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Nathan Law — Hong Kong’s Turmoil: Insights from an Exiled Political Leader

Nathan law

Nathan Law is a young Hong Kong activist, currently in exile and based in London. During the Umbrella Movement in 2014, Nathan was one of the five representatives who took part in the dialogue with the government, debating political reform. Upholding non-violent civic actions, Nathan, Joshua Wong and other student leaders founded Demosistō in 2016 and ran for the Legislative Council election. Nathan was elected with 50,818 votes in the Hong Kong Island constituency and became the youngest Legislative Councilor in history. Yet his seat was overturned in July 2017 following Beijing’s constitutional reinterpretation, despite international criticism. Nathan was later jailed for his participation in the Umbrella Movement. The persecution sparked global concern over Beijing’s crackdown on human rights and democratic movement in Hong Kong. In 2018, Nathan and his fellow student activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by U.S. congressmen and British parliament members. Due to the risk imposed by the draconian National Security Law, Nathan left Hong Kong and continues to speak up for Hong Kong people at the international level. In 2020, he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. He is the author of the new book Freedom: How We Lose It and How We Fight Back.

Shermer and Law discuss:

  • a brief history of Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, the Umbrella Revolution, Sino-British Joint Declaration, the National Security Law, crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces
  • his parents and life growing up in Hong Kong
  • how Asia’s most liberal, open and cosmopolitan city changed so fundamentally
  • how a flourishing and free society was undermined from within
  • the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
  • Xi Jinping
  • What is freedom?
  • What are rights?
  • How are rights and freedoms won or lost?
  • Who owns the truth, and what is truth, anyway?
  • Can you reform society from within?
  • freedom of speech, the press, to assemble, etc.
  • the enemies of dictators
  • Why are democracies fragile?

Quotes from the book Freedom: How We Lose It and How We Fight Back

Freedom: How We Lose It and How We Fight Back (book cover)

“When governments control access to information and are able to define the narrative and dictate what we know, we lose more than our freedoms. We lose the ability to see the world for what it is. We lose our humanity.”

“Freedom is our most fundamental human right. It is universal to us all. If the right to life is our right to exist, our right to be free allows us to live the only life worth living. We all need our own agency, freedom of thought and conscience. Without these we have no dignity.”

“Freedom should be the starting point for our relationships with others. To form and maintain those relationships we often choose to curtail our freedoms. We may relinquish a certain amount of freedom in return for collective benefits—for instance, I’m happy to give up some of my income in taxes so that I don’t have to build my own roads or hospitals. We cede certain rights to government on the condition that it provides us with an environment in which we can live and, hopefully, prosper. This relationship between freedom and obedience is the basis of the social contract.”

“I think freedom is as much a gut feeling as a thought—as much a cause of the heart as of the head. What drives their pursuit of freedom is not only the ideal, but also their revulsion against the opposite—to be unfree. It is their sense of being oppressed, of witnessing or experiencing injustice and unfairness, that is the driver.”

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” —George Orwell

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This episode was released on June 29, 2024.

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