As many of you may or may not know, Hong Kong has been experiencing a huge political movement known as “Occupy Central” or now often referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution”. This movement, which was initiated by University of Hong Kong Professor Benny Tai back in 2013, is a campaign for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, to pressure the PRC Government in granting an electoral system that “satisfies the international standards in relation to universal suffrage” in the Hong Kong Chief Executive election in 2017. If this electoral system was not achieved, the group threatened they would fight back through the occupation of Central, which is the equivalent of Wall Street in New York City. On the night of September 27 2014, a group of around 100 protestors led by student activist group leader Joshua Wong stormed into Civic Square, trying to tear down metal barriers around the central flag podium. Currently, the “occupation” has spread to 4 districts of Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok. Tens of thousands of people, a majority being university students, have spent the past 3 weeks marching on the streets and standing ground, trying to make their demands which include wanting HK Chief Executive C.Y Leung to resign, and to have universal suffrage.
To provide some historical context, Hong Kong used to be a British colony and was handed over back to China in 1997. There was an agreement between UK and China that Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its high degree of autonomy, in terms of legal, education and economical systems for 50 years. Hence, the principle “One country, two systems” was enforced. At the moment, the Chief Executive of HK is elected by a committee of 1200 people from a variety of geographical and functional constituencies. Though in the end, China does have the final say over the position. Hence, many Hong Kong-ers are fed up over the “pseudo-democracy” they say was promised.
You can watch the full chronology of events here to understand the current state of HK. (Please do ^^)
It is hard being overseas and having to watch countless news videos on Youtube of my home being in the unimaginable chaotic state it is in. Hong Kong has been known for being a peaceful, sophisticated and advanced city, a place where you would feel safe 99% of the time. Seeing the clashes between the police and students, pro-democracy protesters and anti-protesters, the tension in the atmosphere has never been so high.
During this past month, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with links to many articles, blogposts, videos and personal opinions on this whole issue, either supporting the protestors or the police or the anti-protestors. One slightly insensitive remark made regarding the opposing side and you will find yourself in a cyber war against old friends, teachers and even strangers. Overall, there is just way too much I could bring up and talk about in this post, and then this would become an article instead. So to be short, here are some main points I think are important to think about regarding this whole fiasco.
- This situation is not black and white, it is hard to fully support the protestors in all that they are doing, nor fully support the police in their efforts to maintain law and order. It would be heartless of me to condone the usage of pepper spray and tear gas against unarmed protestors. Yet at the same time, if the police do not assert some form of authority and remind the protestors of their illegal activities, how can peace for the whole city be restored? The police are trying to do their job, just as much as the protestors are desperately trying to get their point across, which causes this standoff and there will eventually only be one winner.
- Power of the media: As obvious as this is, how influential the media has been on shaping our perspectives and opinions on this is always fascinating, as I was made aware of in this article. After attending a political discussion here at NYU regarding the events, I was made aware of how much the foreign media was focusing on the “glamorous” side of the protests, how civilised protestors were by cleaning up after themselves, commending the students’ drive to fight for democracy, and thus highlighting the “brutality” of the police. For people who do not know much about the history of HK and the realities of the situation, it is easy for them to immediately support the students as “democracy” always seems to be the most desirable goal. To the other side of the spectrum, there have been news blockades in China, leading many Mainland Chinese to be unaware of what is going on in HK, and hence offering little sympathy to those in the city. Needless to say, we must use our critical thinking and reasoning and not let the media target our emotions and sway us towards a favorable side, and overriding our logic.
- Finally, from seeing and hearing about the costly consequences and impacts these protests have had on the general public of HK, it leads me to question whether or not this movement was worth it. There is no doubt that the protestors have gathered global attention, creating a politicised sensation. However, the harsh reality of this is that it is very unlikely for C.Y Leung to step down, nor will it be likely that the Chinese government back down and satisfy the demands of the protestors. With that in mind, a large majority of the working public such as taxi drivers and restaurant owners have been heavily hit by the shut down of major streets. Protestors have argued saying that this is a sacrifice HK people must make if they want to see any sort of change in the future. However, I feel that their anger and frustrations are justified as they have not chosen to participate in the protest, yet are forced to endure the consequences. Is this fair to them?
With that, I encourage you to look more into this current event as I was not able to cover even half of what is going on. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but just be mindful to remain respectful towards one another and we will all gain something from this.