councillor, appealed to the people of Hong Kong to go on showing concern for political prisoners. In Cheung’s opinion, the law-breakers should be the government and not the political prisoners, since the government has not given Hong Kong people their human rights in accordance with the Basic Law. Moreover, the pursuit of democracy and freedom should not be [regarded as] criminal behaviour but as a natural human right. Cheung also expressed the hope that political prisoners might find themselves in a less unfavourable situation in the new year rather than be stripped of their rights.

Learning Cantonese: Dignified, Lucid, Restrained, Modest & Compassionate

You could do worse than model your spoken Cantonese on that of 黃之鋒Joshua Wong, 周庭 Agnes Chow and 林朗彥 Ivan Lam featured in this 2-minute video from HK01. Dignified, lucid, restrained, modest and compassionate, such eloquence inspires us with hope even as these speakers face long months in prison . . .

Given the context, much of the difficult vocabulary is legal. Nevertheless, there are some real gems here too: Joshua Wong’s 低谷 dāi1 gūk1 = a low valley; rock bottom; Agnes Chow’s 手足 sáu2 jūk1 = usually “brothers” (but here something like “sisters and brothers coming together for a common cause); and Ivan Lam’s 必要之舉 bīt1 yiu3 jī1 géui2 = (?) a necessary/essential act.

As for grammar points, there is little in what follows that ought to bamboozle you. Watch out for another use of the aspect marker 住 jyuh6 to indicate a persistent after-effect with the verb 意味 yi3 meih6 = “to mean”; one example of the conditional concessive 即使 jīk1 sí2 = “even if”; and, right at the end, the appearance of the directional complement 落去 lohk6 heui3, used with the verb 堅持 gīn1 chìh4 with the more abstract meaning of “to continue doing”.

The captions featured during the video outline the criminal charges faced by the trio. For Wong and Chow, these involve the incitement of others in Admiralty to take part in an illegal assembly and to organize an illegal assembly outside police headquarters. Lam was only charged with the first of these items.

You can view the video here. And remember, 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.


黃之鋒:警察總部嘅示威案件裏邊呢 | 周庭、林朗彥同埋我黃之鋒 | 我都係選擇呢,係去承認所有控罪 | 今日嘅案件呢,係應該會直接跳過審訊階段 | 直接結案陳詞 | 甚至有可能判刑 | 亦都意味住呢,其實我哋三個人呢,係有機會即時還押 | 面對住《國安法》嘅打壓、白色恐怖嘅來臨 | 即使我哋面對住監禁刑期 | 或者我哋有機會係被還押都好 | 我哋都唔會放棄 | 喺艱難嘅時候 | 我哋仍然好想呼籲香港人 | 喺呢個低潮或者係一個民族運動嘅低谷裏邊 | 互相嘅扶持係更加可貴

● 承認 sìhng4 yihng6 = to admit; to acknowledge; to recognize | ● 跳過 tiu3 gwo3 = to skip over; to make omissions | ● 審訊 sám2 seun3 = a trial; a courtroom hearing | ● 結案陳詞git3 [ng]on3 chàhn4 chìh4 = closing statement | ● 即時 jīk1 sìh4 = immediately; forthwith | ● 還押 wàahn4 aat3 = to remand (in custody) | ● 監禁刑期 gāam1 gam3 yìhng4 kèih4 = prison term/sentence | ● 低潮 dāi1 chìuh4 = a low tide; an anti-climax; a low point; perhaps also “at a low ebb” | ● 低谷 dāi1 gūk1 = a low valley; rock bottom; perhaps also “trough” (as in “peaks & troughs”)

Joshua Wong: In the case [concerning] the demonstration outside police headquarters, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam and myself, Joshua Wong, have chosen to plead guilty to all charges. The case today could skip the hearing stage and [move] directly to the closing statement. We could even be sentenced. What this also means is, actually, that for the three of us, there is a chance that we will be immediately remanded in custody. Confronted with the repression of the “National Security Law” and the arrival [來臨] of White Terror, even if we are to face a prison sentence or have the chance of being taken into custody on remand, we will not give up. In this very difficult time, we nevertheless very much wish to appeal to the people of Hong Kong at this low point or “rock bottom” in the democracy movement [to remind them that our] mutual support for one another is especially [更加] precious.

周庭:我就同佢哋兩位唔同 | 就喺一個更加早嘅階段就選擇認罪 | 而我亦都有可能係喺今日 | 或者喺不久嘅將來 | 係有一個可能性係要面對我人生第一次坐監 | 當然我對好多【1:00】未知嘅未來 | 包括係緊嘅判斷會有好多唔同嘅不安 | 但希望大家唔好忘記就係 | 有好多或者比我哋 | 犧牲嘅更加嘅手足們、朋友們 | 可能佢哋正係面對緊更加困難嘅處境 | 除咗我哋三個之外 | 都要繼續去到聲援同埋關注唔同嘅手足

● 不久嘅將來 bāt1 gáu2 ge3 jēung1 lòih4 = the not too distant future | ● 手足 sáu2 jūk1 = usually “brothers” | ● 處境 chú2 gíng2 = unfavourable situation; plight | ● 聲援 sīng1 wùhn4 = to express support for; to support

Agnes Chow: [In my case] things are a bit different from my two friends here [佢哋兩位]. I chose to plead guilty at an earlier stage, and today or in the not too distant future I may possibly be facing my first ever stint in prison. Of course, there are many kinds of uneasiness for me, faced with a very uncertain future [好多未知嘅未來] including the coming legal sentence, but I hope that everyone will remember that there are many other sisters, brothers and friends who may have made many more sacrifices than us and who may be faced with an even more difficult plight at this moment. Apart from the three of us, there are various other sisters and brothers who one must continue to express support and to show concern for.

林朗彥:我自己,啊,本身都已經做好咗今日有機會係會被還押 | 甚至係即時入獄嘅準備 | 包圍警總到底係一個罪案定係其實係一個我哋伸張正義 | 爭取民族嘅必要之舉 | 我相信喺香港人心裏面已經有一個答案 | 噉我哋係無悔我哋所作嘅抗爭 | 亦都會繼續堅持落去

● 入獄 yaph6 yuhk6 = to be put in prison; to be sent to jail | ● 伸張正義 sān1 jēung1 jing3 yih6 = to uphold/promote justice | ● 必要之舉 bīt1 yiu3 jī1 géui2 = (?) a necessary/essential act | ● 無悔 mòuh4 fui3 = to be without regrets (for sth.)

Ivan Lam: Me, well I’ve already prepared myself for being taken into custody today and even going into prison forthwith. Was encircling [包圍] police headquarters a crime, when all is said and done [底係], or was it actually [a case of] us upholding justice, a necessary act in the fight for democracy? I believe that the people of Hong Kong have the answer to this question in their hearts already. We have no regrets for any of our acts we have carried out as part of our stand and will continue to persevere.

記者 Reporters:
林樂兒 Làhm4 Lohk6 Yìh4,鄧家琪 Dahng6 Gāa1 Kèih4 | 琪 kèih4 = a piece of jade; a jade-like precious stone

攝影 Camera:
楊凱力 Yèuhng4 Hói2 Lihk6

剪接 Film editing:
張偉江 Jēung1 Wáih5 Gōng1