#928: Hong Kong
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Jimmy put the guys bags down and the guy gave Jimmy the rest of the chocolate so I turn my back and tried it and I said Shit. Wow what's it is. He said chocolate. I said why Hong Kong must be heaven. You would never tasted chocolate fair I. I never heard of chocolate so I that moment determined that I'm good escaped to Hong Kong escaped to Hong Kong in late. Fifties Hong Kong was not part of China. It was a British colony and this was a moment when China was closed off from the rest of the World Chinese. People were not allowed to set foot outside the country without special permission from the government from the Chinese Communist Party and the Party was radically remaking China they had forced farmers to give up their land and work on collective farms and partly as a result at this moment when Jimmy Lai I tasted chocolate. China was in the middle of a famine that would kill tens of millions of people so to get out of China. Jimmy found a smuggler who hit him in the bottom of a fishing boat with a few dozen other people they left around midnight and were in Hong Kong the next afternoon he didn't have any money he had to go that night to start working at a glove factory repeats like twelve and a half years old but the next morning as he walked through the streets around the factory saw all these little food stands where ordinary people you know poor factory workers like him were eating these big bowls of noodles and rice porridge food was just everywhere foot everywhere and the people sitting with you was cheerful late. It was such a new phenomenon for me. That's when he realized that all the stories he'd heard about Hong Kong they were true. I knew that moment I'm in a different world. Hello and welcome to planet money. I'm Jacob Goldstein Hong Kong. Is this sort of impossible place. It's this capitalist city with the free press and Freedom of assembly a an independent judicial system also Hong Kong is part of China a country with none of those things and Jimmy Lai is an embodiment of all. He's one of the richest people in Hong Kong and also one of the loudest critics of the Chinese government today on the show the story of Jim. Eli Is the story of Hong Kong and the story of Hong Kong is the story of the two hundred year relationship between China and the West. I mean more or less. This message comes from N._P._R.. Sponsor Microsoft as an Apex Predator the presence of snow leopards informs us about the health of their environment. That's why the Snow Leopard Trust has turned to Microsoft A._I.. To find and study these elusive animals with A._i.. It only takes minutes to analyze thousands of remote camera images and understand where these animals are so researchers have more time to protect them and their ecosystem see how at Microsoft dot com slash A._i.. It has already been an eventful summer in Politics Yeah between the twenty twenty debates and the president's battle over immigration. There's a lot going on and win. There's news you need to know about the N._p._R.. Politics podcast is there to tell you what happened. Not You mentioned we're hitting the road so you can meet all of the twenty twenty contenders appeal is GonNa drive me crazy the N._p._R.. Politics podcast subscribe to really understand the story of Jimmy Lai and of Hong Kong and China and the West. You have to go back to the eighteen eighteen thirties at the time China was almost entirely closed to foreigners if you're a traitor from Europe or from the U._S.. There was only one place in China. You're allowed to go a town in southern China. That Westerners called Canton. Actually foreigners corners weren't even really allowed in Canton. I talked about this with Steven Platt a historian at the University of Massachusetts. The foreigners had to make do with a little tiny compound of about twelve acres <hes> outside of the city down conserva muddy spot by the river. So why would these traders sale halfway around the world to stay in a muddy twelve acre compound down by the river to get rich on it was an incredibly lucrative trade. Basically the I mean the world's source of tea the at that point in time was entirely from China in Canton was the only place you could buy it twelve acres was it was the center of an engine for the world economy essentially but these traders who were getting rich in their little twelve acre compound started to bump up against against a problem the world and especially Britain wanted all this tea but China didn't want that much stuff from the world for a while traders were just paying for the tea with silver so much so that all this silver just started flowing into China eventually eventually the traders did find a product that the Chinese really wanted opium the British traders became big time international drug kingpins which then as now was a very profitable business. They started ramping up opium production in India. <hes> shipping it over illegal to China where it was being sold off the coast to wholesalers and by the eighteen thirties opium had become the largest foreign import into China and had in fact undone undone via trade imbalance to the point that the British were not only getting all the T- that they wanted but now they were starting to drain all the silver out of China opium was illegal in China but until this time the government had sort of looked the other way then as is more and more people became opium addicts and as silver started leaving the country the emperor was like okay enough of this and he sent one of his top advisors a guy named Linda shoot down to canton to try and crackdown on opium. The British traders opium is on ships that are offshore. It's not there in the compound so Linda shoe he got to canton and what he did was he locked up the British merchants in that twelve acre compound and he said I'm not GonNa let you out and I'm not GonNa let you trade anything else until you you give me all your opium. There's a British admiral who is in charge of trade at Canton his name's Charles Elliott and he wants to settle this so he says to the traders okay the British government will buy all of your opium from you if you just turn it off so they signed the entire season supply over to him and he signs notes promising them two million pounds and payment and then Admiral Elliott gave this mountain of opium to Lind's issue who dumped it all in the river. Who destroyed it? We're gets back. To London about what's happened but the British government does not send two million pounds to make good on Admiral Elliott's promises instead the breeder send warships to force China to pay for the confiscated opium the fact that this was a war fought it over illegal drug dealers not at all lost on the British public and there was a huge outcry in Britain against this the opponents started calling it the opium war but by the time it ended it was about way more than opium by the time the war ends in eighteen forty two who it's turned into something much much bigger than what Elliott had believed Britain had any kind of a right to <hes> and it had turned into award force China open to British trade in the treaty that ended the war the British demanded not only their two million pounds back. They also made China let foreign traders into a bunch of foreign ports canton and also Shanghai and also a few others and the British decided. We don't want to run the risk of some Chinese emperor locking up our traders again. We need at our own base of operations. We need a little British colony so they made China. Give them this little rocky island right off the coast of southern China Hong Kong. This is the beginning of what China calls its century of humiliation creation up until this time countries in the West had thought of China as this rich powerful empire now they see it can be pushed around the Germans and the French get their own colonial concessions from China in eighteen ninety eight Britain makes China give give them a chunk of the land on the mainland of China across from Hong Kong. It's about three hundred square miles. They call this piece. The New Territories and this particular land grab the British say is not forever. It's for ninety nine years. They say they will give the New Territories back in nine hundred ninety seven when the British took over Hong Kong was this rural place few thousand fishermen and farmers but then in the eighteen fifties a civil war broke out on the mainland and Hong Kong became a place people bulls started fleeing to from China. There's a huge amount of fighting in really vicious government crackdown in south China and a lot of wealthy Cantonese start moving to Hong Kong to be safe under the protection of the British and it becomes a place they can conduct their trade outside of the civil war area and from there. It really takes off. This really is the Hong Kong where Jimmy Lai climbs out of the bottom of that boat in one thousand nine hundred sixty this trading center that is attached to mainland China that was created in the sort of original scene of the Opium War that exists under the laws and norms of the British empire and that has been populated mostly by people like Jimmy people who have fled China and the descendants of those people so you work in the factory to making clothes. Is that what you're I the factual was making lithograph gloves. Make okay breath and you're like running a sewing machine or what are you doing. It was I was I I was weeping. The frawley careening dues yeah eventually you know they. They trae me to Anita so I you know I operated knitting machine yeah. He works his way up and by twenty one. He's running a factory. Hong Kong by this point has become an international national financial center. It's a place where lots of western money flows on its way to Asia and Jimmy Start speculating in the Hong Kong stock market and he does well. He makes enough money to go in with a partner and by factory like a lot of factories in Hong Kong at the time his factory factory-made closed for foreign retailers and he sees these foreign companies buying from him and selling at a huge markup any thinks I should be the one selling at that huge markup so he decides to start a retail clothing company. He doesn't know what to call it until he goes. On a business trip to New York he's meeting with a clothing importer here in New York and on the way out of the office one of his friends at the company gives him this like this little treat for the road one of the importing company somebody somebody gave me <hes> or a Issa as talk creek <hes> biscuit a cookie cookie cookie factory by what he was a talker but with some marijuana there so I took it I was so high it I was so hungry. After I ate it ever was hungry so I just went into a pizza place into Manhattan. Share okay a piece of pace. So you know the next came that I create my mouth. I just put it into my pocket up that because when I was hired you know what I was doing so next morning. When I woke up I was at that time? It was thinking about the name for the retailing shop that I'm GONNA. I'M GONNA stop in Social Donald Giordano the the name of the pizza place. That's great. You know people think that I'm I'm returning brand name so I just use it. Is that a true story. Yes that's it seems too good to be true. I want it to be true yeah. I it's not too good to be true because when I was not very well educated for me. The thing about a brand name is not easy sure especially. I think it's a stupid idea to to to use Italian the name than thinking that people would assume you to Italian I I wouldn't I wouldn't do that now. You know at that time you know okay. What the hell I know Jimmy Launches Giordano in one thousand nine hundred eighty one eventually elite there will be Giordano clothing stores in more than thirty countries around the World Giordano will make Jimmy rich as Jimmy is building Giordano in the eighties? There is like this cloud hanging over his future in nineteen ninety-seven Britain is supposed to give the New Territories in Hong Kong back to China and in China. Almost everything still belong to the government in most of China. You just could not be a rich entrepreneur like Jimmy at the same time. Though the British empire was basically over Britain was like getting out of the business of being a colonialist but they were governed as a straight up colony run by British governor appointed by the Queen of England controlled by British Law and the extraordinary thing is how well it seemed to work Hong Kong had become like this essential node between Asia and the West so that by the late twentieth century people in Hong Kong were not only profoundly better off than people in mainland China people in Hong Kong were richer on average then people in Great Britain so in the early eighties the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping Start Meeting to figure out what to do about Hong Kong Thatcher told Dengue of course we'll give you back the new territories like we promised but we never said anything about Hong Kong Island so she asked him what if we just hold onto that here's Thatcher years later describing dunks response and he said I could walk in and take the whole locks after she'd yes you can't. There's nothing I could do to stop you but the eyes of the world now know what China's like everything would leave Hong Kong. Titan Plus Penalty Undo Son lost a lot just to be clear this is Great Britain lecturing China about how it would look bad to take Hong Kong by force Deng Xiaoping was in some ways a practical leader. He was introducing capitalism in mainland China and he knew that workers in capitalist Hong Kong were much more productive and had a much higher standard of living than workers on the Communist mainland. He didn't WANNA on a mess that up so in Nineteen eighty-four Dung and Thatcher made a deal Great Britain would agree to give all of Hong Kong back to China in Nineteen ninety-seven and China would agree to basically let Hong Kong keep being its own special thing governed by its own special laws for fifty years until two thousand forty seven and then at midnight on July first nineteen ninety-seven it happened aw there was Prince Charles all the people who have been such staunch and special friends over so many generation there was Chinese President Jiang Som in Georgia near cheer your Teyat Junk Troy Young at midnight they lowered the British flag they raise the Chinese flag and that was it one hundred fifty five five years after the end of the Opium War Hong Kong a place as devoted as any unearthed to capitalism and free trade was part of Communist China after the break what the handover meant for Jimmy Lai support for this podcast the following message come from capital one brought to you by the capital one venture card when you earn unlimited double miles on every purchase your next trip is closer than you think what's in your wallet. Planet money has a weekly the email newsletter. If you subscribe now you will soon get an email from us telling you the story of how Leonardo di Caprio I helped and then hurt the economy of a small beach town entirely you can subscribe at n._p._R.. Dot Org Slash Planet Money Newsletter. That's N._p._R.. Dot O._R._G.. Slash Planet money newsletter by the time Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. Jimmy Lai was running a new kind of company a kind of company that made this dangerous moment for him a few years earlier he'd been inspired by the Tiananmen Square protesters who wanted among other things more freedom of speech and less censorship in mainland China and after the Chinese government declared martial law <hes> and killed hundreds of the protesters. Jimmy started a pro democracy media company in Hong Kong. I said look you know the best way to use my money is to go into the media because to deliver inflammation is actually actually delivery Liberty Liberty them yeah so let's go into the freedom business when the handover happened in nineteen ninety-seven Jimmy was running a weekly magazine and a major daily newspaper in Hong Kong both of them. We're openly critical of the Chinese government well. Were you worried. You're going to get arrested the next day. No that never happened. Of course it didn't happen but you didn't know the future now the future but I just I just live my life day by day. Okay what was the daylight so the first day when Hong Kong is no longer a British colony and is now a special Administrative Region People's Republic of China. What was that day like nothing change? Nothing changed very. Rolito change. I'm sure people people were apprehensive about what's going to happen. Yeah Okay but nothing change and did you think still you know I feel like the conventional wisdom in the West at least at that time was well. China is getting richer and we know that when countries get richer they become more democratic and get civil freedoms and so that's what's going to happen to China. That's what we thought is that the deaths the consensus thinking. Is that what you thought at the that's what we fought but that cost in happen open China has not allowed more freedom of speech publications can still be shut down for criticizing the government and yet China has gotten richer it started to develop its own financial center in Shanghai foreign money can now flow into China without going through Hong Kong so the Chinese Communist Party doesn't need Hong Kong as much as it used to this has led to more and more tension between people in Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist Party the Chinese government in two thousand fourteen. There was a fight over how to choose the government official who runs runs Hong Kong and a million people in Hong Kong took to the streets to protest just last month the government official who runs Hong Kong wanted to pass a new law that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial the people in Hong Kong said we don't trust your mainland courts. Two million people protested in the streets including by the way Jimmy Lai who is now in his seventies. What was it like? What was it like walking? That day was excited when you see so many people you know is fighting fighting for a moral issue. We don't have guns. We don't have tans. We don't have anything the only thing we have. The Chinese government is the moral authority we have the moral courage we have the moral authority already encourage you yes a few weeks later on July first on the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule protesters broke into the Hong Kong legislature building smashed glass walls and spray painted graffiti Chinese leaders see these protesters and Jim Eli for that matter as agents for foreign influence as basically latter-day colonialists his house has been firebombed and there was an assassination plot against him. I still thinking about this because if I I I I let the fear frighten me. I cannot go on you know because we've what have tingle up. I have to sustain it. I will be the last to leave that is like a captain who who can not jump the ship. I mean you're you're rich. You could leave if you wanted yeah. If I'm if I'm rich but an asshole what what my kids goofing about me being reach you can be very poor. Go on say more because if you only have money you lost the meaning loss of dignity you lost everything as a human being what else you have in the end. The big risks that Jimmy Lai and the Hong Kong protesters posed to Beijing is not really about Hong Kong itself if that people on the mainland could look at Hong Kong and say hey we're gonNA break some windows to we're going to start protesting here. If that happens Beijing could send in the tanks in Hong Kong and shut down the protest once and for all you email us. We're at planet money at N._P._R.. Dot Org over on facebook and instagram and twitter at Planet Glenn at money. Today's show was produced by Gary Woods. Alex Goldmark is our supervising producer and Brian Erstad is our editor special thanks to Samuel Mock Anson Chan and David Webb all of whom spoke to me at length about Hong Kong.