Reviews | How jailed Hong Kong protesters are being subjected to ‘reflective work’

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Perry Link is Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University.

As the political system of the People’s Republic of China continues to take hold in Hong Kong, the city’s local officials sometimes seem too eager to please their Beijing masters. An official from the Hong Kong Department of Corrections recently, and with obvious pride, explained how the department uses brainwashing techniques that have long been the norm on the mainland.

Over the past three decades, the Chinese Communist Party has spent immense sums on ‘maintaining stability’, a budget item intended to fund not only the police and prisons, but also a legion of ‘thought workers’. covering the country to nip in the bud any threat to the authority of the CCP. A comment that is not “correct” can trigger an invitation to a “chat”: are you sure you mean that? Wouldn’t your life be better off if you didn’t? You want your little girl to go to the neighborhood school, don’t you? Etc.

Mainland dissidents, accustomed to such discussions, can become adept at clashing with thought workers. But they have to learn the rules of the game as they go; the regime does not publish them. In Hong Kong, the Department of Corrections does.

In a budget document for the fiscal year ending in 2023, the department outlines how prison officials are working on “persons in custody” (abbreviated “PIC”), who are not famous dissidents but ordinary protesters, for the mostly young, who have been charged with political offences.

At the end of 2021, Hong Kong prisons held 1,787 PICs between the ages of 18 and 30 and nearly 200 others under the age of 18. They were subjected to standard CCP thinking techniques such as these:

We pin a negative but unclear label on you. During huge street protests in Hong Kong in 2019, some young protesters started wearing black outfits; this led the Department of Corrections to coin the term “violence in black”. The color black has a long history in the CCP. During the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most politically despised people were categorized into “five black categories”. In 1989, the leaders of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square were branded “black minions”. There are many other examples. And what exactly are the “black” characteristics? You don’t need to ask. All you need to know is that black = Wrong and you are on the defensive.

If you oppose us, you are by definition a minority. PICs are described in the Correctional Services document as “radical” offenders who are “extreme” in their “anti-social” mindset. Never mind that they marched in demonstrations that brought more than a quarter of the city’s total population to the streets. In police rhetoric, they were on the fringe. During the equally huge protests in Beijing in the spring of 1989, the CCP media firmly maintained that “a tiny minority” was causing all the problems.

The regime occupies the moral center. The question for “extremists” is always whether they will choose to return to the mainstream. It’s the right things to do. Just like the words black and Wrong have no specifiable empirical content, the word right doesn’t have one either. The Department of Corrections wants young Hong Kongers to take the ‘right’ path and set the ‘right’ goals, but what right mean? The government knows.

Your family is in the mainstream, not with you. In a way, there is sometimes some truth in this statement. Families, even privately sympathizing with their PICs, often play it safe. Dissidents in mainland China have often observed that their loved ones are the first to criticize them, as one hot-headed dissident can endanger an entire family. As a result, in Hong Kong, the Department of Corrections touts special family programs that aim to help PICs “form a stronger resolve to turn over a new leaf through family support”.

You need to be clear about the story. It is both essential to Marxism-Leninism and deeply rooted in Chinese cultural tradition that a leader’s legitimacy depends on a to correct view of recent history – as determined by officials. The department offers “virtual reality history learning activities” to those in need, as a “sense of national identity” helps “build positive values” and will get PICs “back on track.” “.

Your government is there to help you. He knows that IPCs have “special rehabilitation needs”. Case managers “adjust [prisoners’] rehabilitation programs as needed” to take into account the evolution of “psychological and emotional disorders, difficulties in controlling impulsivity, etc. Special programs include an information literacy group to teach inmates “to judge the authenticity of online information”; and a Zen photography workshop to “help them think about their problems from a different angle.”

The government care follows a PIC released from prison. It starts with “Project Landing”, which has a mission to help them de-radicalize, cultivate multi-perspective thinking, develop empathy skills, and rebuild family relationships. Next is a police-sponsored “Walk with YOUth program” that helps PICs “restore correct values… with a view to reducing… recidivism”. A center for psychological services called “Change Lab” aims to build “psychological resilience” and help “resist temptation”.

In mainland China, it is well known that punishments are reduced for people who show gratitude for psychological help. Similarly in Hong Kong, according to the Department of Corrections, “deradicalization rehabilitation programs have received a positive and favorable response from participants”.

Watch how a dictatorship uses propaganda to control its citizens in “Outside the Revolution.”

Watch Post Opinions’ new film, “Outside the Revolution,” which follows an exiled Cuban journalist and artist taking risks to expose government repression. (Video: The Washington Post)
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