In this series, we explore expressions seen in everyday life and others with more obscure origins.
The Cantonese language has always evolved at a fast pace. One event that has spawned all-new lexicon? Hong Kong’s ongoing protests against the Extradition Bill.
Since the protests kicked off in June this year, protesters have come up with creative slogans left and right. Taking advantage of the fluid nature of Cantonese and the code-switching often done by bilingual (and trilingual) citizens, one of the expressions that has emerged from the protest is 自由閪 ji6 yau4 hai1, often seen in its Chinglish form “freedom hi” — which is perhaps most accurately represented in English as “liberal c**t.”
Here, freedom means freedom, or liberty. Hai is a swear word that refers to the female reproductive organs. Where did this term come from — and how did take on such a positive spin, with protesters donning T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan?
On June 12, 2019, during a heated rally in Admiralty, the police’s Special tactical Squad were captured on film in a stand-off with protesters, who had taken cover inside the Pacific Place mall. In the video, a particularly incensed officer is seen to be shouting, “Come out! Motherfucker, ji yau hai!”
From here on, the “freedom hi” saying began to pick up steam across Hong Kong social media and online forums alike. With anti-police sentiments at an all-time high in Hong Kong, the expression has come to signify resistance against the government.
So even though hai isn’t a particularly nice word to begin with — and you would certainly be frowned upon for uttering it in a formal setting — “freedom hi” has altogether become something that represents the fight for freedom protesters continue to strive for.