Jimmy Lai: A Beacon of Courage Amid Communist Oppression

Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy paper Apple Daily closed last year in a blow to media freedom in the city.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on February 7, 2022

“Taped on the wall by my desk,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn in the summer of 2020, “is a photo of Jimmy Lai in handcuffs. It was taken [Aug. 10, 2020], the day 200 Hong Kong police raided his Apple Daily newspaper and arrested him. It is my most treasured photo of Jimmy, who also happens to be my godson, having been baptized in 1997 just before the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. The point is that though the handcuffs were intended to humiliate him, every man, woman and child in Hong Kong saw them for what they were: a badge of honor.”

A Hero in Our Time

If you don’t know about Jimmy Lai — a Hong Kong billionaire, publisher, Catholic convert and political prisoner who opposes the Chinese government — you need to. He is one of the heroes of our time. His name should be known alongside those of Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. We know John Paul II not just because he was a pope, but because he knew the greatest freedom was living the life to which God called you — and that no government had any business stifling that.

The Communist Chinese government is terrified of people truly encountering God and having a real sense of a mission for their lives. That’s why they insist even Catholics operate under communist rules, not the Church’s. (That the Holy See goes along and allows Cardinal Joseph Zen to be an outcast is a mystery to me, and a grave sadness.)

Looking for a Faith

Faith makes the government vulnerable, Lai has said. In a video that debuted at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in September, and that was later featured at the Anglosphere Society’s “Beijing’s Long Arm” conference, Lai said: “The CCP is very afraid of organization. Because if you have faith, you can easily organize together. And oppose them. For a religion which is the foundation of morality, values, which the CCP does not have, this is where they are most vulnerable.

“The Chinese people are looking for a faith, a mission for their life,” Lai says. The more material success they have, the more their hearts long for “virtue and morals to live a meaningful life.”

‘He Chose Handcuffs’

Lai remains in jail; his friends fear he will die there. When he was first arrested, he was kept in the busiest police station in Hong Kong, sleeping on the floor. He asked himself: If he’d known his words and actions would lead to him permanently sleeping on a prison floor, would he have kept silent? The answer was no. As his godfather McGurn wrote: “He is where he is today because he CHOSE handcuffs and arrest rather than run away or abandon his convictions. All Hong Kong knows this. They also know that if even a billionaire isn’t safe, no one is.”

To hear McGurn talk about Lai is humbling and inspiring. We have challenges in our lives and in our nation, but they are nothing compared to those of people living under Communist China. This is critical to bear in mind as the world looks to China as host of the Olympics — the ultimate propaganda tool, handed to the government by the International Olympic Committee. It is a disgrace.

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The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong is doing its part, recently projecting images on landmarks in London, New York and Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about the roughly 10,000 people arrested — in Hong Kong alone — for dissent under the Chinese regime.

A Moral Responsibility for Those Suffering in China

The world today is such that we all have a moral responsibility for those suffering in China. Are you watching the Olympics? Do you have an iPhone? (Am I writing this on an Apple computer? Yes.) How many of the KN95 masks we are wearing were made in China? How about the Christmas decorations we recently took down? Dollar stores may offer cheap goods, but under what conditions were they made? We must not pretend the evil of Communism is a thing of the past, but of today, presented through rose-colored screens on NBC for two weeks.

Pray for Jimmy Lai

Get to know the incredibly brave and grounded Jimmy Lai. He is in prison for standing for what is right, and in solidarity with who all who suffer under Chinese tyranny: the Falun Gong, the Uyghur Muslims. Pray for him and his beloved wife and for all who suffer under evil regimes. And challenge yourself to make different choices. We know how difficult life can be in even the best of circumstances; do we really want to benefit from the suffering of others for the sake of discounts or other conveniences?

Instead of cursing the imperfections of our democratic republic, we must recommit ourselves to using our freedom well.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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