Auyeung Fung: Journalists Dinner Party
Late one evening a fellow journalist called me and said that there was a spontaneous gathering which many journalists would be joining and I must attend. As I walked into the restaurant after midnight, the journalist who had organised the gathering and invited the rest was extremely drunk. The fellow journalists at the table did not realise that this so-called get-together dinner party, was in fact a secret meeting with the Ministry of State Security of the People’s Republic of China (MSS).
Let me make it clear up front that China’s stabilisation work has obviously penetrated into the media of Hong Kong, although not many people are aware of it. Similar “gatherings” have being hosted for a while, Hong Kong, Canton (Guangdong) and Peking (Beijing) are the most popular destinations. Some journalists have no choice but to attend, some simply are curious, and some attend without knowing the secret agenda, some journalists act as the go-between and arrange these “gatherings”. The most shocking thing to us is that a very small number of journalists are in fact part of China’s stabilisation system. They are no different from those who officially work for the MSS and National Safeguard Department, except they own a journalist pass. This experience I’m illustrating here is only a straight forward and basic one I’ve encountered:
That evening, the majority of the attendees worked for newspapers, a few from a major television channel which is based in Hong Kong but with 90% of its viewers in Mainland China. It seemed like a gathering of friends, but at least 50% of the people at the table hardly knew each other.
During the dinner party, one male individual was particularly active. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a pair of trousers, Goldlion or Montagut (editor’s note: perceived to be brands only Mainland Chinese would wear) belt, teeth covered with tartar, dark skin, and a black sling bag (another classic piece of Mainland Chinese gear), and people called him Brother Nam (editor’s note: “brother” here does not imply any genetic relationship but a reference to someone’s status). He claimed to be a senior journalist of a provincial newspaper in China. He tirelessly asked other journalists about their background and work. I realised that this Brother Nam seemed to know those from the TV channel well.
The gentleman who sat next to me was a very experienced journalist who, had been the head of the China desk at a major newspaper in Hong Kong. He is tall and quiet. Whenever he answered Brother Nam’s questions, he came across as arrogant and his answers were always short and snappy. He turned around and whispered to me, “What the hell! Can you not tell where this Brother Nam is from?” I replied with a smile, “Isn’t he just a mainland Chinese comrade?” At this moment, we both realised half of the table was genuine journalists and the other half were the so-called “stablisation army” from MSS and National Safeguard Department or “stablisation journalists”, including some who are people of Hong Kong. The organiser of this gathering, at this point, was still drunk. I guessed he probably didn’t have a choice in organising it.
The suspicious-looking people began to ask more in-depth questions in order to find out which of us were more “valuable”. They used the excuse of sharing experiences to ask all the journalists what stories have they covered, how to cover major stories, who are the dissenters they speak to and who are easier to reach, how do journalists contact these dissenters, and how do journalists elude China’s close monitoring. Me and the former head of China desk did not give any honest answers throughout the whole time. However, both of us sensed that their target was the pair of us, and it seemed to us that this was a set up to get the two of us to this inquest. The organiser? He was still hammered.
The former head of China desk started to get inpatient and began to play games with Brother Nam, “How’s Mr. Lin XX? You don’t know his name? He’s the most senior man at your newspaper!”Of course Brother Nam could not give any answer. I was thinking to myself that we should have pried some information before exposing their covers. The former head of the China desk, however, after some observation, recognised that the people questioning us were not of very senior rank and said to them “you are not qualified (to speak to us)!” Soon, the mid-night dinner party was drawn to an end. Brother Nam continued to try to get our contacts and said he would like to take us out, of course we gave him the cold shoulder and eventually he gave up.