Hong Kong’s Student Protests: The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sickle
If you ever have, or will, get the chance to take in the view of Hong Kong bay your eyes will most likely be drawn to the ultra-modern electrified buildings that at night put on a light show, or the faux sampans that troll the harbour for giddy tourists. There is however a very unassuming, yet imposing building nestled between the high-rise office buildings. Shaped with a square body that tapers to a narrow base at the bottom, this building has no lights, or impressive glass exteriors to attract the viewer except a single red star facing outwards towards the water’s edge. This building is the only visual presence of Chinese influence in the pulsating city; it is the building for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. However unimpressive this one building is, there is much more influence from China under the waters of this modern economic hub.
Hong Kong since 1997, after it was generously gifted back to China, has existed in a state of partial independence under the convoluted title of a Special Administrative Region (S.A.R). This often boils down to the simple phrase: “One Country, Two Systems.” In exchange for some self-determination, a different legal system, and the lineaments of a free democracy, Hong Kong will be forever in a purgatory state of independence mixed with Chinese dependence. However elegant the phrase “One Country, Two Systems” sounded back in 1997, today the people of Hong Kong find themselves rejecting the formulation.
Since its emergence as an S.A.R Hong Kong has seen various political groups fight for varying changes to the political environment but most recently a new movement of increasing strength has reached international recognition, The Umbrella Movement. Starting in 2014 The Umbrella movement uses non-violent methods, such as sit-ins and protests, to campaign for a more representative democracy. They view the current system of elections as being a marionette show with the strings in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. Recently offshoots of these protests and movements have seen pro-independence members, intent on joining the Legislative Council, being barred, and booksellers imprisoned for spreading ‘subversive’ literature. Of all these groups the most known and successful activists are the university students.
The most common images depicted on Hong Kong TV regarding such protests are violent encounters between police and students. Pepper spray and riot shields clashing against crudely made signs and banners fill TV screens. More subtle forms of the conflict and tensions between China and pro-independence students have manifested themselves though. Recently the 19 year old student activist leader, Joshua Wong, was released from detention at an airport in Thailand. It was reported that the Chinese government had requested for him to be detained whilst he was overseas and thanks to intercession by pro-democracy students in Thailand he was released. For these students every word they write, every speech they make, every action undertaken is a risk and a struggle.
I am safe now :’)
— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf)
It is precisely because of this that university newspapers in Hong Kong cannot be seen to condone such political speech. The Hong Kong University newspaper released a press statement saying “The senior management’s position on the debate about Hong Kong independence is that this is not a realistic option. More importantly, it would not be in the best interests of the University.” Whilst they may not have the support and backing of their universities’ media and newspaper services the true spirit of the movement has been pushed into the realm of social media: the world students know best. Now an out of touch political elite are struggling to contain a student run activism that has the entire networking and organizational capabilities that social media has to offer. It is precisely why these movements will only grow with every protest, for every time a pepper spray canvased scene is shown on TV it is shown one hundred more times on Facebook; every time you hear the words of a previously exiled or jailed activist, it will be re-posted and commented on a hundred times before you could have heard it. This is something that contrasts rather a lot with how we as students use our social media or what our student newspaper is there to do.
For us every word isn’t a struggle, a fight, or a risk, instead they are comfortable expressions of a liberty that need no written assurance. For us the term socialist or communist brings to mind a fiery eyed revolutionary student whose clothes are at best an anachronism. In Hong Kong communism has existed long enough for it to become a traditionalism, a political force of conservatism that needs to be fought to shift its lethargic control. For us social media will more likely provide us with our next favourite meme, or future recipe. This isn’t a critique of our own use, but only an identification of the political comfort we now live in and for which students our age are fighting half way around the world to one day have.
It is apparent that one day Hong Kong will be independent. The economic and internal political stability it poses is unlike any other previous colony of the British Empire. Due to a rather homogeneous, and therefore democratically stable, population it has the potential to make a strong and liberal democracy within South East Asia. It was almost a mistake for China to have given the people of Hong Kong a taste of democracy because time can only augment it and with more time will come more generations of modernized, educated, and international students who will demand democracy. As university students with the luxury of democratic and liberal freedoms, with our free and fair university institutions and media, we should take notice and foster a solidarity with those students who do not. To amend the words of Marx and Engels “Students of the World, Unite!”