In 2010, Russell Crowe, as the eponymous lead in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, exhorted his oppressed compatriots to “rise and rise again until lambs become lions”. But Robin had the same weapons as his medieval oppressors, and did not have to contend with the sheer military and surveillance might of a modern superpower. Not so for the five members of a Hong Kong union who have been arrested on charges of sedition by the recently set up “national security unity”. Their crime, it seems, has been to combine Animal Farm and Baa Baa Black Sheep — and this creativity is a threat to a rising China.
In the last few months, the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists has published three illustrated e-books to help children understand the pro-democracy movement in the city. Citizens of Hong Kong are portrayed as a village of sheep that is surrounded by wolves. The trilogy references and lays at the door of the wolves some of the oppressions of the Chinese state. For example, the final book in the trilogy, 12 Braves of Sheep Village, is a barely-disguised parable about the failed attempt of 12 people from Hong Kong to flee to Taiwan.
It is easy to see the Red government’s justification for invoking Hong Kong’s colonial-era sedition law. After all, it is “protecting” children from becoming “anti-nationals”. Parables and nursery rhymes often carry a deeper message. The original Baa Baa Black Sheep, for example, is a lament against the 13th century Wool Tax imposed by King Edward I in England. And the Soviet Union’s oppressions led to Orwell’s masterpiece, where some “animals were more equal than others”. But slapping sedition for stories is a ham-handed response by the government, almost an admission of defeat in the battle of narratives.