Fools vs. Heroes

In a world that is constantly threatened by tyranny, we need more heroes like Navalny and Lai.

Alexei Navalny is dying.

If you don’t know who he is, he is Russia’s opposition leader, a lawyer, an anti-corruption activist, and an outspoken critic of Russia’s President Putin. He was imprisoned in Russia multiple times on trumped-up charges; Russia’s highest court barred him from running political offices; he was poisoned by a deadly Novichok nerve agent last August and had a very close call with death. Fortunately, he survived after receiving medical treatment in Berlin, Germany.

An EU-led investigation implicated agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service in Navalny’s poisoning case. After Navalny recovered, he was warned not to return to Russia because it has become too dangerous. At the beginning of this year, Navalny returned to Russia anyway, despite all the warnings and dangers awaiting him. Navalny said before: “Certain people have wanted to put me behind bars for a long time now. That’s part of my work. If I were afraid, I couldn’t do what I do.”

As soon as Navalny landed in Russia, he was arrested and put in prison on the trumped-up charges of a violation of parole of his previous dubious charges. Navalny accused the prison guards of neglecting to provide adequate medical treatment to his many physical illnesses and started a hunger strike. His spokesperson posted on Facebook this week that “Alexei is dying now. Given his condition, it’s a matter of days.”

Some people may consider Navalny a fool. Why did he insist on returning to Russia, knowing the danger awaiting him? Didn’t he ask for trouble? After nearly died of poisoning, why didn’t he remain in a safe place such as Germany, as many sane and intelligent people would do in his situation? In the eyes of these brilliant critics, rather than returning to Russia to face torture and death, Navalny should have become a political exile in Europe. He is well-known enough that he and his family would be well-provided. He could have lived a life with security and comfort while continuing his advocacy abroad as so many political exiles had done. But he chose to return to the eye of the storm, and now he is dying.

If Navalny is a fool, he isn’t alone. This week, a Hong Kong court sentenced nine pro-democracy activists in jail for organizing or participating in “unauthorized protests.” One of the nine “convicted” is Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital group, a media empire including one of the most popular newspapers in Hong Kong, Apple Daily

Jimmy Lai has a fantastic life story. A refugee from Mainland China, Lai came to Hong Kong at a young age with next to nothing. From that humble beginning, he worked his way up to eventually become a billionaire and owner of a successful clothing company, Giordano.

In a city full of rich people, Lai stands out with his political activism. To protect their lucrative business interests in mainland China and the city of Hong Kong, most “wise” millionaires and billionaires have either remained silent or openly support Beijing’s suppression of dissidents and human rights violations. Lai, however, has been an advocate for democracy in Hong Kong and an outspoken critic of Beijing. Beijing first retaliated by revoking Giordano’s business license in mainland China. Lai had to sell his stake in Giordano to protect the business.

Since then, Lai has focused on building a media empire. He uses Apple Daily as a platform to continue to criticize Beijing. The paper also supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by giving it the most favorable coverage. Lai himself often stood at the front line of many pro-democracy protests in the city. 

Lai paid a dear price for his political activism. All of Next Media’s publications are banned in mainland China. Beijing pressured Hong Kong businesses not to purchasing advertisements from Apple Daily, which caused the paper to suffer financial losses several years in a row. A pro-Beijing Hong Kong-based newspaper even called for the city’s authorities to shutdown Apple Daily forever. 

In addition to financial losses, Lai’s activism has endangered his and his family’s safety. In June 2013, a stolen car rammed into the front gate of Lai’s Hong Kong residence, and someone placed an ax and machete on his driveway, a form of death threat by the local custom. During the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong in November 2014, someone punched Lai in the face. Masked attackers tossed Molotov bombs at Lai’s home and Next Media’s headquarters in January 2015.

Despite the increasing threats to his safety, Lai never wavered nor regretted his support for the pro-democracy movement. He said in an interview: “I came here empty-handed, and I owe everything I’ve got to the freedom of Hong Kong. Maybe it’s time for me to give it back... I think there’s more to life than money.”

Lai was arrested multiple times for his involvement in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements, and Apple Daily was raided by Hong Kong police last year. Lai could have moved abroad. With all his wealth and connections, he could have enjoyed the safety and comfort his wealth could afford him. Yet, he refused to leave the city he loves so dearly. He said in multiple interviews that “I am not leaving Hong Kong, I will stay and fight until the last day,” and “the only thing we can do is persist, not to lose spirit or hope. And to think that what is right will eventually prevail.” Now at age 72, Lai is in jail for exercising his political rights and beliefs.

There are many “smart” people in this world: people who understand when it is the right time to say the right words that those in power like to hear; people who have mastered the art of advancing their fame and fortune by aligning themselves with the “right” cause; people who can tell which way the wind is blowing, and is ready and willing to sacrifice principles and bend their knees for self-preservation; people who reach for power, fame, and fortune, regardless of cost. In the eyes of these “smart” people, Alexei Navalny and Jimmy Lai are fools.

But in a world that is constantly threatened by tyranny, we need more “fools” like Navalny and Lai. We need people who are willing to sacrifice all they have for a higher ideal; people who cannot be bought off and won’t trade away their conscience and integrity for fame, fortune, and even safety; people who see injustice and step forward to do something about it, rather than hide in the crowd, praying it won’t happen to them; people who knowingly walk into a dangerous situation because they refuse to be intimidated into submission; people who remain hopeful in the most desperate situations and like light, they bring hope to others whereever they go; others find inspiration simply by uttering their names.

People like Navalny and Lai are not fools but heroes. As Joseph Campbell reminded us, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” In a world that is constantly threatened by tyranny, we need more heroes like Navalny and Lai.

A few interviews and publications you don’t want to miss:

  • My interview with Laura Ingraham. Watch it here.

  • The Acton Institute interviewed me on my new book “Backlash: How China’s Aggression Has Backfired.” Listen to it here.

  • In July, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its centenary. The birthday presents it gave itself included re-written party history and a hotline for Chinese people to snitch on fellow citizens who dare to raise any questions about the newly revised party history. Such behaviors remind everyone the CCP cannot be considered a trustworthy partner in addressing international affairs, such as finding the true origin of the coronavirus. Read more here.

  • Some woke CEOs’ political activism stops when it requires sacrifice for their privileges. The ultimate limit of leftist CEOs’ political activism is the bottom line: as long as virtual signaling costs them nothing, they’ll be more than happy to engage in it.  But if woke CEOs thought their political activism would shield their corporations and their privileged lives from future attacks from leftist mobs, they couldn’t be more wrong. Read more here.

Please Check These Out

A few articles you may not want to miss

Happy Friday.

Here are a few articles I published at The Federalist you may be interested:

  1. Communist China became the first major economy to create a government-sanctioned digital currency — digital yuan. Such a move will significantly impact the great power competition between the United States and China and may reshape the dollar-dominated global financial structure forever. What should the United States do? Read more here.

  2. Two of California’s most progressive cities, Oakland and San Francisco, have seen a string of attacks against Asian Americans in recent months. For California Democrats, the response to this crime wave is not to punish criminals and protect law-abiding citizens, but to to the exact opposite. A controversial crime bill now going through the Democratic-led California legislature is seeking to decriminalize robbery from a felony to a misdemeanor. Asian Americans are outraged, calling Democrats “tone deaf.” Read more here.

    Please read and share these articles with your friends and families. Thank you for your support. Have a great weekend!

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