On July 1, 2014, a march happened in Hong Kong. The sheer number of Hong Kong citizens that participated in this march made this demonstration one of the “largest displays of defiance since the city’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997” (The Economist).
The “Handover” agreement between the UK and China officially took place back on July 1, 1997. Under the conditions of the agreement, Hong Kong was no longer subjected to British rule and was essentially “handed over back” to China. 16 years later, levels of discontent continue to rise in Hong Kong as the Chinese government decides to take on a more aggressive approach to the idea of “One Country, Two Systems”. As with any other political issue, there are many layers involved. But a simple explanation for the tension seen in Hong Kong today is this:
“Demonstrators want an expansion of the former British territory’s social and political freedoms, which were retained under the handover agreement. Chinese leaders do not want full, Western-style democracy in Hong Kong because they view such freedoms as an unwelcome example for China. They have taken a more aggressive line on Hong Kong as President Xi Jinping attempts to consolidate his power at home and China’s influence in the region… It could be a long summer for the city’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, as he juggles the competing demands of China’s leaders and Hong Kong’s people.”
Organizers of the July 1, 2014 march claim to have had 510,000 participants. As seen in the time-lapse video above, the march proceeded well into the night. One comment says, “I started walking at 2:00 and ended at 10:00 and I wasn’t even the last one to cross the finish line”.
Quite frankly, the video and this whole ordeal make me tear up.
Growing up, I had always felt like Hong Kong was my “real” homeland and I had just come to Canada to study. Don’t get me wrong, over the years I became quickly converted into a proud Canadian. I love Vancouver and I think my parents made the right choice to bring my family to Canada, but Hong Kong still lingers inside my mind like a mysterious street I never walked on yet knew exactly which corner to turn. It is like the home I never got to know. It is where I want to live and work after graduation, so seeing Hong Kong in its current state makes me sad in general.
I think the main reason I tear up is due to the basic ingredient to a mass protest such as this one: passion.
Reading about this issue in the news is one thing, but actually watching footage is completely different. From photos of occupy-protesters linking arms as they are pulled away by police to thousands of people marching for their belief, I am able to feel a lot more.
I don’t know if I have ever felt that passionate about an issue. I care about a lot of stuff. I care about the environment, mental health, education and everything else a relatively young person would care about. Although I have a strong opinion about the Northern Gateway pipeline, I don’t have a searing devotion to join a protest or occupy a street until the wee hours of the morning. Unlike me, a large majority of young people in Hong Kong are willing to go to such lengths.
“David Zweig, professor of social science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, [says] the white paper was the latest catalyst for the political awakening in Hong Kong’s youth” (CTV News). The white paper refers to a document issued by the Chinese government saying that the degree of freedom Hong Kong holds at the moment isn’t “inherent but authorized”. My interpretation is that the government is willing to tolerate the level of autonomy Hong Kong currently has (with a possibility of keeping it that way), but it doesn’t mean that level of autonomy aligns with their values. In other words, Hong Kong sets a bad example for other societies under China who want a taste of democracy. Think Katniss and how she symbolized the Mockingjay in The Hunger Games. Hong Kong plays Katniss and the Chinese government, well, plays the Panem government.
Zweig notes that the younger generation (people under 30) started to get very involved in the issue since the mandatory national education program in 2012. The program was “denounced by critics as an attempt to indoctrinate the city’s young with Chinese nationalism… though the plans were later shelved, fears about “brainwashing” galvanized the student movement”. Now, the younger generation has become intensely active after the white paper because it was interpreted by many to be a warning and foreshadowing of the withdrawal of democratic rights.
“[Analysts] say this year’s participants [are] particularly young, digitally savvy and willing to break the law to make themselves heard. “Their main platform is Facebook,” said Charles Mok, a legislative councillor in Hong Kong and former president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation” (The Guardian). He goes on to give the example of the democratic shift in 2012, when a 15-year-old high school student mobilized thousands of students to halt the mandatory national education program (rephrased as “an impending patriotic education campaign”). The response was a factor to the government revising its plans, signifying a “win” for Hong Kong students and a newly sprung attitude that active youth have a strong voice on political issues. Mok says, “They’ve been able to organise younger people in a much bigger way than before.”
Whether I agree or disagree with the protesters, seeing a demonstration as large-scale as this moves me. The issue becomes “bigger than your self” and it makes everything much more powerful.
Chan, K. (2014, July 4). Police clear hundreds of protesters from Hong Kong’s financial district. . Retrieved July 5, 2014, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/police-clear-hundreds-of-protesters-from-hong-kong-s-financial-district-1.1895401
Fighting for their future. (2014, July 5). The Economist. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from http://www.economist.com/news/china/21606310-two-visions-future-china-collide-streets-former-colony-fighting-their
Kaiman, J. (2014, July 5). Hong Kong protests inspire mobile game. The Guardian. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/04/hong-kong-protests-mobile-game