In Hong Kong, authorities arrested the authors of a children's book this week and accused them of sedition. The storybook uses animals as it explores the politics of a protest movement facing off against an increasingly assertive China.
Nick Schifrin has the story.
For a Hong Kong parent reading to their child, the book's message is solidarity. The good guys are sheep.
"There were many kind and brave sheep living in sheeps' village."
The bad guy? The Big Bad Wolf and his gang.
"They took away the sheeps' food, destroyed their homes for no reason, and even spread virus to poison the sheep. Big Bad Wolf wished the most to cleanse all the sheep and take over the village."
"But no matter how cunning the Big Bad Wolf was, the sheep were defending the village bravely. Although the sheep didn't manage to drive the Big Bad Wolf away, the sheep became braver and more unified."
The book is "Defenders of Sheep Village, " part of a series of children's books whose metaphor is direct.
The wolves are the Chinese, and the sheeps are the local Hong Kong people.
Fan Cheung Fung works with the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions. The books were written by members of the union of Hong Kong speech therapists, and Fan spoke on their behalf.
Some wolves brings some troubles to the lives of the sheep, and, indeed, it is the experience of a lot of Hong Kong people.
In 2020, Hong Kong police imposed Beijing's national security law. Activists say the law eliminates freedoms of speech and the press. Hundreds were arrested. That's when a dozen activists, who became known as the Hong Kong 12, fled the city on a boat, hoping to reach Taiwan.
"Among the 12 warriors, Fook, Wai, Yin, uncertain with the challenges ahead and worrying about Big Bad Wolf's gang chasing them from behind, the warriors had no choice but to leave their beloved families in a hurry. It brought tears to the 12 warriors for having to leave their most beloved village. As the 12 warriors were struggling, suddenly, a wave splashed over and they saw some lights."
"Fetch them all and go back to the Wolves Village. Chairman Wolf, leader of the Wolves Village, was delighted to receive these 12 sheep coming to him as a great meal. He told the gang to lock the sheep in the prison."
Today, the book's writers are in prison, after Hong Kong police labeled the books seditious.
The children, maybe because of the information inside, and turn their mind, an develop a moral standard to become against the societies.
Free Hong Kong!
Free Hong Kong!
The group that wrote the book was born during 2019 protests. At times, more than a million Hong Kong residents filled the streets, at first to demand the end of extradition to mainland China, and then more fundamental reforms.
The protests turned violent. Hong Kong and Beijing authorities said they had to restore stability. In part, they blamed young people's teachers and overhauled their education so it was more patriotic.
The national security law has been enacted.
Cartoons teach kids that the national security law as essential, and teachers are now disciplined if they deviate from a Beijing-approved curriculum.
The stakes for any kind of pushback are now just getting higher and higher.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of "Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink."
He says the national security law created expanded police infrastructure that's targeting an ever-widening net and eroding what made Hong Kong different from mainland China.
A separate system of rule of law being different, freedom of speech being different, freedom of assembly being different, all that's — all that's gone.
They want the next generation of Hong Kongers to be less challenging to them than the last generation of Hong Kongers was.
The national security law has convinced thousands, especially young people, to flee Hong Kong, but not everyone.
If we give up fighting for democracy in Hong Kong, then the remainder of the people in Hong Kong will be only left with less and less power and prospects to succeed.
"The sheep kept sending letters to the Wolf Village to show their support. Some sheep organized assemblies and distributed leaflets. In the wolf villages, some brave animals stealthily assisted the warriors."
But in book and in life, there's no happy ending. The Hong Kong 12's family members held a press conference in disguise, after the 12 were caught and sentenced to seven months to three years in jail in mainland China.
"Now the 12 warriors still have no chances to go home. Other warriors in the sheep village may have to face similar circumstances in the future."
The book teaches the lesson that sheep who are victims can still be powerful. But it also teaches that, sometimes, wolves win.
For the "PBS NewsHour, " I'm Nick Schifrin.