Lessons from Hong Kong: They Want What We Have – But Do We Still Want Freedom?

By Lathan Watts | September 4, 2019 | 3:38pm EDT
(Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech that included a reference to a widely accepted but apocryphal bit of Chinese proverbial wisdom. Kennedy told his audience, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any other time in history.”

Today we see history repeating itself as these are definitely interesting times here in America and China.

Recent reports indicate widespread growth in Christianity among the Chinese people with the majority of Chinese Christians worshipping in underground house churches to avoid detection by the government. Some estimates predict China is on pace to have the world’s largest population of Christians by 2030. While correlation is not proof of causation, it stands to reason that as more and more people in China come to faith, they also seek the freedom to live according to that faith and share it with others.

Throughout history, every leftist dictator from Hitler to Stalin to Mao moved quickly to crush religion and religious freedom. No totalitarian regime can abide its people holding allegiance to any authority higher than the state. But as St. Frances said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” In China, faith abides. As faith takes root in the hearts of men, it blooms into hope. When the fundamental human desire for freedom is infused with faith and hope, the results can be revolutionary.

The people of Hong Kong have enjoyed a measure of autonomy unparalleled in any other city in China due to the 1997 transfer agreement between Great Britain and China. The agreement called for this status through 2047. The Chinese government, however, has already begun its attempt to tighten control over Hong Kong. Hence the recent protests. It is no coincidence that the people of Hong Kong take their inspiration from another corner of Great Britain’s former empire.

Dissidents living under the penultimate oppressive regime in the world (only North Korea could precede China in this parade of villainy) have chosen as their symbolic act of defiance to wave the American flag and sing our national anthem.

They want what we have.

Meanwhile, in American cities like Portland, Oregon, citizens who live with more political, economic, social, and religious liberty than any people in the history of the world take to the streets in their trendy Che Guevara t-shirts, waving flags of the old Soviet Union, violently attacking anyone who would dare express a contrary opinion all in the name of anti-fascism. And they document their “protests” with iPhones assembled in China by children and adults making far less than the $15 dollar/hr “living wage” demanded here.

The ironies are too plentiful to list. So, suffice it to say, the average Antifa hooligan is unencumbered by self-awareness.

I suspect one would be hard-pressed to find a single person worshipping in secret in China who wouldn’t willingly give all they have to trade places with one of our perpetually ungrateful gadflies from Portland.

President Reagan was fond of describing America as a “shining city on a hill.” He saw to it that the light from our great city shone into the darkest corners of the Soviet Union, facilitating its eventual collapse. Reagan also reminded us, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Today in Hong Kong, we see living proof that America’s example of liberty still inspires freedom-loving people around the world – a responsibility we should hold as sacred as the God-given rights our government was founded to protect. Meanwhile, in Portland, we see living proof of Reagan’s generational warning of the precariousness of freedom in America.

No moment in recent memory is as replete with new lessons about timeless truths as what we see taking place on the streets of major cities in the U.S. and China today. The contrast is as striking as it is illuminating: people who have never lived in freedom and a people who have never lived without it. There are lessons to be learned in these interesting times, or we may live to prove another time-tested bit of wisdom, that those who learn nothing from history are doomed to repeat it.

Lathan Watts is Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to preserving religious liberty for all Americans, and a Regional Fellow of National Review Institute.  Learn more at


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