Michael C. Davis: “Who Will Stand Up For Hong Kong?”

Perhaps ever since I realized that Hong Kong was distinct from the rest of China in that it is not under quite the same communist grip and has an atmosphere in which Cantonese thrives, I’ve been wondering this myself. This question took on more meaning when I came to a deeper understanding of democracy and learned that Hong Kong people did not have the right to elect their leaders despite promises of universal suffrage.

This portion of Hong Kong University law professor Michael C. Davis’s op-ed in the New York Times articulates thoughts that have been on my mind recently:

Who will stand up for Hong Kong? Major international banks and accounting firms are toeing Beijing’s line, saying publicly that mass protests will disrupt the city’s economy and threaten the peace. Except for the usual expression of support for “credible” elections, Washington and other foreign governments have largely remained silent on Beijing’s latest moves.

On a side note, a few days ago, I was looking over some journal entries I wrote when I visited Hong Kong four years ago. I was surprised to realize that even though I wasn’t interested in or knowledgeable about Hong Kong politics and democracy and whatnot at the time, I was somewhat aware of political developments in Hong Kong. In 2010, there was the “起錨/Act Now” campaign about electoral reform. I found in one journal entry (June 19) a description of my mom’s conversation with a taxi driver who said my family was lucky to be able to live in the States because we have a real democracy. I wrote this about the democratic reform package: “It will create functional constituencies or something like that. Some think it will lead Hong Kong and China to real democracy; others say Hong Kong’s government will just act as China’s puppet.” Based on something watched on TV, another entry (June 23) read: “Hong Kong was promised a democratic government when it was handed back to China, but [Hong Kong people] can only vote for [Beijing-]selected men. Young people are angry about it — they’ve been fighting for it since the 1980s, and it has spread to people born in the 1980s! Right now, Hong Kong has lots of functional constituencies(?). People in their late 40s to 50s, though, don’t really seem to care — if they can do business and earn money, why should they be sad? Andrew Cheng resigned from the Democratic Party because he felt Beijing would be using Hong Kong (puppet). Donald Tsang, Albert [Ho?] can be seen as traitors or good people for accepting the Beijing plan.” I vaguely remember watching the news on July 1st, but I don’t remember whether I watched reports on the annual demonstration and understood what was going on. Aside from my poor writing style, I was surprised and discouraged to find that Hong Kong’s political situation from four years ago so much resembles that of today. It almost seems as if no progress has been made in these four years, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not hopeful about the impact social groups like Scholarism will make and are making in Hong Kong society…

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Mainland Tourists in Hong Kong: Playing with Numbers

I kind of laughed out loud when I saw this New York Times article. I do respect the New York Times as a reputable and fine news source, but I think in general Western media and perhaps all the English-language media I have come across tends to express comments about Hong Kong that make it seem as if they are speaking based on ignorance and/or misunderstanding. Although I do admit, sometimes, Hong Kongers’ rage-filled comments can come off as hate or xenophobia.

But this sentence from The New York Times was just unacceptable.

One thing the new tourism numbers don’t capture is that many of the visitors from mainland China are day trippers who visit Hong Kong on shopping jaunts, so while they may make up seven out of every 10 visitors, their actual imprint on the territory is probably far less substantial.

“[N]ew tourism numbers” refers to the report that mainlanders accounted for 70% of Hong Kong’s 54 million tourists last year, which would mean that about 37.8 million mainland tourists visited Hong Kong in 2013.

Making a conservative estimate going on the assumption that all of the mainlanders who visited Hong Kong last year were on day trips, some quick calculations reveal that around 37.8 million/365 days = >100,000 different mainland Chinese were in Hong Kong each day, which I believe is quite substantial – accounting for over 1% of Hong Kong’s resident population. But given that most mainland Chinese seem to come on weekends and that more than a few mainlanders spend more than a day in Hong Kong, the percentage figure is probably a few points greater. Even from the standpoint of someone who was just visiting Hong Kong two years ago for a few weeks, it is clear that mainland Chinese have a great and far from insubstantial impact on Hong Kong.

Is it so wrong to want to live in your home without being overwhelmed by the daily influx of tourists?

What June 4 and July 1 Mean to Hong Kong People

(Image: CNN)

Under British rule, Hong Kong prospered with foreign investments, remaining safely distanced and protected from whatever turmoil occupied the mainland time after time. Witnessing the Communist Revolution and all the disastrous events that followed, Hong Kong people increasingly felt assured by the peace and order they found in British rule; to be told that this wouldn’t last – that Hong Kong belonged to China, and that it would surely return – was devastating. It is safe to say that Hong Kong’s history of British rule has instilled in its people a deep, overwhelming sense of entitlement to democracy – universal suffrage – even as China continues in its communist ways. And it is this legacy of British rule that has compelled some Hong Kong people to take up the burdening responsibility of attempting (in the least) to protect their freedoms, perhaps in ways that even those residing in democratic states currently do not. Most notably, Hong Kong people organize on two specific dates – June 4 and July 1 – yearly in an assertion of their current freedom and a demonstration of their collective desire for real democracy.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, in 1989, a respected politician’s death spurred student-led demonstrations in Beijing and other cities; at first, demonstrators wanted reform, but later on, the protests became more radical with some hunger strikes and some demands for democracy. Wikipedia claims that 1.5 million participated in a pro-democracy march in Hong Kong on May 21, 1989.

On the night of June 3, tanks were brought into Beijing and Tiananmen Square where many were demonstrating (as stated by Wikipedia as I have no recollection of the events). A South China Morning Post opinion article provides some thoughts and information on the protests.

Every year since, Hong Kong people have organized candlelight vigils on June 4 in Victoria Park in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and those who died in the massacre. Last year’s vigil saw a larger turnout: organizers estimated 180,000 in attendance; the death of political activist Li Wangyang days after additionally sparked political outcry (pictures included here).

(Image: Alanala)

(Image: Alanala)

Alanala, a Hong Kong photography blog, provides pictures and accounts of some of the activities on and surrounding June 4 in 2012.

(Image: Alanala)

(Image: Alanala)

Meanwhile, July 1 marks the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 return to China; the British and other westerners call it the “handover,” while in Chinese I’ve only heard it been referred to as the “return.” While July 1 is a public holiday that features various festivities, celebrations, and fireworks, thousands take to the streets to voice their concerns or dissatisfaction with the government and the current state of affairs; organizers estimated that ~400,000 took to the streets in 2012. [It seems that a moderately credible place that has compiled much apparently accurate information in a relatively succinct manner about the July 1 marches is Wikipedia.]

What really spurred me to write about these mass demonstrations of Hong Kong people was learning once again about the March on Washington in 1963 for civil rights (perhaps deriving much of its fame from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s deliverance of his “I Have a Dream” speech there) and how much emphasis some Americans put on both the demonstration and the speech; I couldn’t help but find it unfair that it seems that most Americans and many of those who are ethnic Chinese regard Hong Kong as just a part of China, and do not realize how much political activism these Hong Kong people constantly undertake year after year. I in part opened this blog to ask questions like this – why does the world not pay as much attention to Hong Kong? Hong Kong, this small city boasts so many in attendance year after year: Hong Kong’s population is a little over 7 million, and yet even the conservative police estimates of the attendance of 2012’s July 1 protest – 63,000 – means that about more than 1 in 120 Hong Kong citizens protested last year. If we were to use the liberal estimate of 400,000, that would mean that more than 1 in 20 people participated. (I would assume that the actual participation in this protest is between these two figures.) Just thinking about those figures alone is honestly quite astounding. Hong Kong people are so vocal about their desire for democracy, yet it seems very few actually hear them; at times it seems as if only the Chinese government recognizes these grievances (and consequently passive-aggressively tries to assert dominance of Hong Kong and affirm that Hong Kong would die without its “help”).

I will just say that I believe I would be satisfied if the world recognized Hong Kong’s overwhelming desire for democracy, and that Hong Kong people are not satisfied with Hong Kong’s current state of affairs with “one country, two systems”; that even as “one country, two systems” is always described as granting Hong Kong people a liberal amount of autonomy and freedom, it is not enough. An increasing number of Hong Kong people – especially those called ” ’90 後” in Chinese, or the generation of those born after 1990 – are not satisfied with pseudo-democracy that in fact denies them one of the most important aspects of democracy: one person, one vote; universal suffrage to elect members to Hong Kong’s legislative body and to ultimately directly elect Hong Kong’s chief executive.

I won’t say that many Hong Kong people are trying to achieve Hong Kong’s independence through these demonstrations, but during these demonstrations, it can seem as if Hongkongers’ views are so different from those of the mainland Chinese government and that the “Hong Kong” government is so unresponsive to their grievances that ideally, Hong Kong could achieve independence and democracy. Taking reality into perspective, this is very much unfeasible since it has been years since the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984.

Of course it’s always nice that Hongkongers can even publicly remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre and continue to protest the government, but if the [mainland] government holds so much jurisdiction that the local [Hong Kong] government does not even bother responding to their needs, is Hong Kong really that much better off? “A high degree of autonomy” still is not democracy and it seems that the vagueness of such a phrase allows the mainland government to interpret it however it may wish, as long as Hong Kong has relatively more freedom and autonomy than the People’s Republic of China.

And so my internal struggle also continues – is hoping that Hong Kong will change for the better and even possibly shaping my life and future based on my desire to help Hong Kong society in some way naive? Am I too young and too small to actually spark or contribute to change in Hong Kong? And even if Hong Kong achieved true autonomy and democracy and freedom, would Hong Kong people be happy and satisfied – would their desire to participate in government so dramatically diminish (much to my disappointment) if they were to achieve it?

(Image: Alanala)

(Image: Alanala)

I feel so morally and socially compelled to help Hong Kong in some way, but I don’t know if such sentiment is just part of a fleeting phase of childish and youthful optimism on my part; but at the same time, even as I enjoy the other subjects I am considering pursuing, I do not feel I could really benefit society by pursuing careers in them. Another question I ask myself is, if I were to make an active and prolonged effort to help Hong Kong, would I find myself in a place of unemployment?

Resolving the China Infant Formula Crisis

Just thinking about the recent happenings in Hong Kong, Australia, the Netherlands, and so many places, it seems that it’s mainly Hong Kong people and mainland Chinese debating what should be done. And I too have spent some time asking myself, Are the newly-imposed restrictions on taking Hong Kong infant formula out the best way to combat such a problem? Are Hong Kong people being over-sensitive? Are mainland Chinese being over-sensitive? Is either side in the wrong, and if so, how much? (and so on.)

But when it all boils down to what’s at the core, I think the real issue about this doesn’t necessarily involve questions like,

Should Hong Kong not restrict trade? Are Hong Kong people “jealous” of mainland Chinese and discriminatory against them? Do mainland Chinese downright lack ethics? Is this evidence that mainland Chinese are coming to dominate Hong Kong little by little? Continue reading

“Chinese”

I can’t help but feel that the term “Chinese” used in universities and seemingly everywhere is very centered on what the People’s Republic of China’s government has defined as “Chinese,” even as it is supposed to cover the whole political region of China in which over 1 billion people live.

If you just think about it, even if a region that is inhabited by so many people is just one political state, there is bound to be more than just one language within the region – we just conveniently simplify these languages in deeming the language of China solely “Chinese.” So why aren’t these languages called languages, but dialects? Perhaps if one attempted to draw parallels in linguistic differences among Chinese “dialects” and Western European “languages,” he might find that they were equal in distinction. But in today’s context, that doesn’t seem to mean anything: why? Because China is one political state, while western Europe is made up of numerous? I can’t help but feel a bit wronged. Maybe I wouldn’t go so far as to push for Cantonese to be recognized as a distinct language, but I still feel that this distinction must be addressed for anyone who might learn “Chinese,” which most likely refers to Mandarin and simplified Chinese, the language that supposedly over 1 billion people speak as their “native” language. I feel that too many think that the differences between Mandarin and Cantonese are as simple as “Hello” and “Howdy” and one area using the term “hella” or “hecka” in conversation, with another area using the term “wicked.”

Maybe I’m just terribly afraid of the possibility that Cantonese will fade away and die with Hong Kong becoming just another city in the People’s Republic of China. And although I know that no matter how much I might wish for it, Cantonese will likely never come to be considered an actual language, I want people to know about Cantonese. How ~70 million people speak it and how interesting it is that Cantonese would flourish in Hong Kong, even as its use was never promoted by any government. How unique the situation of Cantonese is and how much of a pity it would be to see a language used by so many disappear on a state’s mere political necessity to “unify” its people. It just doesn’t seem fair, killing a language so that another might be exalted and reign supreme, especially if the possible death of such a language might currently be considered so insignificant that it wouldn’t even be found worth recording in the history books.