FROM A CLASS BOYCOTT by student activists, to the sudden kick off of the long awaited Occupy Central Movement, the mass protest started on 28th September in Hong Kong is the biggest in the city since 89 Democracy Movement in 1989. While depicted by international media as the most peaceful revolution, there actually exits very opposite opinions of the movement among citizens.
Conflicts and confrontations between protesters and the police, between pro-occupy and anti-occupy supporters, filled the movement with the unnecessary element of verbal and physical violence. The infiltration of triads and gangs in the protest also questioned the movement’s nature and raises concerns that more violence would be caused.
Entering its third week, the movement appears stagnated: both the government side and the protesters are looking for a direction. Student leaders, scholars and professors know well that Beijing is not going to back down at this stage and give Hong Kong full democracy. C.Y. Leung, a puppet of the Chinese government, is unlikely to step down because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would “lose face” by doing this. In other words, the protest has not achieved and is not likely to achieve anything concrete any time soon.
Many thus blame this on the immature decision of student leaders and the youth. Because of their blind impulse, Hong Kong has been paralyzed and the daily life of general public is disturbed. School has to be suspended; shops in central areas are forced to close; traffic, business is interrupted, all in exchange for a movement where no significant achievement is foreseeable.
However, the mass protest is needed and is a milestone for the future of Hong Kong, politically and socially.
The lack of confidence in the government is hindering the city’s development
In the past few years, Hong Kong citizens have lost confidence in the government. In a survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, ratings of the current governor C.Y. Leung has constantly been below 50, which – among previous governors – is a failed performance. As a result of the lack of trust, members of the Legislative Council (Legco) – half being elected by eligible voters and thus representing the will of the public – hardly agreed on any budget plan, public expenditure or law proposed. From 2012 to 2014, radicals from the opposition camps have staged filibusters four times, as a way to prevent votes on several proposals they were against, and as a gesture to show their dissatisfaction of the governor. Legco is an important body in enacting, amending and repealing law, also in examining and approving budgets, taxation and public expenditure. If Legco is not functioning, Hong Kong cannot move forward.
The lack of trust in the governor, to a very large extent, is because he is not elected with the system of universal suffrage. He was appointed by the CCP. He is not legitimated to represent the people and whatever he does, the public interprets as Chinese agenda – to tighten its political control over the city. This civil disobedience, as how the student leaders call it, is a fight to accomplish full democracy, which is actually fundamental for the city to move forward.
A public lecture for the HongKongese
The Occupy Movement is not merely a protest, which the anti-occupy supporters argue just causes public disorder, but a very important lesson for the 7 million inhabitants to stop and think about what they really want from the government, and how they want their city to develop.
It is also literally a lesson because along the occupied areas, professors and scholars have been constantly giving public lectures about democracy, social movements and current political issues. It also provides a platform for discussion between citizens with different political orientations, which is quite rare among the politically silent Hongkongese. The city dwellers have a reputation of being politically apathetic and ignorant. This mass movement has taught them that it is not a privilege to practice political freedom. It is instead the basic right that should be enjoyed by people in a civilized city, and it is also their responsibility to participate in every political decision.
Beside the poorly functioning government that hinders the city from moving forward, the atmosphere of the society has been grim and tense in recent years. This is not entirely but to a large extent because of the increasing number of mainland Chinese moving to, traveling, or doing business in Hong Kong
A cultural difference between mainland Chinese and HongKongese has to be addressed
SARS in 2003 brought an economic depression to Hong Kong. The by then governor C.H. Tung carried out Individual Visit Scheme, which allows easy access for mainland Chinese to visit Hong Kong. From then on, various kinds of social problems have emerged: Chinese pregnant women travel to Hong Kong and give birth in order to obtain Hong Kong citizenship; the speculation of milk powder products that drove up the price of milk powders; of Chinese tourists eating, drinking, littering and even defecating in public transports outraged the local citizens. These are just some of many examples.
Though these public behavior problems seem minor and trivial, they actually disturb the harmonious order and daily life of the locals. Criticism from the locals against the mainland Chinese has gone from objective to subjective, from reasonable to radical, from fair comments to personal attack. It is an inevitable product when two very different cultures are put to live under the same roof. It is the result of the accumulated daily clashes.
Needless to say, Chinese tourists have helped boost the economy of the city, but the cultural clash in the society cannot go on any longer. Hatred, discrimination, and binary divisions would only deteriorate the relationship between Hong Kong and China. This protest represents the fundamental ideology shared by Hong Kongese but not with mainland Chinese because of historical context – the thirst for freedom and democracy.
By the time this article is published, the police will have launched again another round of eviction in the occupied area. Anti-occupy protestors, at the same time, tried to clear out roadblocks surrounding the occupied zone and suppress the pro-occupy supporters. Triads and gangs, who it is suspected were sent by the government or anti-occupy group to create disorder and chaos, were also trying to confront and provoke the police, creating unnecessary violence.
It is important that at this stage of the movement, protestors do not forget the major purpose that drove them to take to the street in the first place. Their attention should not to be diverted by ingenuine gangs who are trying to disunite the peaceful public.
As the old saying goes, it takes more than one day to establish a full democratic system. But in any case, this mass movement has taught the Hong Kong public the power of collective efforts and has changed the city’s culture of being politically passive. It is one of the most revolutionary events that has happened, and there is still a long way to go.
Written by Cheuk Yin Chan
Images taken from Instagram