The House News
7th July, 2014
From 1984 to 2014 Hong Kong
I remember a news report about the arrest of a protester in Thailand, and the headline of the news was “Protesting Thai reader of Orwell’s 1984 dragged off by police in Bangkok”. This happened in January this year during an anti-government protest in Thailand. Plain cloth police officers arrested eight protesters and one of them was reading George Orwell’s famous book 1984 out loud, a satire political fiction. I read it the first time when I was in secondary school. Over the past years, I would pick it up to reread it once in a while. Recently, I read the book again, and I could not help but amused by Orwell’s visions. Everything that is written in the book seems to be happening right before my eyes in 2014. My heart sank.
Published in 1949, Nineteen-Eighty-Four was about a fictional totalitarian state Oceania. The main character Winston works for the Ministry of Truth to alter history: every record, may it be documents, visual recordings, books, magazines or arts, in this country have to be censored by the Ministry of Truth. One of the key “slogans” in this fictional country is “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”. It is almost like traveling in time machine: people can go back in time and change history. However, it is terrifying if history can be rewritten. Just imagine Chinese Communist Party can control everything and change history: who would have known that since 1949 large scale starvation, brutal “Cultural Revolution” and 4/June happened in the soil of China?
Back in Oceania, besides the Ministry of Truth, there are many other government departments to ensure the stability and harmony of the country:
The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs.
“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”
Big Brother, the leader of Oceania, is always watching every single citizen every moment in order to make sure that they are under control. At the beginning of the novel, it says:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Although Orwell used the word “bright”, but readers would immediately know what Oceania really is because there is 13 o’clock making it like a horror story.
“What’s wrong with just thinking about something” is a phrase Hongkongers use a lot. However, in Oceania thinking is prohibited because of the existence of Thought Crime – one can be arrested for crime he has not committed, so thinking is a crime. Any thought that disrupts the harmony of the nation or endangers the governance of Big Brother is strictly forbidden. If one commits in Thought Crime, Thought Police will come get you in the middle of the night when you are deep in your dreams – something that no one could prepare for.
Orwell was very sick throughout the time when he was writing 1984. He was later on diagnosed for tuberculosis which is a disease that cannot be cured in 1940s. I think he must have travel in time to 2014 in his sick body, and witnessed everything that is going on, and returned to his body to write this book. However, he realised that he should not be too specific and named his book 2014, so he changed it to 1984.
During an interview with the BBC in 1950, one year after 1984 was published and he eventually died the same year, gave his final warning to the world in his death bed:
“Something like “1984” could actually happen, this is the direction of the world going in present time. In our world, there will be no motions, except fears … there will be no loyalty, expect loyalty to the party, but always there will be intoxication of the power. Always at every moment, there will be thrill of victory, the sensation on trampling on enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face…”
As I finished this video clip, all I could think of is “Big Brother is watching you.”