The last active pro-democracy group in HK is under attack. Few have noticed the skillful use of the “cult” narrative against it.
By Gladys Kwok
August 1, 2022
The League of Social Democrats is the last active pro-democracy protest group in Hong Kong. On July 26, international observers of Hong Kong noticed that a coordinated and well-organized campaign against this organization had started, conducted by different pro-CCP media claiming that the League violates the National Security Law and should be banned.
One week before, the League was forced to remove social media posts that allegedly violated the National Security Law. Now, the anti-League campaign claims that removing the posts was evidence of a guilty conscience.
Established in 2006, the League is well-known for its radical pro-democracy positions and creative street and institutional protests. Sometimes, its protests can be called theatrical, including when its members threw bananas and stuffed toys at pro-Beijing politicians. Its senior leaders have been repeatedly arrested for these protests, but the organization is still active.
While some international media have noticed the campaign the CCP started on July 26, they have failed to mention one of its features. The articles on the League published in Hong Kong pro-CCP propaganda organs did not claim that the group violated the National Security Law only. They also claimed that the League operates as a xie jiao or (in English) as a “cult.”
Bitter Winter maintains that translating “xie jiao” with “cult” is not accurate, but “cult” is the official translation in English-language CCP media. In fact, a xie jiao (a group spreading “heterodox teachings”) in Chinese history is not necessarily a religious movement, it is any group the powers that be regard as uncontrollable and politically dangerous. In this sense, it is not surprising that a political organization is also called a “xie jiao/”
The current campaign systematically compares the League to Falun Gong. It claims that the leaders of the League brainwash and manipulate their gullible followers just as Falun Gong and other “cults” are accused of doing. Pro-CCP daily Ta Kung Pao insisted that the League’s “mode of activity and slogan content are similar to Falun Gong.”
There are specific laws against xie jiao in Mainland China, and labeling a political movement a xie jiao is not without consequences. It allows for the use of the rhetoric of brainwashing and manipulation of followers, and for applying to political groups provisions and directives originally created to crack down on religious movements deemed hostile to the regime.
As mentioned earlier, this is in a way a return to the original political use of the label xie jiao in Chinese history.