On Friday, more news: less than one week after freezing Apple Daily’s assets, Secretary for Security John Lee will become the number two official in the Hong Kong government. It is the first time in post-colonial history that an ex-police and security official will assume the role of Chief Secretary. The police commissioner, Chris Tang, will replace him as head of the expansive Security Bureau.
CDT Chinese has published its own tribute to Apple Daily, recalling its history and significance to Hong Kong, and describing mainland Chinese citizens’ responses to news of its closure. Their special issue, titled “Goodbye, Apple (再见，苹果), also includes preserved links to some of Apple Daily’s most influential investigations and writing over the years. CDT’s English editors have translated the article in full:
One Apple Falls, And A Thousand Apples Grow
Apple Daily was a newspaper published in traditional Chinese, owned by Hong Kong-listed company Next Digital, which was founded by Jimmy Lai on June 20, 1995. On the occasion of the 26th anniversary of its publication, it was forced to suspend its operations due to repression imposed by the government of Hong Kong. The affair is widely regarded as spelling the end to Hong Kong’s press freedom and “one country, two systems.”
Apple Daily was a popular newspaper in Hong Kong. It was also the last newspaper in Hong Kong that was unabashedly politically critical after the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). On August 10, 2020, Jimmy Lai was arrested on suspicion of violating the NSL. On June 17, 2021, five executives of Next Digital and Apple Daily were arrested on suspicion of “collaborating with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” The five arrested were editor-in-chief Ryan Law, Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, CEO Cheung Kim-hung, and COO/CFO Chow Tat-kuen. At the same time, an estimated 18 million Hong Kong dollars of Next Digital’s assets were frozen. On June 23, national security police also arrested lead opinion writer Yeung Ching-kei. The police said that they would not rule out the possibility of arresting more people.
Management of Apply Daily then decided to suspend operations after midnight on June 23, publishing the last paper copy of the newspaper on the 24th and suspending updates to its website at midnight on the 24th. Most controversial about this incident is that the case has not yet even been heard in court, but the freezing of Next Digital’s assets means it has nonetheless been forced to rapidly shut down. The ambiguity of the red lines in Hong Kong has left much of the press at a loss.
Eva Chan, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication, told BBC Chinese that the loss of Next Digital will be felt greatest of all by Hong Kong society: “With the Legislative Council bereft of an opposition, the media itself should take on an accountability role, but now it has been affected by the specter of possibly violating the NSL. If the media loses its accountability function, what will happen to Hong Kong?”
Apple Daily was launched in 1995 on the eve of Hong Kong’s handover. The editorial page of its inaugural issue read: “What we want to run is a newspaper for Hong Kong people… Are you not afraid of what may change after 1997? But we don’t want to be intimidated by fear. We don’t want to be blinded by pessimism. We have to face the future positively and optimistically, because we are Hong Kong people!” Those prophetic words revealed the foresight of its founder, Jimmy Lai.
From the start, the publication of Apple Daily forced the “Appleization” of its peers. Its early commercial success relied on entertainment and erotic content, and its credibility in Hong Kong has often lagged, but Apple Daily was also a pioneer in investigative reporting. Its stance of “defying power, daring to criticize social problems, and exposing impropriety by officials and enterprises” was welcomed by the public, and the newspaper came to rank as the third most credible in Hong Kong. In recent years, many legacy media outlets in Hong Kong have been acquired with funds from mainland China, spurring increasing self-censorship. Among legacy outlets, Apple Daily stood alone in preserving its independence and credibility.
In a letter to its readers published on June 17, Apple Daily’s editors wrote: “In response to the allegations, history will judge us. In an era when the regime arbitrarily draws red lines, Apple Daily has stood its ground, acting legally, sensibly, and rationally to report the truth to Hong Kongers. The responses of other countries and bodies on the situation in Hong Kong and mainland China are public facts that are visible to the world. Reporting the situation truthfully to the people of Hong Kong fulfils a promise made by Apple Daily at its time of publication: “We are confident in the power of information technology to create transparency, because we are convinced that darkness cannot cover the light… Whether in Hong Kong or any corner of the world, the transparency of the media is the greatest guarantee of freedom and prosperity.”
The last paper copy of Apple Daily, published on the 24th of June, included a farewell note on its front page, headlined: “Hong Kong People Bid Farewell in the Rain, We Stand with Apple Daily.” The farewell note stated that Apple Daily had no choice but to say goodbye to Hong Kongers. Due to employee safety and manpower considerations, management decided to halt publication and stop the operation of the newspaper’s website. Apple Daily paid tribute to its editors and colleagues, who under the “White Terror” lasted until the very end, completing the final copy of the newspaper and web edition. The farewell letter also acknowledged the readers and residents who cheered on Apple Daily over the last week, and apologized for failing to live up to people’s expectations. It wished for everyone to cherish this moment, and to look forward to the early release of colleagues who had lost their freedom, in order for them to reunite with their families.
Hundreds of citizens ignored public gathering restrictions and stood outside the headquarters of Next Digital, waiting for the release of the final edition of Apple Daily. After midnight on the 24th, Apple Daily employees walked out of the Next Digital building to thank residents who had come to bid farewell, and handed out newly published paper copies to waiting supporters.
According to Ming Pao, Apple Daily’s last set of newspapers was delivered to a Mongkok newsstand at around 1 am on 24th, where a large number of people were lining up to buy the last copy as a momento. Because so many people showed up, the vendor had to limit the sales to three copies per person. Among the first group of people who made the purchase, some said that they lined up to buy Apple Daily not only to commemorate the paper and to show support, but also to make a statement that they didn’t want the paper to disappear. First in line was Ms. Zhang who came at 10pm the night before. She thanked Apple Daily’s reporters who worked hard over the years to be competitive and innovative, and corrected their own mistakes to make improvements. She said that the paper went through ups and downs, reflecting the vitality of the private sector in a capitalist society. Ms. Zhang encouraged the Apple Daily reporters to stay true to their beliefs. The second person in line was Mr. Chen. He urged citizens not to forget the newspapers that had their voices muffled for telling the truth. He said he was disappointed with the government but wanted the Apple Daily staff to cheer up, believing that Apple Daily “may return in the future.”
Regarding the suspension of Apple Daily, Initium Media published an article pointing out that the government, in an attempt to portray Apple as the “black sheep” of the press, has essentially hijacked the right to define freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The government attempts to punish journalists for doing their jobs — publishing articles, commenting on current affairs, and making proposals. By fabricating charges and disseminating misinformation, the government shrouds its true intention, which is to put a muzzle on the press.
As Apple Daily comes to an end, other mainstream media have suddenly become more cautious in their reporting. Political dissent is kept out of the public sphere. At the moment, on the internet in Mainland China, phrases like “Apple Daily,” “Li Zhiying [Jimmy Lai],” “Luo Weiguang [Ryan Law]” have all become high-level sensitive words. A search for “Apple Daily” on Weibo mostly generates content by users who have “Gold V” and “Blue V” statuses. The number of comments and reposts shown under trending Weibo posts about Apple Daily are different from the actual number of comments and reposts visible to all users. Apparently, posts about “Apple Daily” have been subjected to “review before posting,” a censorship technique which requires manual approval before a post can be made public.
A search for the aforementioned sensitive words on Douyin generated more results. However, contents posted within the last week are highly uniform, which is unusual given the scale of discussion about Apple Daily’s suspension. A search for “Apple Daily” on Baidu generates about 37,900,000 results. However, only 25 pages are being displayed, with roughly 200 results in total, all of which came from China’s official media. None of the results are from BBS, social media or self media.
Nonetheless, many internet users took to platforms outside the Great Firewall to express their dismay, grief and respect for the Apple Daily. Some people said that “the death of Apple Daily is the death of Hong Kong.” They believed that “Hong Kong had become another Mainland” ever since the National Security Law was implemented. “Apple Daily falls, so does Hong Kong. The Pearl of the Orient is dimmed.” Others are more hopeful, believing that “one Apple may have fallen, but millions of apples will emerge.”
Some internet users chided that the crackdown on press freedom in Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party would be “a dark spot in history.” Others hailed Apple Daily for having stood their ground for the past 26 years, saying: “Apple Daily may have fallen, but its spirit lives on.” “Even if there is no more protest on the street, no more candlelit vigil in Victoria Park, no more Apple Daily on newsstands, Hong Kongers will continue to safeguard Hong Kong with their conscience.” [Chinese]
Translation by John Chan and Yakexi.
Over the course of this week, several more translated tributes to Apple Daily have stood out. China Heritage’s Geremie Barmé translated an essay by Lee Yee, an acclaimed Hong Kong journalist and essayist who regularly wrote for Apple Daily. This essay was one of his last for the newspaper, published on June 23, 2021:
The Successes and Failure of Apple Daily
I started publishing this final series of essays during the twilight of Apple Daily. Being able to write about my sense of being a ‘loser’ has, at most, allowed me to steal a march on what has been inexorably unfolding. As an editor at Apple Daily for a quarter of a century, and as a reader for twenty-six years, I must admit that it too has, from the perspective of the kind of ‘loser’ I defined above, a failure. However, we should not forget, that among the plethora of Hong Kong’s newspapers, from its very inception, Apple Daily has been the most successful. Its trek from that ongoing success to this final failure has covered an era during which print media around the world has experienced precipitous decline, while online news sources have burgeoned. That’s simply the objective reality of the situation; then, of course, various subjective factors have also been at play. In the end, Apple Daily had no choice but to cease publication but, as everyone knows, that’s because the totalitarians are now in command; Hong Kong’s values and virtues put to the sword; basic human rights are no longer being upheld; and, the rule of law is but a fiction.
Liu Binyan, who was a celebrated author and former People’s Daily journalist, once remarked that a newspaper presents the face of its editor-in-chief to the world. But, in a free society in which there is real competition, it is more accurate to say that a newspaper reflects the features of its actual owner. Most media owners in Hong Kong interfere in the editorial direction and tenor of their papers. Their papers, in turn, reflect the experiences, views and latitude of those owners.
Before his foray into the newspaper business, Jimmy Lai made a name for himself in the clothing industry. Then, when founding Apple Daily, he paid top dollar for the best editorial team he could assemble. Even then, he wasn’t entirely confident and that’s why he personally chaired a brainstorming session every day involving not only editorial executives but also a select number of everyday readers. Together they would mull over and critique every report that had appeared in the previous day’s paper, as well as every headline and every article. As Jimmy often remarked: we’re publishing a paper for all of our readers and there’s only one boss who is truly in charge of the show — the advertisers aren’t the real boss, nor are the managers the actually bosses; the real bosses are our readers. [Source]
Finally, an anonymous translation of Apple Daily’s final editorial has been circulating on social media. Titled “After 26 years, we have finished fighting the good fight – a final Apple Daily editorial, written together with its readers,” the original Chinese version was published on its since-deleted website [PDF] and in the final edition of the newspaper:
After 26 Years, We Have Finished Fighting the Good Fight – A Final Apple Daily Editorial, Written Together with its Readers
June 23, 2021
After 26 years, we have finished fighting the good fight. Today, Apple Daily writes its last articles and bids farewell to Hong Kong. “In ten years, will there still be a 30th anniversary special edition? The wind has risen; we must try to live.” In the preface to the 20th anniversary special edition, we had asked this question; after six years, we finally have an answer. Though the ending is not as intended, though it is with great reluctance that we part, the resolution and perseverance of Hongkongers has not changed in 26 years. We thank every reader who supports and upholds Apple Daily’s slogan, every friend who waits late at newsstands for our paper to arrive. This final chapter we write with our readers — both with regret and gratitude.
Two years before the handover, foreign media predicted “the death of Hong Kong.” Apple Daily was born in those times. Our first editorial made our stance clear: “What we need to be is a newspaper for Hongkongers.” From the first issue on June 20, 1995, Apple Daily was printed in full color, priced at $2HKD, and came with free apples to seize the market, a successful though imperfect ploy for attention. While Hongkongers have simultaneously criticized Apple Daily for its sensationalism and praised it for its fearlessness, founder Jimmy Lai once said: “Apple Daily has committed many mistakes, and has not been able to fulfil its readers’ wishes in many areas and for that we are deeply sorry. But reflecting on the past quarter of a century, we have a clear conscience.”
[…] We bid farewell to the front pages that have commemorated June 4th and called for Hongkongers to gather at Victoria Park on July 1st. Apple Daily is not perfect, but what will a Hong Kong that cannot permit Apple Daily’s existence look like? It is hard to be hopeful or optimistic as we look at the seemingly insurmountable mountain before us, but please trust that darkness comes before dawn. Being able to walk with you for 26 years has been priceless. Although our steps have faltered, in fighting this good fight, there is beauty still — even in its cessation. We thank every reader of Apple Daily; this last chapter was written in conjunction with all of you. From this vantage point, we can perhaps say we have no regrets. Let’s keep fighting — together. [Source]