China

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists show a different side to HK

While I was writing the post below, violence flared up with anti-protests men attacking protesters despite police presence in the evening, resulting in scuffles and the destruction of one of the main protest sites. This might suggest a disturbing development (it’s too soon to tell if the attackers were really HKers fed up of the protests or hired thugs) and one of the student groups has decided to call off talks. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————— It has been an amazing week for Hong Kong, which started with police using tear gas on unarmed protesters in street confrontations Sunday to Hong Kong’s leader agreeing to talks with the protesters on Thursday night, just minutes before a deadline set by them for him to resign. HK leader Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did not step down, nor is he going to talk directly with the activists, who’ll instead meet with his number two, HK Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. The protesters, mostly made up of students, have won the admiration of people across the world, including Taiwan and fellow Chinese SAR Macau, as well as a number of hardy souls in the mainland. During the week, the protesters persisted with their “occupation” of several sites in HK, kept up the pressure on the authorities, while also ensuring peace and stability. They’ve also given rise to a memorable symbol – the humble umbrella, whose unassuming but versatile form is as apt as any to signify the movement. Now that they’ve been able to get talks with the HK government, which is a good concession, the protesters will need to ensure it can start soon and that demands can be made directly and reasonably concerning HK’s electoral process. I’ve had doubts about the democracy protesters, especially as their demand escalated during their protests to making Leung CY step down, which is a drastic step that will not likely lead to much benefit for the protesters. However, by continuing with the protests, gaining worldwide attention and putting pressure on both the HK and mainland government, the protesters have done more than I could have imagined. They’ve inspired hope in fellow HKers and their elders, and showed that HKers can come out in numbers for positive change in society. And whatever the outcome of their protests, they’ve changed a major stereotype regarding Hong Kongers. That they only care about money and materialism, and don’t give a damn about politics or society in general. This is a view I’ve held, especially based on family and other personal experience, and these pro-democracy protesters have come out and shaken my perception, forcing me to reconsider what I’ve long thought of as a fact. It also addresses a major criticism of HKers especially from mainlanders that during British colonialism, especially in the decades leading up to the handover in 1997, there was little political activism by HK people in general. HK didn’t have any significant democratic system until the British hastily devised one before handover. The supposed apathy of HK people could be attributed to perhaps a strong attachment and dependence on the British, in contrast to the negative sentiments towards mainland China and Chinese, and a deep satisfaction of life as a British colony. However, those people are not the same people in today’s protests. The current protesters are students and young adults, in their twenties and teens, who are a different generation and strikingly different. There are a few issues that still need to be considered. – There’s been a lot of talk over people in the mainland looking at these protests in HK and being inspired or supportive. Indeed that’s an often cited reason in many articles for Beijing’s heavyhanded censorship of the HK protests. But in reality, the reaction is probably mixed because while ideally one would hope mainlanders can see these protests and admire or support them, many feel the opposite – either scorn or apathy. As it is, relations between HKers and mainlanders have dropped to low levels at the personal level in recent years, and before that, it wasn’t that good either. HKers have long had a superiority attitude over mainlanders, as well as other kinds of people. Perceived rudeness and arrogance by HKers has led some mainlanders to feel that HKers actually would prefer not to be part of China and don’t see themselves as Chinese, which is not an unfair observation. To counter this and improve relations, HKers need to change their mindset and be more open and perhaps show more humility to mainlanders, whether it be visitors, mainland migrants or mainland students in HK universities. – While the main fight is over making the chief executive election fully open and democratic, there’s also the problem of the legislative council being limited and not so democratic. It’s made up of 70 members, but only 35 or half are elected by the public in district elections. The others are mainly chosen by limited groups representing different sectors of industry such as the commercial, industrial and finance (which all have two seats each), and even sports. There has been little talk about legislative reform to enable all or the majority of seats to be elected by the public, but this is just as vital as the chief executive electoral issue. As long as a significant number of seats are taken up by people directly chosen from within business sectors, then those sectors would have a disproportionate influence and be able to push pro-business proposals or conversely block or obstruct social welfare proposals.

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