An attempt by a handful of Hong Kong residents to mark Taiwan’s national holiday at a former revolutionary base in the New Territories ended in pushing and shoving matches with a bevy of security guards who had cordoned off the area on Saturday.
The scuffles occurred outside Hung Lau, or Red House, the most important location in the city for marking the so-called Double Tenth Day, which celebrates an anti-imperial revolt on mainland China and is a national holiday in Taiwan, where the Kuomintang (KMT) fled and established self-rule after losing the civil war to the communists in 1949.
Organisers had already called off displaying the Taiwanese flag at the site and other major events amid fears over possible breaches of the controversial national security law.
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About a dozen plain-clothes policemen were checking the ID of visitors entering Sun Yat-sen Garden in Tuen Mun, where the more than century old structure is located. When a small number of KMT sympathisers tried to approach the building, they found the area cordoned off by the security guards, all dressed in identical dark business suits.
The guards, who said they represented the mainland Chinese owner, confronted several visitors who had crossed the tape line.
“I’ve entered the site via this pathway for more than 30 years,” said a man in his 60s who called himself William. “Who are you? If you cannot prove your identity, you are discharging duties illegally.”
The guards, who remained silent, removed another man who sat on a pathway inside the cordoned-off area.
A man surnamed Chan who claimed to represent the private security company hired by the landlord told the Post the area was cordoned off to “remove weeds and renovate fences”.
Unable to gain access to the site, the visitors joined a dozen others outside the park and sang nationalistic songs but only in groups of four to avoid breaching social-distancing rules enacted to control the coronavirus pandemic.
Among them was Mak Ip-sing, a major organiser of the commemoration events, who said he had called off all ceremonies involving Taiwanese flags over fears they would violate the national security law.
Do the authorities fear the display of flags will endanger the security of China?
“Our legal advice suggested that we should not risk falling afoul of the law, which is extremely vague and broad,” said Mak, vice-chairman of Yuen Long District Council who studied at a Taiwanese university and whose father was a KMT soldier.
The Beijing-drafted law, imposed on Hong Kong on June 30, prohibits in broad terms any acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with external forces.
A man surnamed Chen, in a blue T-shirt printed with KMT characters, said he was deeply disappointed over being denied access and the lack of Taiwanese flags.
“Do the authorities fear the display of flags will endanger the security of China?” he said. “We are here to honour Sun Yat-sen for his role in ending 2,000 years of imperial rule in China.”
The venue is a former revolutionary base of Sun, the founding president of the Chinese Republic known as the “Father of the Nation”, and had drawn hundreds of people last year to sing nationalistic songs and raise the flag. But the main area where the events had taken place was filled with thorny plants this year.
The Hong Kong Chung Shan Research Institute was among the key pro-Taiwan groups that had called off flag-raising ceremonies at the site. But chairman Hopkins Chan Chi-mong said such activities were made impossible by the new plants. He did not believe the landscaping was related to the national security law.
A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said agave and pygmy date palm had been planted on government land in July to “beautify the environment and deal with possible problems of mosquito breeding upon request from residents”.
Chan said pro-Taiwan groups originally planned to host a banquet at London Restaurant in Mong Kok on Saturday evening to mark the anniversary, but it was cancelled by the venue, ostensibly due to social-distancing rules.
The restaurant’s deputy general manager So Man-shing said: “All banquets on Saturday have been cancelled. We are not rejecting visitors because of their political stance.”
But Mak, who contacted organisers who liaised with the restaurant, believed the cancellation was due to fears over the new security law, despite organisers promising not to display slogans with “Double Tenth” or “the Republic of China”, as requested by the venue.
He added that Joy and Harmony Banquet in Yuen Long had also purportedly refused on short notice to rent out their venue to civic groups to hold a banquet to mark the anniversary after government officers questioned them about the purpose of the event.
Still, a cocktail reception hosted by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s de facto diplomatic presence in Hong Kong, on Saturday evening proceeded without interruption at the JW Marriott Hotel in Admiralty.
The Double Tenth anniversary commemorates the start of the Wuchang Uprising in Hubei province on October 10, 1911, which ultimately overthrew the Qing dynasty and led to the establishment of the Republic of China. It is an official holiday in Taiwan – now formally known as the Republic of China – and is also celebrated unofficially in Hong Kong by pro-Taiwan groups and the KMT community.
Hong Kong used to have a sizeable KMT community, including nationalist sympathisers in southern China who sought refuge in the city after the communist victory. But annual celebrations have dwindled in size after the city government took to banning public displays of Taiwanese flags following the city’s return to China.
Last year, as the city was being rocked by the anti-government protests, about 100 people participated in a flash mob in Tsim Sha Tsui on October 10 to show solidarity with Taiwan by raising Taiwanese flags.