Asian Affairs Journal

Asian Affairs Journal Special Issue 2020 – Call for Articles: Environment and Social Justice in Asia

Articles are invited for a special issue of the Asian Affairs Journal on the subject of “The Environment and Social Justice in Asia”, to be published in November 2020. Articles covering any field or issue under this heading, including mining, water issues, forestry, manual scavenging, climate change, pollution, wildlife issues, or any other related matter are sought for this special issue of the Journal. This special issue hopes to focus attention on the interactions of environmental issues, politics, wealth, opportunities and privileges, as well as the effect of interventions and advocacy work on behalf of marginalised groups.

Articles should be 5-7,000 words long, and aimed at both a general as well as an academic audience. Full details guidelines on submissions can be found at the Journal Homepage: (instructions for authors)

Submissions or enquiries should be made by email to the editor, Bijan Omrani –

The deadline for submissions is 15 September 2020.

The Asian Affairs Journal has been published since 1914, and is the journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs in London ( It is published internationally by Taylor and Francis, and has a wide readership amongst both academics, policy-makers, diplomats, and those in business and government. More information on the Journal can be found at the aims and scope page on the Journal website:

Recent special issues of the Journal have focused on the Belt-and-Road Initiative, and also Religious Freedom in South Asia. Please see the links below to see these issues: (Belt and Road) (Religious Freedom in South Asia)

Hong Kong

A Letter from Hong Kong – 20 April

Martin Purbrick (@mtpurbrick), the RSAA’s honorary local secretary in Hong Kong, continues his commentary on life with Covid-19.  Martin is a regular contributor to Asian Affairs



20 April 2020

The Coronavirus in Hong Kong has led to a new normal lifestyle for us all. Bars, pubs, karaoke lounges, massage establishments, bathhouses, mahjong parlours, and nightclubs (which are not discos, but have Chinese hostesses entertaining male customers) are all closed. Never has vice been so hard hit. Horse racing is however continuing and hence at least people can gamble, which Deng Xiaoping assured when he famously said before 1997 that “Horses will keep racing and nightclub dancing will continue”. (Well, he was right about horses.)

Restaurants are open, but with only 50 per cent of normal seating allowed, tables must be 1.5 metres apart or with a partition, and no more than 4 people may sit together. Face masks must be worn inside restaurants, except when consuming food or drink (thank heavens). There is temperature checking at entrances to restaurants and shops. Face masks are pervasive on people walking on the streets. But business continues and there is no compulsory lockdown.

Thankfully, the situation is far less severe than in many other cities and countries.  By 19 April, there were a total of 1,024 confirmed cases and only 4 deaths. Hong Kong people are doing well at dealing with the crisis.

The Hong Kong Government’s Coronavirus catchphrase is “Together we fight the virus”. This collaborative approach does however continue to be distracted by the political tensions. The Liaison Office of the Central Peoples’ Government stated last week that they can comment on and supervise any issues concerning the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing. This may contradict Article 22 of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong mini-constitution, that requires that PRC government departments do not interfere in Hong Kong affairs. This followed comments made by the Head of the Liaison Office about legislators who he suggested may have breached their oaths of office by filibustering new legislation.

On 14 April, Reuters reported that senior judges in the city had told reporters that “The independence of Hong Kong’s judicial system is under assault from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing.” The article relayed concerns from interviews with judges that there is a concerted effort by the Central Peoples’ Government to restrict the Hong Kong Judiciary by using the PRC state-controlled media to issue warnings, to limit the scope of the Judiciary to rule on any constitutional matters, and to assert the rule of law as a tool to preserve the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

The next day happened to be “National Security Education Day”, seemingly a new festival in Hong Kong that has not been in the traditional Chinese calendar in the past. Both Hong Kong and Central Government officials made statements about the auspicious day. Carrie Lam, Chief Executive, said that “National security is an important cornerstone for peace and stability and “social events” in the past year have given the society a deeper understanding of the importance of national security.”

Luo Huining, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central Peoples’ Government in Hong Kong, said on 15 April that “If the anthill eroding the rule of law is not cleared, the dam of national security will be destroyed and the well-being of all Hong Kong residents will be damaged”, and that “There is a need to put effort into maintaining the national security legal system and enforcement system as soon as possible.” Luo was referring to the calls by the Central Peoples’ Government for Hong Kong to enact new national security legislation.

Celebrations of National Security Education Day in the PRC included suggestions by the Ministry of State Security as to why this is such an important subject. The MSS are usually quite a serious bunch but in cartoon videos released on their website they referred to Superman, Mr. Bean, The Joker, and Spongebob Squarepants to illustrate why the Counter Espionage and National Security Law are really very important. (1)

The videos encourage citizens to identify foreign spies in their everyday lives and explains that many people think of the FBI, CIA, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, and Captain America as spies, but the superheroes have in fact been laid off and are unemployed. It seems that even the serious spies at the Ministry of State Security has been watching a few too many Hollywood movies during their prolonged time locked down because of the coronavirus.

There is a long tradition in China of warning the population to beware of “foreign forces”. On the 2018 National Security Awareness Day, Chinese citizens were warned to be alert for friends who wear masks, spies who come as tourists, journalists, researchers, or diplomats.(2)  In the 2017 campaign, the authorities offered cash rewards for providing intelligence about foreign agents. The first campaign, in 2016, warned female citizens of the “Dangerous Love” from dating foreigners. The risks were illustrated in a cartoon showing a poor civil servant named “Little Li” who engaged in a romance with a visiting foreign scholar called David. Miss Li’s job is to write reports for senior Communist Party leaders, which the devious David asks her to share with him after he plies her with walks in the park, flowers and dinner dates. This does of course end in tears as David stops calling Miss Li once he has some reports, and the police arrive to arrest the poor girl whilst telling her how naïve she is.

It seems that old people can also be a danger to National Security.  On Saturday 18 April, the Hong Kong Police arrested Barrister Martin Lee (age 81), Barrister Margaret Ng (72), former legislator Yeung Sum (72), newspaper owner Jimmy Lai (71), former legislator Albert Ho (68), former legislator Cyd Ho (65), politician Leung Kwok Hung (64), trade unionist Lee Cheuk Yan (63), and a few other local politicians.  All were arrested on suspicion of taking part in an Unlawful Assembly in August 2019. None had committed any violence and did not encourage violence, but they were at a protest involving a few hundred thousand people that has been declared an Unlawful Assembly by the Police.

It is always helpful to look back at history in China to understand the current political situation. Confucius is helpful when considering governing, and in the Analects, written around 500 BCE, “The Duke Ai asked, saying, “What should be done in order to secure the submission of the people?” Confucius replied, “Advance the upright and set aside the crooked, then the people will submit. Advance the crooked and set aside the upright, then the people will not submit.”  Rather often in the history of China the teachings of Confucius are more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Laws in China were codified during the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first great emperor from 221 BCE, but according to the “Legalist” philosophy. Legalism contended that people were more likely to do wrong rather than right because they are self-interested and hence the threat of severe punishment is the best way to maintain order. Legalism was prominent during the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi and other philosophies were banned, books detailing them destroyed, and non-conforming writers executed. Punishments were severe, ranging from beatings, hard labour (for instance on the Great Wall and Grand Canal), banishment to frontier regions (terribly hot), flogging, amputation (of hands, feet, nose), and castration.

The Qin Dynasty ended in 206 BCE and was succeeded by the Han Dynasty that continued until 220 CE. During the Han Dynasty “Legalism” was replaced by Confucianism as the leading philosophy and the country thrived with the development of the Silk Road, the establishment of the Imperial Examinations, the expansion of art in calligraphy, painting, pottery, and sculpture, which established China as such a great civilisation that thrives when its people are allowed to express themselves.

1. Quartz, China is using Mr Bean and Batman to help explain the importance of protecting state secrets, 15 April 2020 (

 2. The Guardian, China’s anti-spy campaign: cash rewards and warnings of dangerous times, 10 May 2018 (


Martin Purbrick


Hong Kong

A letter from Hong Kong

Coronavirus may be keeping us at home, but the RSAA is lucky to have members who can give us views from across Asia.

This contribution is from Martin Purbrick (@mtpurbrick), honorary local secretary in Hong Kong.  Martin is a regular contributor to Asian Affairs


4 April 2020

GKpGPNBL_400x400The Coronavirus affecting us now is not the first time that we have lived through an epidemic in Hong Kong, and not likely to be the last. Hong Kong people have experienced Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, H5N1 Avian Flu in 1997 (killing six people and the first human transmission of this virus), and the “Hong Kong flu” in 1968 (named as the first reported case was in the city) which affected half a million residents.

We started to hear about Covid-19, the new Coronavirus, at the end of December 2019 (which seems a lifetime ago). In early January those of us working in large organisations activated our response plans, with employee communications, face masks distributed, frequent cleaning of everything (door handles, lift buttons, tables, toilets, etc), all of the things that we had learnt during SARS. Hong Kong people reacted quickly for one reason – They were scared. We were all scared not only because we know the death that epidemics can bring to large cities, but also because we have experienced the difficulty of trusting information from the government in mainland China.

Covid-19 came after six months of violent political protest and a crackdown by the police that seemed would never end. News media reported nothing else, people at work talked of nothing else, and we were all obsessed (and divided) by nothing else. Yet in early January the large protests stopped. This was due to more than the Coronavirus. The police have arrested over 7,000 people since June 2019 when major protests started, which has helped stop violence. The protest movement, which involves a wide range of civil society groups, changed strategy after success in the District Council elections and is now focussed on the September elections for the Legislative Council in which they aim to defeat pro-establishment parties and embarrass the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing. Yet protests continue, despite social distancing from fear of the Coronavirus.

On New Year’s Day the police dispersed a large peaceful march numbering according to the organisers hundreds of thousands. On 3 January, 20,000 teachers protested against government “white terror” (referring to efforts to silence people). On 19 January, tens of thousands attended a rally against the Chinese Communist Party, that was cleared by police firing tear gas. Small scale protests still occur frequently, usually to commemorate protest events such as the 21/7 attacks in the Yuen Long MTR (train) station, the 31/8 incident at Prince Edward MTR station, and the 8/1 2016 riots in Mong Kok.

The anniversaries of protests events illustrate the Chinese love of numerology. The protest events are remembered as 21/7, 31/8, 8/1, etc.  Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Government, is referred to by most local people as “777” (“chat chat chat” in Cantonese), which refers to the number of votes she obtained in the election for her position. The Cantonese in particular use the sounds of some numbers to associate with names. Cantonese for Four is sei, which sounds like the word for death. Eight is baat, which sounds like the words for prosper and wealth (I confess that I added 888 pounds to the bidding price for my flat in Edinburgh in an effort to have luck with the purchase!).

Protest slogans are widely popular, and have become virus slogans. During the protests people would chant in Cantonese “Heung Kong yan ga yau” (“Hong Kong people add oil”, meaning “keep going”). In July 2019, a Cathay Pacific pilot became a local hero when just before landing at the Hong Kong airport he said in a pre-landing announcement “Heung Kong yan ga yau”. Ironically, this also became the rallying cry in Wuhan when the locked down population started to shout out of their high-rise apartment windows “Wuhan ren ka yau” in Mandarin (“Wuhan people add oil”). In March residents from Hubei Province fought against Public Security Bureau (police) officers from Jiangxi Province after marching with police officers from their own area across the Jiuliang Yangtze River Bridge that joins both provinces, chanting “Hubei ga yau” (“Hubei add oil”). The cause of the clashes between Hubei and Jiangxi people (and police) was a tangled web as such incidents often are in China, but it brings us back to the Coronavirus as Hubei people who have been locked down for three months in their homes vented their frustrations.

The protests seem a very long time ago, although most of us fear that they will return in the summer as the government refuses to seek reconciliation and the protest movement is readying for the next round. No doubt when major protests do return they will replace the Coronavirus in the 24-hour news cycle. The top stories in the South China Morning Post this morning are “Is Hong Kong’s Basic Law standing firm at 30?” and “Hong Kong bars and pubs shut as coronavirus tally rises by 43”.

The first story refers to the 30th anniversary of the endorsement of the Basic Law, the constitution of Hong Kong, by the National Peoples’ Congress of China on 4 April 1990. The Basic Law is the foundation of “One country two systems” which was the basis for the return of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the Peoples Republic of China. Following the violent political protests of 2019, the dire unpopularity of the local government, as well as widespread local antipathy towards the governing system and culture of mainland China, many have suggested that “One country two systems” is not working. This issue remains the single greatest challenge facing Hong Kong in the long term.

The other story is of course about Covid-19, which has taken over all of our lives in Hong Kong and around the world. The number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has reached 845. Hong Kong is doing well with a relatively low number of confirmed cases and only 4 deaths. Clearly that number can change and we all continue social distancing and careful hygiene.

Today is Ching Ming (Qingming), falling on the 15th day of the Spring Equinox, when Chinese people gather in family groups to sweep the graves of their ancestors and make offerings. This ancient Chinese tradition is affected as less people will travel to mainland China to visit tombs of ancestors and the government has banned gatherings of more than four people, which will cause them to stay away from graves. But Chinese tradition endures. Shops in Hong Kong selling paper products to burn for their ancestors to use in the afterlife, such as banknotes and expensive luxury items, are this year selling paper face masks, paper health care products, paper drugs, and even paper dolls dressed as doctors and nurses to assist the dead against the Coronavirus. Thankfully, Chinese culture has a solution to every problem.

Martin Purbrick