By Isaac Willour
The story of Hong Kong—which I covered—should not be remembered as the story of a nation doomed to fall.
Imagine a life lived in the shadow of the most powerful totalitarian empire on Earth—the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Every day, you wake up and go about life, school, and business, knowing an authoritarian regime is waiting for the right moment to close an iron fist around you and your loved ones. For millions of people, this tragedy is a reality.
Until recently, the world knew them as Hong Kongers. They’re the inhabitants of a city the size of London, lying within a few hundred miles of the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP and its current grasp for power may be obvious from headlines and Tweets. Yet the term ‘Hong Konger’ isn’t an abstract one. To me, ‘Hong Konger’ has a name: Sunny.
“As a teenager, I cared less about what my parents thought,” he told me with a chuckle. “But no parent really wants their son or daughter to become an activist.” He wasn’t describing a post-college vocational decision in his 20s or even a career change in his 30s—he was talking about a decision he made at fourteen years old. Sunny Cheung has done more activism in his 20s than most could dream of in a lifetime. At 26, he’d marched for freer elections in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution and stood with pro-democracy protesters from 2019-2020.
He explained being at the front of a protest, watching friends getting battered with rubber bullets and tear gas. Their crime? Resisting the Chinese Communist Party. It’s these kinds of interactions that, according to Sunny, leave a profound sense of survivor’s guilt. Cheung made it to America. Many of his friends didn’t have that option—some didn’t make it at all. “Freedom and democracy can be stolen, undermined, and damaged if they’re not paid attention to,” Sunny told me, and his next words will live with me forever.
“When you still have the freedom that others don’t have, you have to do more for them.”
Sunny left Hong Kong in August 2020. Two years later, I met him at an event in Washington D.C. I later learned was infiltrated by CCP activists. The event, on its face, was seemingly innocuous, a historical documentary from a think tank in Grand Rapids called the Acton Institute. The documentary, The Hong Konger, is the story of one of Hong Kong’s greatest heroes—and one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most hated enemies—a man named Jimmy Lai.
Jimmy Lai’s Story
Lai stowed away on a boat to Hong Kong in 1959 during the Maoist Revolution. He rose from a humble day laborer to one of the biggest clothing moguls in the world through his Asian fashion line, Giordano (named after a Chicago pizza restaurant). And then, Jimmy Lai did the one thing he simply wasn’t supposed to do. He criticized the CCP’s creeping encroachment on Hong Kong and spoke out for the freedom of his people. Lai weaponized his influence to spur on an army of freedom fighters (including Sunny Cheung, who met Lai in 2019). He spearheaded a national media movement to spread pro-democracy ideals across the city. Hong Kongers described Lai as the country’s Martin Luther King Jr. His work invigorated thousands, particularly as he marched side-by-side with them in the streets to protest the CCP.
In December 2020, however, the regime got its revenge. The CCP imprisoned Lai for conspiracy and collusion against Xi Jinping’s regime. Since then, he has spent more than a thousand days behind bars. The 75-year-old spends his days in solitary confinement, shackled in 35-pound cuffs. He will likely spend the rest of his life in a Chinese prison.
I’ve never met Jimmy, and probably never will. But his story lives on in the eyes of activists like Sunny and all Hong Kongers. And it ought to live on for us too. The CCP truly sees the story of Hong Kong—and Acton’s documentary—as a threat. The film’s been banned by TikTok, and watching it puts you dangerously close to breaking the CCP’s national security law (you can watch it in full here).
Under Chinese law, covering the story of Hong Kong is interference with China’s national security. This law means that every producer in the film—many of whom I know personally—is liable for arrest. Every journalist who ever promoted the film or covered this aspect of Hong Kong—myself included—as criminally responsible.
The story of Hong Kong—which I covered for more than a year—should not be remembered as the story of a nation doomed to fall. We owe it to the protesters who fell under the police batons, to the fighters who gave up their lives on the burning streets, and to the college students who would rather shoot flaming arrows at police officers than go to prison. This is the story of a small nation of lionhearted men and women. They were ready to fight against monsters if it meant their kids could be born free. And it’s a story worth telling at any cost.
Free people can and have sacrificed everything to be that way—if only for a moment.
About the Author
Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News. An award-winning journalist and political science student, he has covered topics ranging from Florida’s death row to the war in Ukraine and has published more than a hundred pieces in outlets ranging from The Gospel Coalition to National Review to The Wall Street Journal. He has also contributed to interviews on the state of American politics for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and The New York Times Opinion. He blogs about culture, religion, and Generation Z at The Unafraid on Substack.
Isaac has served as an editorial intern at The American Spectator and The Dispatch and recently completed an undergrad fellowship through the Acton Institute’s Emerging Leaders Program in Grand Rapids, MI. On campus, Isaac is the senior editor of the Grove City Journal of Law & Public Policy. He has served as an award-winning political columnist for The Collegian and a teaching and research assistant for Drs. Carl Trueman and Paul Kengor.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.