Some contextual points on Hong Kong.

ellewcee:

I’ve been on vacation and am returning to the real world now, and I’m sure what I’m about to write will be repetitive for some. But I can’t not write it, and I hope that you share it because tomorrow, October 1, has the potential to be a historic day for Hong Kong, good or bad.

You have probably heard about the protests going on in Hong Kong. I won’t revisit the general history or most recent events. Instead I wanted to post some important historical and contextual points that are significant to how we understand the particular conflict that’s taking place right now.

This is a long post, and far from comprehensive because I am only human and exhausted at that, but please bear with me.

WHY HONG KONG IS NOT THE SAME AS CHINA

  1. Hong Kong was a fishing village on a goddamn rock when it was annexed by the British in 1842. The population grew and exploded during the 20th century as a result of a number of factors, but a huge one is the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). During the Chinese civil war and subsequent purging, thousands fled the violence by escaping to Hong Kong — including both sets of grandparents in my family. One was a Western car dealer in Shanghai; the other was from a landowning family. FWIW, I still have some distant relatives from the latter side in China. I have no living relatives in China on my maternal grandparents’ side. Everyone was killed.
  2. Throughout the 20th century, Hong Kong flourished, grew, and developed a distinctive culture and economy. I’m not saying everything was rosy as an English colony. I’m saying the culture and economy are real and independent from China.
  3. The events of Tiananmen may seem like they were a long time ago, and have entered history as the kind of event that’s lost its shock over time. But twenty-five years is a short time for many Hong Kongers, and Tiananmen’s outcome was far from predictable at that time. Remember that Tiananmen was only eight years before the handover. Imagine watching the coverage that summer and knowing that was to be your government soon.
  4. All of this is to give just a bit of history as to why I and many others say: Hong Kong people do not consider themselves to be the same as mainland Chinese. When I say I’m from Hong Kong, I mean that. It is not the same.

WHO IS PROTESTING AND WHY 

  1. During the handover, dates were set for universal suffrage. Those promises are looking pretty damn compromised in the latest announcements from Beijing. You can read more about that in literally any article on the events; I won’t dive into it here.
  2. The main groups of activists engaging in the protests are students, and Occupy Central. Most articles I have read from Western news sources emphasize the role of OC, and they are not insignificant. But keep in mind: the students began to boycott school in the face of those changes from Beijing. They did it because student politics is a real movement in Hong Kong. It’s their future and they know it. Their parents know that Tiananmen was powered by students. My mother, who lives in Hong Kong, says that on the first day of student protests, their parents were out on the street with water, chargers, etc, because they saw Tiananmen and understand their kids’ fears: they fear the lack of a future
  3. Occupy Central is not the same as the other occupy movements we’ve seen around the world. Please do not confuse the goals of this movement with the goals of other Occupys. This is about democracy and representation. If I see any anti-capitalist leftist co-optation of the movement in Hong Kong in the Western coverage, I am going to flip my shit, and I say that as someone sympathetic to and supportive of Occupy in general. Do not get it twisted.
  4. The protesters have been keeping the streets clean — removing garbage and recycling; sweeping; using public toilets; etc. There is no black bloc-style activity that I’ve heard of. They have agreed to create “humanitarian corridors” to let ambulances move through because the government alleged that the protests were a safety hazard. These things are not just a cute feature of the protests. They are a manifestation of the love we have our city, and they are also strategic politicking. If you are clean, apologetic, peaceful, unarmed, and responsive, they lose some of their very tenuous foundation for saying the protests are wrong. I’m not advocating for this as the only route to change. I’m just pointing out the tactic.

THE VERY REAL THREAT OF VIOLENCE

  1. Tomorrow (Wednesday October 1) is National Day for China, the commemoration of the creation of the People’s Republic of China. Tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand, citizens are projected to protest tomorrow on a day set aside for celebrating China and the party.
  2. Also worth noting: loads of tourists from mainland China are coming to Hong Kong to see the fireworks and enjoy the holiday. Tourism from mainland has boomed in the past decade — only this month, they came to shop and instead saw peaceful civil disobedience
  3. State violence against its citizens is not an idle threat when you are dealing with the PRC. We are talking about a serious, real threat here. Tear gas has not been deployed in Hong Kong in decades. The use of it this weekend, the dragging and arresting of teenagers, the police in riot gear, is a big, big deal. It is a shock to the system for Hong Kong people to see peaceful protestors be treated the same as the Uighur population in China, or Tibet. 
  4. There are a few things that continue to restrain Beijing from bringing down the hammer. The incredible damage it would do to international finance is one thing. Media attention is another. Note that foreign media outlets covering China have been based out of Hong Kong for decades, due to restrictions from Beijing. The PRC knows better than most how bad they will look if they crack down violently. Tiananmen was a PR catastrophe for the government, and back then the 24 hour cable news cycle was still being born. 

Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of EST. I feel hopeless, thrilled, scared; I feel that we are facing something totally unprecedented. I know that the people who are out on the street know what the possibilities are. I am heartburstingly proud. 

Do not look away.

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