The Hong Kong Protesters Aren’t Driven by Hope

from The Atlantic

For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island

The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?

One of the most popular chants in Hong Kong is “Five demands, not one less.” These include the full withdrawal of the anti-extradition bill, which originally sparked the protests in June; an independent commission to investigate police misconduct; retracting the riot charges against protesters; amnesty for arrested protesters; and, crucially, universal suffrage.

Nothing animates the Hong Kongers I’ve been talking with as much as that final demand. Yesterday, the police shot one protester in the stomach at point-blank range, and another police officer drove into the protesters with his motorcycle, weaving into the crowd to circle back again. Later in the day, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, gave a press conference and, in chilling language, called the protesters the “enemy of the people.” She was voted into office by 777 people from the 1,200-person “Election Committee,” many of whose members are businesspeople with close ties to mainland China. It’s fair to describe her as handpicked by Beijing. Polls in October showed her popularity around 22 percent, with just over one in 10 Hong Kongers saying that they would vote for her voluntarily. No wonder the protesters want the right to elect their own leaders.

More here.

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6 Comments

  1. I recently saw drone footage of the huge prison the Chinese government has built to hold Uighurs, a Muslim minority, in the vast empty western reaches of the country–it’s the biggest prison in the world, a city, really, holding maybe as many as a million people. They Chinese say they are voluntarily undergoing “economic retraining” there, but it is surrounded by barbed wire chainlink.

    Yes, universal suffrage is what any Westerner believes in as the only source of legitimate governance. The people of Hong Kong are right to demand that. But China has always feared chaos more than it fears the loss of human rights.

    The Han, of which most HK demonstrators and police are members, are the largest single ethnic group on the planet. As a coastal, riverine place filled with ethnic Han but managed by the British for a century, Hong Kong is a special place, like New York City in a way. Many cultures mix there, though the mainland ethnic group clearly predominates. When England turned the peninsula back to China a few years ago this dispute was predictable. And seeing how it has progressed, and the clear anxiety of the people, has almost certainly hardened Taiwan’s resistance to ever becoming part of the mainland.

    The tensions between these local special arrangements and the majority happen all the time, but seem especially acute right now. There are street demonstrations in Chile, Lebanon, Iraq, Barcelona, Paris, Tehran, Calcutta, actually in cities around the globe, there’s never been anything like it before. Globalization has lowered borders and made people question their identities. Violence seems to be the answer many peoples around the world turn to.

  2. It has been very sad to see the progression of events and protests in China. While the Hong Kong protests reminded me of the Yellow Jackets protests taking place in France, the use of force by the police in Hong Kong against the protesters has been much worse. In the article, Tufecki dives into the use of force discussing how protesters are so badly treated to the point where police are allegedly killing the protesters and the murders had been “disguised as suicides.” I can’t wrap my head around the idea that China has consistently made international news headlines and been exposed of severely mistreating it’s citizens, either during these protests, or the holocaust-like treatment of the Uighur Muslims in which many Uighur Muslims are placed in concentration camps and brutally beaten and mistreated. When the United States caught wind of the treatment of the Jews during World War Two, we stepped up to the plate and took measures to relocate those affected to Israel. Facing a similar situation in which the world is viewing such massive human rights violations, citizens around the globe are disgusted yet all governments refuse to act. Getting issues such as these trending on twitter is not something that is going to effectively help these people. While yes, it very well shines a spotlight on China, there has been no decrease in these events in China, because the Chinese know that no government is going to intervene, and citizens around the globe just have to watch and offer our useless “thoughts and prayers.” With the oppression that the Chinese government imposes on its people, I can’t help but draw similarities to the Hitler-ruled Germany. With the amount of propaganda and mistreatment towards those who speak out against the government in the most populated country on the planet, you would genuinely think other world leaders would take notice and try to intervene in some way, shape, or form. However, the United States is much more interested in renegotiating a trade deal. While it is effective to have two global superpowers engaging in trade, if the United States was willing to step up to the plate and lead the charge against the mistreatment of the people of China, many more governments would likely back the United States up and tell China that enough is enough.

  3. My first real exposure to the revolution and protests in Hong Kong was the conflict with the NBA. Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the protesters in Hong Kong. Normally, this would be seen as just another person of influence using their platform to inform people about a horrific issue in the world. However, due to the NBA’s expanding business in China, this had financial consequences for the league. The Chinese government was furious and asked for Morey’s removal. They threatened to not televise any NBA games in China and to cancel the upcoming preseason exhibition games in China. The commissioner of the NBA refused to fire Morey and handled the conflict well. However, when certain players were asked about this issue, the responses came with backlash. LeBron James, who is very outspoken about social issues in the U.S., was asked about the issue and said that Morey was “misinformed.” He stated that, “so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually” (Silverman). At first, I was critical of James’ comments. It seemed as if he only had his own financial interests in mind. He was outspoken about issues here, but when it came to Hong Kong, he criticized Morey for bringing attention to the issue.

    After reading this article, I am even more critical of James’ comments. The actions of the Chinese government and the police are absolutely appalling. The violence of the police is especially horrifying. Tufecki describes how one police officer drove his motorcycle into a crowd of protesters. It is very disheartening to hear that the men and women who are in charge of enforcing the law and protecting the citizens of the nation are causing so much violence. However, what stood out to me the most about this article is the moral and determination of the protesters. Even in the face of fear, the protesters will not back down as they fight for what they believe in. Tufecki asked one woman if she was afraid. The woman replied that they are all afraid, but that they cannot give up, “because if we do, there will be no future for us anyway. We might as well go down fighting” (Tufecki).

    The determination of the Hong Kong protesters is truly inspiring. Every single day they face arrest, teargas, beatings and even death to fight for their cause. That shows true bravery and is extremely admirable. At the end of the article, Tufecki describes how a woman gave her an umbrella for protection against pepper spray, teargas, etc. The people of Hong Kong want others to get involved and they will need the help of the rest of the world. I truly hope that these protests receive more international attention, especially in the U.S. After reading this article, I will be sure to update myself on the protests and share the struggles of the people of Hong Kong with more of my friends and family.

    NBA article: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/what-did-lebron-james-say-about-china-nearly-everyone-else-ncna1069131

  4. The complexity of the relationship between Beijing and Hong-Kong is the main reason why there is such a confusion over the social and political climate there. There are many things that the people of Hong-Kong want, most notably they want the civil liberties granted to them by Britain to be extended. They want the extradition bill that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to be eradicated. It is intended to be used for criminals wanted for crimes elsewhere, but citizens fear the corrupt communist party will abuse this power to punish political enemies. The people have been protesting this bill for many weeks now and have met heavy opposition from the police. This article describes well some of the measures taken by police to attempt to suppress these protests, but nothing so far has stopped these people or deterred their morale in any way. The people of Hong-Kong also demand universal suffrage, and free elections that are uninfluenced by the current corruption. They want true free elections and refuse to be dominated by an oppressive government. The protests, which have been going on since June of last year, show no sign of stopping as more and more young people are joining the ranks in order to express their anger at the government. And the government has not taken this lightly, using force to disperse protesters and crowds, shooting tear gas into crowds, and more recently even opening fire upon protestors. The Chinese government also uses facial recognition technology to identify the protesters and arrest them later. China has always been one to shy away from protecting human rights, especially in the mainland, and these long-drawn protests are evidence of what happens when people’s rights are ignored systematically and without consequence.
    It is unclear what will be the verdict in this situation, since the protesters refuse to comply with the government, while the government is corrupt and just as stubborn. The protests have only recently begun to become very violent as the protesters wants shift. Now they want an even greater democracy and inquiries into police brutality. With both sides refusing to stand down, no one is sure if the end is in sight.

  5. The protests in Hong Kong are unlikely to slow down any time soon as the protestors all agree on one common thing; they are all fighting for their future as well as the city’s because they believe that the Hong Kong everyone knows now will no longer be “Hong Kong” but Communist China if they don’t take it to the streets. In other words, why study in school for your future and your career when there IS no future if Hong Kong etches a step closer to becoming like the Communist motherland once the extradition bill has been passed.
    Not only are they fighting for their future, but they are also fighting for the “five demands”; withdrawal of the extradition bill, investigation into police brutality and misconduct, release of the arrested prisoners and retraction of the term “riot” for the protests. The protestors are not alone in fighting for the five demands, they are also supported by the international community and Taiwan (a country whom Hong Kongers are known to flee to if they risk prosecution by the police for taking part in the protests).
    If you compare Hong Kong with Singapore, they are both similar; densely populated, highly urbanized and small. There’s no dissatisfaction and protests in Singapore because everyone is satisfied with the state of life there unlike Hong Kong; increasing Chinese influence (the bill, high speed railways), lack of housing for most people (Chinese businessman buying up real estate), and dislike for the current Chief Executive. For years now, the people in Hong Kong have been trying to get the attention of the higher ups to address the problem yet to no avail so they take it to the streets to try and make a change.
    I feel as if Hong Kong is like a puppet controlled by the Chinese Communist Government the latter whom is known for not having human rights (such as the current Uyghur situation) and the kidnapping of Hong Kong booksellers. That being said, their courage in the protests such as facing arrest and even death astounds me; they really want to be “free” from the control of the Communist Chinese and have a democratic system like the self governed island of Taiwan. The protests in Hong Kong tells me that having democracy isn’t something one should take for granted but should cherish and respect as there are those who risk everything and try to fight and earn it.

  6. In Hong Kong, protests were started because of a proposal that came from mainland China that would amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws. It would allow for Hong Kong residents, foreign residents, and visitors to be extradited to China and misty likely not receive a fair trial and would be subject to torture. The proposed amendment didn’t last long, being suspended after only two months of protests. The protests themselves have not stopped though, and continue because the public is frustrated about their democratic deterioration and rights violations. Hong Kong is supposed to operate as their own democratic country until 2047 when they will join China, but China is trying to make it happen sooner. So far the protests have been peaceful, but there has been a little violence. This violence comes most from gangs called triads. However, when triad attacks happen, the police tends to turn the other cheek making people wonder if the government paid the triads to try and get the protests to stop.
    The protesters who are acting in Hong Kong are doing so to protect the democratic values that they have lived with for so long. These protesters are not searching to gain more rights or freedoms, but simply maintaining what they have as they are currently on the path to slavery. Of the freedoms they are being stripped of is the freedom of press and expression. Currently Beijing’s state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV) has gone to great lengths to promote propaganda across Hong Kong; many of which paint protesters in a bad light. The Chinese Communist Party has also restricted the people of Hong Kong from freely practicing religion by enforcing a crackdown against Falun Gong meditation and spirituality. Lastly, the people of Hong Kong are fighting for the rule of law, meaning that they are fighting for the government to act in accordance with its own laws and not exercise its power unjustly or arbitrarily. After understanding how these protests have come to be, I am now much more appreciative of the rights and freedoms I currently have today.

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