While a lid has been recently clamped down on Hong Kong, shattering the practice of “one country - two systems” governing the life of the former British colony since its handover to Beijing in 1997, Cardinal Joseph Zen has been banned from distributing the traditional “moon cakes” to inmates in the city. A “subversive” practice in the eyes of the communist power.
The story begins about ten years ago, when the then bishop of Hong Kong - Cardinal Joseph Zen - decided to distribute “moon cakes” to inmates.
These traditional pastries are very popular in the Middle Kingdom, where they are enjoyed with family or friends during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
After leaving office, the high Chinese prelate has maintained the habit of making this charitable gesture every year towards the prison population of Hong Kong.
But, on August 31, 2020, the prison services of the former British colony informed the cardinal by mail that beginning on next October 1 - the date of the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2020 - it will no longer be possible for him to proceed with the now-traditional distribution of the famous cakes.
The alleged reason is somewhat humorous: the distribution of pastries would have an eminently political significance in the current context.
Since implementation and enforcement of the national security law on July 1, Beijing has taken hard measures to stifle any hint of independence in Hong Kong: arrests continue to multiply. Offering moon cakes, a sign of good omen in China, to elements deemed subversive—that is unthinkable in the eyes of the Communist authorities.
The fact that Cardinal Zen is one of the most critical voices of the Chinese regime - not hesitating to support recent pro-democracy protests - sheds light on why Mao’s successors fear the cake crumbs getting stuck in their throats.
The prelate replied to the authorities that the distribution of cakes to the prisoners - in his opinion very popular in the prison environment - has no political ulterior motive, but that it is intended to comfort the prisoners, reminding them that they have not been forgotten.
“I am very sad to disappoint the detainees this year,” said the bishop emeritus, who does not intend to stand idly by in the face of the vexatious measures of the Communist authorities. “I will go and distribute my cakes to even more people: those who are helpless and forgotten... so that everyone can taste a little sweetness in a very bitter life.”
The Communist authorities will not appreciate the maneuver very much: it must be admitted that, in the history of China, moon cakes have sometimes brought their share of surprises. It was by that method, in the 14th century, that the signal for the revolt of the Red Turbans—which saw the Han driving out the Yuan, allowing the advent of the Ming dynasty—was given through messages hidden inside these autumnal pastries, which formerly only the Han would consume.