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…

Some Comments on China’s White Paper on Hong Kong

China both sickens and scares me. But not in the sense that I would suppress my speech to appease it. (All of the following quotes were taken from the People’s Republic of China state mouthpiece People’s Daily.)

The white paper said the policy enjoys growing popularity in Hong Kong, winning the wholehearted support from Hong Kong compatriots as well as people in all other parts of China. It is also thought highly by the international community.

The term “compatriot” eerily rings of communism: compatriot, comrade, communism… The phrase “wholehearted support” would explain the recent June 4th demonstration and the existence of groups like Scholarism, and the whole premise behind the recently-released documentary film, Lessons in Dissent.

The paper called for fully and accurately understanding the meaning of “one country, two systems” policy, saying that “the high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power.”

So China apparently has no regard for the concept of natural rights, not that that really is a new tidbit of information. And oh, the vagueness of the phrase “a high degree of autonomy.” It’s so intentionally vague, so delicately phrased so that both China and Britain could interpret it as they willed in order to allow the Sino-British Joint Declaration to smoothly come to pass as it did.

The white paper called for resolutely safeguarding the authority of the country’s Constitution and the Basic Law of Hong Kong, adding the Hong Kong people who govern Hong Kong “should above all be patriotic.”

I guess you could say Hong Kong people are patriotic. But to whom? If the term “patriotic” could be extended to a city, or if Hong Kong could become an independent country, as some hope, Hong Kong people are considerably patriotic.

Hong Kong

(Image of 2012 protests against National Education from Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images via the New York Times)

Hong Kong people, please fight for your rights.

Alex Lo: “Democracy is not a panacea”

I hate how difficult it is for me to find the time and effort to post on this blog (even though it’s the summer!) because of things like summer school and short trips and other thoughts. But I realized that anyhow, it seems the most effective way to find things to write about is to start writing about a topic I want to write about, and somehow somewhat naturally, other topics or more thoughts about the same topic will arise. And so…something I wanted to write about a little while ago when the editorial came out, yet couldn’t find the time to write about:

Alex Lo’s Democracy is not a panacea

(side note: I have not read any of the comments to this editorial.)

Perhaps I differ from Alex Lo in that I would wish to participate in a 7/1 demonstration if given the chance and I sympathize with those who believe that Hong Kong “deserves” democracy. But having lived in the U.S. for all my life, I cannot help but find validity in his words:

Yes, fight for democracy because it embodies human values worth fighting for. But it is not a panacea and may even cause more trouble.

Without a doubt, democracy is a cause worth fighting for. I admire those who try to play a part in turning Hong Kong towards democracy by participating in protests or movements consistently or occasionally or even just as a one-time thing. But it has to be made clear that democracy is not a panacea. It is not a magical cure-all to all of one’s woes, just as communism didn’t cure or fix or amend all of the struggles of the proletariat.

I feel that Hong Kong currently stands in an elusive place between freedom and democracy, and (semi-)oppression and restriction so that democracy seems like the magical cure-all. But democracy isn’t a panacea. Americans who have known one person, one vote democracy  all their life believe they don’t have full democracy or freedom, and complain just as much as Hongkongers at times. They continue to experience poverty, wealth inequality, manipulative politics, and the personal struggles that some Hongkongers believe can be solved with one person, one vote policies.

I didn’t think much of politics or the wondrous joys of democracy until after I learned about Hong Kong and the democracy movements there. The voting rate is low in the U.S.; voting doesn’t seem like something all-so-significant that we must do in electing a leader. It doesn’t seem like such an empowering vehicle through which individuals can make life-saving and beneficial change. It’s just there. Many times, we Americans just ask, what does one vote out of so many million really do? We may talk about democracy and how so-and-so country or region’s people are justified in their fight for democracy, but we don’t think of democracy as a privilege; it’s the default.

Yet even so, I want to believe–or at least hope–that Hong Kong will be different. There are only seven million in Hong Kong (and less eligible voters due to harsh immigration laws against non-ethnic Chinese residents and the existence of an underage population). I feel that that alone makes it significantly easier to implement change, as it seems that as of now, Hongkongers want democracy for just local Hong Kong politics. But will Hongkongers’ drive remain as strong and stubborn as protestors’ recent cries and persistence? Will Hongkongers really care about democracy and believe that their individual votes count? At times believing in the strength of one vote seems foolish, but at the same time, it’s admirable in its optimism despite its foolishness.

Hong Kong people already exercise their freedom of speech more than Americans, but would they too do the same with democracy?

Hong Kong Autonomy Movement

(Image taken from badcanto.wordpress.com)

I’m not sure how I came across this, but often times on the Internet, one website or video provides a link or reference to another, and as I try to learn more about Hong Kong, I came across the Hong Kong Autonomy Movement. The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement, I believe, is known for its members who wave the British Hong Kong colonial flag of old at protests and on a variety of occasions to express resistance to the Chinese Communist Party. They are those who are denounced by Chinese officials for longing to return to “mistreatment” under the British and demonstrating a lack of gratefulness towards the so-called motherland that provides for Hong Kong’s needs.

But upon reading the little English content published on its blog, I realize that its ideas and actions are not as repulsive or threatening as the Chinese Communist Party perceives it to be; it lists its objectives on its blog as:

  • Universal Suffrage

  • A Hong Kong Government which makes policies for the needs and interests of Hong Kong people

  • Long term housing and land policies to ensure the quality of life of Hong Kong people

  • To reinvigorate the local industries and agriculture

  • To reformulate immigration policy; to regain full authority in approving immigrants from Mainland China

  • To review the constitutional framework under the Basic Law

  • To defend the city-state of Hong Kong, and to reject ‘mainlandisation’ policies such as the “Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary” and the brainwashing of our children in the name of “Moral and National Education”

  • To establish local language policies and to protect the Hong Kong culture

  • To review Hong Kong’s currency standard and monetary policies to strengthen Hong Kong’s financial autonomy

Its name is quite self-explanatory: HKAM, as it is abbreviated, desires not so much independence, but Hong Kong’s due freedoms and autonomy, and a government that truly seeks Hong Kong’s interests first.
HKAM is largely made up of young, idealistic Hong Kongers, as many local Hong Kong movements advocating universal suffrage or protection of Hong Kong’s unique culture are; I believe it largely organizes on Facebook. Something I find interesting about it is its explanation for its use of the colonial emblem:
A Cultural Reinterpretation of the Dragon-Lion Emblem of Hong Kong

The Emblem of the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement symbolizes protection through the combination of the dragon and the lion, that is, the distillation and blending of the best parts of the Chinese and British traditions. The Hong Kong flag of the Chinese dragon and the British lion embodies the spirit of merging Chinese and British cultures, honours the history of Hong Kong, and guards the city-state of Hong Kong. This flag inherits the Hong Kong Ensign under British rule. With the newly added Chinese characters, 香港 (Hong Kong), and the white background changed to the free and noble blue, it symbolizes Hong Kong people keeping their foothold in Hong Kong, sustaining themselves, and autonomously ruling themselves.

The dragon rides on the heavens and the lion strides across the earth. The merging of the lion and dragon means the dragon walking on earth and the lion soaring to the sky. In the face of the Communist Chinese wolf, the people of Hong Kong are not lambs but the vigorous offspring of the Chinese dragon and British lion. Just like a lion mounting the clouds and a tiger with wings, we cannot be put on the same par as the wolf and we will not be in the same room with it.

The Coat of Arms of Hong Kong was designed by the British College of Arms, and it represented Hong Kong between 1959 and 1997. Elegant and noble, upright and balanced, this flag has been familiar to the people of Hong Kong, and it contains Hong Kong’s culture and history. According to The Book of Songs, “Although Zhou is an old state, its mission is to reform and to renew.” The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement reinterprets this flag as follows:

The dragon belongs to the Chinese tradition, symbolizing viability and flexibility; Hong Kong is the repository and guardian of Chinese culture. The lion belongs to the British tradition, symbolizing justice and bravery. Hong Kong is the inheritor and promoter of British culture. The people of Hong Kong are the offspring of the dragon and the lion, the hybrid child of Chinese and British cultures. The shield jointly guarded and supported by the dragon and the lion standing on the territory of Hong Kong symbolizes Hong Kong’s state of being civilized and cultured. The tower above the shield symbolizes the city-state of Hong Kong; the crown on top of the tower symbolizes Hong Kong’s inheriting the full cultural traditions and making herself a king. The junks on the sea stand for Hong Kong’s history as a trading port as well as the adventurous sea-faring spirit. The crown worn by the big lion symbolizes the fact that Hong Kong was once ruled by the British monarch; the small lion holding the dragon pearl symbolizes the ruler of the city-state of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement preserves the crown for two reasons:- Firstly, to inherit noble spirit, secondly, to make Hong Kong a king forming a constitutional, republican and democratic government and ruling with benevolence and righteousness.

Note: As Hong Kong lacked discussions about city-state autonomy before 1997, no spiritual signs or heraldries have been left, and up till now, a common symbol for Hong Kong is not available. Our adoption of the dragon-lion flag aims at impelling and inspiring the people of Hong Kong by means of a familiar sign. Moreover, as the significance of the original flag has seldom been explored by the people of Hong Kong, it is susceptible to a brand new interpretation. Certain left-wing participants in local resistance movements may find it hard to tolerate our borrowing the cultural sign of the British colony, and may insist on decolonizing Hong Kong and bringing Hong Kong citizens back to the chainless primal state before resisting the tyranny of the local government and of the CCP. We think that this is impracticable. First of all, we cannot possibly return to the primal state. This kind of attempt at decolonization is doomed to fail and thus tolerable to the CCP. In addition, in order to deal with tyranny and struggle with the new colonizer, we must have resources, even resources given to us by the former colonizer. Without weapons, especially a familiar one, one is unable to fight.

Using my meager Chinese literacy, I have surmised that HKAM finds much inspiration in professor Chin Wan’s (陳雲) Hong Kong as a City-State (香港城邦論). Below, I’ve listed the English content I found on HKAM’s blog thus far:
http://hkam2011.blogspot.com/2011/09/hkam-outline.html (This was the post I block-quoted from.)
http://hkam2011.blogspot.com/2011/06/flag-that-is-truly-ours-cultural.html (This seems like a modification of the interpretation of the flag I posted above.)
But if you were to ask me which post I linked to read if you only had time to read one, I would tell you to read this one, posted by what I believe to be of an external organization/person:
I feel that this above link does a good job of helping me sort out my thoughts about HKAM and Hong Kongers’ demonstrations of resistance to the Chinese Communist Party in general; at times it seems that there is little insight or analysis on Hong Kong written in English.

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?