(The writer wishes to remain anonymous for their safety and their family’s safety.)
Please note: this article was written in the month of October, therefore does not discuss recent events.
I am not going to lie. It is hard for me to talk about this.
For me, the past few months have been a time of immense confusion, fear and frustration but also a time for introspection and connection. This is not an event that I can look at with an unbiased view because it has definitely affected me emotionally, as I am sure it has done to millions across and outside of Hong Kong. Through this post, my goal is to shed light on the complexity of the whole event and how it is affecting the people of Hong Kong.
Let us start from the beginning: these series of events erupted earlier this year on the 9th of June, as protesters in Hong Kong opposed the amendment of our extradition law. But I would argue that the roots of this discontentment run deeper; it is an integral part of Hong Kong’s culture and sense of identity. Therefore, arguably this all started decades ago.
In 1842, Hong Kong Island was ceded to the British Empire in the Treaty of Nanjing, beginning its status as a British colony which would continue for the next 150 years. In 1898, the New Territories (the remaining part of Hong Kong) were also leased to Britain for 99 years. Arguably, this is when the paths of Hong Kong and China started to diverge into two very different trajectories. During this period, China was still in the Qing dynasty, ruled by a monarch and a corrupt government. China was suffering economically, technologically, and was dealing with foreign and civil unrest. Eventually, the Communist Party won the Civil War, drove the Nationalists to Taiwan, and rose to power. It is undeniable that the Communist Party had made significant progress in China ever since, transitioning China from a third-world country into one of the biggest powers on the globe. But do the ends justify the means?
The Chinese Communist party operates by exerting control. They have achieved their growth by using propaganda and radical measures to dismantle the hierarchic system in China. This means stripping away people’s freedom of speech and right to information, having a legal system that is contingent on the people in power and forcefully creating homogeneity in the guise of unity. There was a time that children were forced to torture their parents, scholars were mass murdered, and many cultural artifacts were destroyed. I would like to clarify here that I am incredibly proud of my identity as a Chinese, I believe that the cultural roots I feel most connected to are the very roots that were obliterated during the Cultural Revolution. This, in combination with the Japanese war and Civil war, led numerous people to leave the mainland, leading many to settle in Hong Kong.
In the meantime, Hong Kong operated under a drastically different political and legal system, and it flourished as a trading port connecting Mainland China to the rest of the world. Hong Kong was inadvertently influenced by Western values and cultural norms, becoming a major international city.
With 1997 fast approaching, Hong Kong neared the end of the New Territories’ 99-year lease, and in line with this, Britain planned on returning the entirety of Hong Kong to China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration stipulates the principle of “one country, two systems” where China’s socialist system would not affect Hong Kong’s capitalist system and its way of life for the 50 years following the Handover. Hong Kong adopted the Hong Kong Basic Law, and currently has its own administrative, legislative and judicial authorities. However, this begs the question, what happens after 50 years?
Pessimism was prevalent in the air. Looking at the history of the Chinese Communist party, there is an obvious pattern of suppressing divergent voices, then altering the culture of a place by populating it with people who have successfully assimilated in the dominant culture. Many believed that it was only a matter of time before Hong Kong became “just another Chinese city” through being forced to abandon their freedom of speech, press and information, rule of law, work ethics and general integrity. With 2047 looming overhead this view has not subsided. There have been many mysterious disappearances of people who have openly criticized the Chinese government or disseminated banned materials. There have also been several suspicious “suicide” events where the evidence pointed to murder contrary to what the media indicated (a phenomenon, I should point out, not at all uncommon in Mainland China).
In 2014, the Umbrella Revolution occurred. These were a series of peaceful protests in which citizens of Hong Kong demanded Universal Suffrage; they demanded the right to elect their own government. Many people thought that the current election system (which only includes 1200 people of the standing committee), is heavily biased towards the intentions of the Central Chinese government. People believed that leaders emerging from this election system are merely pawns of the Central Government, having little or no consideration for the voices of the citizens of Hong Kong. This protest lasted more than two months, hundreds of thousands of people protested, and yet no change came about in our governmental system. As mentioned in a YoungPost article, “The movement inspires a new generation of political activists but also builds cynicism about the power of popular movements to effect political change. ” At this point, ‘the British Foreign Office announced that Chinese officials now treat the Joint Declaration as “void” ‘.
Fast-forward to around four years later, in April of this year, discontent of the citizens of Hong Kong began to grow increasingly heated as our Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed the amendment of the Extradition Law. This proposal supposedly stemmed from a murder in Taiwan, where one Hong Kong citizen killed another. For the suspect to be trialed in the place of the alleged crime, he would have needed to be extradited by Taiwan. What does it mean to extradite, you may ask?
However, ‘The existing extradition law specifically states that it does not apply to “the Central People’s Government or the government of any other part of the People’s Republic of China”.’ (BBC News article) The ‘other part’ includes places like Macau and Taiwan.
It can be said that Carrie Lam saw this as an excuse to amend the Extradition Law, please the Central Government, and secure her future in China’s political scene. Evidence points to the fact that the Taiwan incident was merely an excuse. Even after Taiwanese Authorities said they would not extradite the suspect after the amendment of the law, the Hong Kong government still opted to go forward with it.
The implication of this Amendment Bill is that it exposes Hong Kong to Mainland China’s notorious (in)Justice System.
Carrie Lam probably already anticipated opposition when she proposed the amendment, which is why the consultation period for it was shorter than it should have been. This infuriated the citizens of Hong Kong, as it showed that our voices are not valued at all.
Progressing on to the 9th of June: 1 million of the 7.4 million population took to the streets to express their disagreement towards this amendment bill. What was Carrie Lam’s response? She announced that they were going forward with the reading of the Bill as planned.
Source: South China Morning Post
June 12: Things began to get really ugly. Many people protested outside of the government office where the reading was to be held. People demanded complete withdrawal of the bill. Some protesters were violent, throwing eggs and umbrellas, and even bricks and metal rods. The police retaliated with violence, hitting people with batons, using pepper spray and tear gas, as well as bean bag rounds and rubber bullets. “Protesters accuse the police of using excessive force, a claim later backed by Amnesty International.” (YoungPost) The government decided to deem this protest as a riot, and many were arrested.
On June 15, Carrie Lam announced that the bill was “suspended (暫援)” but refused to use the word “withdraw (撤回)” until much later. This evolved into a stare down, where protesters refused to accept anything short of the explicit use of the word “withdraw”, and Carrie Lam refused to use that word, even though she claimed that the “suspension” meant the same thing.
June 16 saw 2 million people protesting, which became by far the largest protest Hong Kong has seen since the handover in 1997.
The subsequent protests are centered around these 5 demands (五大訴求):
- Complete withdrawal of the bill
- Retraction of the characterisation of the protest as a riot
- Release of all those arrested in connection with the protest.
- Establishment of an independent investigation unit for the police
- Implementation of genuine universal suffrage for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive
In the next few months, things only continued to escalate, with video clips of the brutality inflicted by the police beginning to trend on the internet. Examples include:
- On the 21st of July a group of people dressed in white, claiming to be protectors of Hong Kong but are actually the mafia, started indiscriminately attacking people on the MTR, even beating someone until they bleed. There were many random civilians there, even elderly and small children. The police showed up, saw the situation, ran away and did not come back until almost an hour later. There is strong evidence that the police were colluding with them. Footage was released of the police talking to the people dressed in white. And what’s worse, a certain government official (Junius Ho) was shown to be shaking hands with these people in white and thanking them for their service. (I honestly just find it very ironic that the mafia had the audacity to dress in all white and claim to have such noble intentions. In Chinese we call the mafia 黑社會 which literally translates to “black society”.)
- Three peaceful protesters were shot in the eye, permanently damaging their sight.
- There was a lot of footage showing the lack of identification of police. They were shown to be masked and having no identification badges on their sleeves. On several occasions, they even refused to show their identification to the press when asked.
- This leads to the question of whether or not those people were even actually the Hong Kong police. There are many theories that those were just military men that the Chinese government sent to Hong Kong. Some claim that the mannerisms of these “police” are not consistent with that of citizens from Hong Kong.
- There was footage showing the police changing out of their uniform and into black clothes, disguising themselves as protesters. They justified it as going undercover to enforce the law. But there is simultaneously evidence of them (dressed as protesters) very forcefully arresting peaceful protesters, and more importantly, this raises the question of whether or not the police staged some violent acts by the protesters so as to have a reason to arrest them.
- This would not be surprising given that there is also strong evidence of the police standing down before violent events happen, taking action only when they do, as if the police were just waiting for a reason to arrest people.
- August 31. The police attacked numerous people in the Prince Edward MTR station. Footage was found of several police pressing down one man, until he lay on the floor unconscious and convulsing. The police shut down the station, sent people away, refused to let medical professionals help and took the guy to the hospital themselves. The statistic of people sent to hospitals that night was released by the Hospital Authority, but the police also later amended and reduced this number. Many people have strong reason to believe that the missing few were actually killed that night.
On the other hand, some protesters can be seen to cross the line:
- Committing arson
- Defacing the Chinese flag and emblem
- Attacking policemen when they are on their way to work
- Violating the privacy of policemen, blackmailing and threatening them… (even finding the details of one policeman’s wedding and crashing it)
- Destroying MTR stations all over Hong Kong
- Attacking people for documenting/videotaping events or for suspecting that they are from mainland China
- There are also conspiracy theories that the extremists were funded by certain foreign authorities such as USA.
- I have heard many anecdotes and also know a few people who have been held up at the Chinese border force, simply for being a youth from Hong Kong.
- Many people have been detained in Mainland China for participating in these protests. And you know how they were identified? The Central Government ran facial recognition on the pictures of protests. This is a direct violation of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
- There were also a series of protests that occurred at the Hong Kong International Airport. Many flights were cancelled causing the airport and many airlines to lose a lot of business. Cathay Pacific (a Hong Kong based airline) fired many employees who had even the slightest tie to these protests. The airline was clearly pressured by the Chinese government, having been threatened that they would lose big business in China.
- The Chinese government hired people to demonstrate in opposition of the protesters. These people were old and clearly only there because they were paid, and they waved the Chinese flag as they chanted and sang the national anthem. There are actually pictures showing these people being paid in cash.
Carrie Lam’s response:
- Partaking in meaningless Every single time Carrie Lam came out to speak, she would have nothing substantial to say, skirting over the real issue. All she says is “strongly condemn” over and over again but has any real action been taken?
- To a certain extent, I sympathize with her. She is in a position of immense responsibility, yet most likely does not have much real power. The Chinese Government definitely will not let her heed to the voices of the public, and she cannot resign either since the Chinese Government wants to use her as a scapegoat.
- On 4 September, she finally announced the withdrawal of the bill. However, was it too late?
Whilst reading the list above you may have realised that there is a lot of speculation going around. And I will admit that what I have presented to you is by no means the full story. It frustrates me that every time I hear about a piece of news, I have to question its truthfulness. It frustrates me that I honestly have absolutely no way of verifying the things I hear. It frustrates me that the government does not see it as its responsibility to clarify things to the people, to have transparency in its operation. But most importantly, it frustrates me that many of the conflicts and arguments arising in everyday conversations stem from the fact that everybody has different ‘facts’. You cannot really reach a consensus with people when your versions of reality are so drastically different.
I think this whole thing is exacerbated because people seek out the information that they wish to hear. People choose to receive their news from various news channels and social media platforms, and most of the time their choice is influenced by the views which they already have.
One day I caught wind of a video surfacing the internet. It was a security footage of the police torturing a 62-year old man. This was in a hospital room. He was strapped to a bed held up by a metal frame. There were two policemen present. They took turns “interrogating” him, beating him. To be frank, they strangled and choked him, then proceeded to violently shake him and punch him in the face. They also stripped him and punched him in the groin area. Repeatedly. They used a bright flashing flashlight just centimeters away from his eyes. What they were trying to achieve was a mystery.
It raised the point that if this is a footage that took days to be released after some people made an effort to pursue it, what else is being swept under the rug? How many people are suffering like this that we don’t know about? This event led to a fundamental distortion of the perception of policemen. Did this incident draw upon the conclusion that policemen are bad? Are all policemen bad? Or are good policemen pressured to do bad things? It is important to realize that good or bad are subjective, and we really should not hold the entire police force accountable for the actions of a few. But the news has inadvertently created a lot of distrust towards the Hong Kong police force.
In terms of the protestors and the movement, some media sources have certainly been highlighting the violent aspects, and in turn shifting the attention away from the issues in discussion and working to shift the discourse. But that by no means is representative of the entire movement that has been occurring in Hong Kong. This generation of Hong Kong citizens hold too strong of a thirst for justice.
The uniqueness and dedication of this movement is what makes it stand out from others. Some aspects of this movement include:
- Lennon walls: essentially is a wall filled with encouraging and hopeful words by the people. This concept is inspired by John Lennon’s songs, originating in Prague and representing global ideas such as love and peace. People all over Hong Kong contributed to these Lennon Walls, and over 150 of these have popped up all over the city.
- Umbrellas, helmets and gas masks: this is how protestors protected themselves from the pepper sprays and tear gas attacks from the police
- Be water: taken from Bruce Lee, this phrase has now come to represent the fluidity of protests around Hong Kong. For the protest of August 18 (in which I also took part), the police had not actually granted approval for assembly. So instead of being sedentary, the protesters all took part in walking through Victoria Park to demonstrate. 1.7 Million people were there that day despite the pouring rain. The protest was incredibly peaceful; and for the first time in two months, there was no signs of tear gas being fired.
- “Blossoming everywhere” (遍地開花): a concept that shows how people all over Hong Kong are united in their discontent towards the government. Protests and Lennon walls popped up in all the districts across Hong Kong. Furthermore, at around 10 in the evening, people in all the districts would yell slogans out of their windows, with many people joining in from their own homes. People started chanting slogans in their local shopping malls, with others joining in. Hong Kong is a very small place, however, the whole movement was transformed from being localized in the Central Business Districts to spreading all across the city, reaching every corner.
- Human chain: people held hands, creating a chain that ran for miles. Alongside malls and on the streets, this human chain was also created on Victoria Peak at night, using flashlights to light up the outline of the mountain.
- Human chain (the social media variant): people replicated the human chain on social media, where people could add their own drawing on to an existing chain and tag people to do the same.
- Glory to Hong Kong (願榮光歸香港): the anthem that symbolizes this entire movement. I am still amazed and touched every single time I hear this song. A collection of young Hong Kong citizens wrote this song (impeccably well, both in terms of melody and lyrics) and within days, everyone in Hong Kong knew it. This song was sung all over Hong Kong, in shopping malls and on the streets. Someone would start singing and many would join in. Please find it on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/oUIDL4SB60g.All in all, the organisation of every single event, as well as the meticulousness with which they do it is awe-inspiring. It is beyond me to understand how protestors manage to congregate and pass on information. The infographics (and memes) online further showcase the immense creativity and ingenuity of this generation.The peoples’ voices are loud, but all the government seems to want to do is cover up its ears and plow on.
On October 4, Carrie Lam enacted the Emergency Ordinance, banning the use of masks during protests. This tactical ban, disguised as concern, has been implemented in order to discourage people from going on to the streets. This is to identify and arrest protestors most likely using China’s facial recognition technology.
On the one hand, the violent extremist protestors have created so much damage and destruction to the city. But on the other hand, the lack of a response by the government towards the cries of the people raises the question. Are there circumstances which justify the need to take an extreme approach? The movement stems from good intentions, and the fact that people have resorted to extreme means is a testament to their sheer desperation and anger, rather than their desire to see the city fall into ruins.
This protest has once again brought to the forefront the concept of Freedom of Speech, a concept initially abstract, but now precious.
As I am currently living in London, everything feels like a dream. But I always remind myself of how detached I am from the reality of what is going on in. The dark, ugly, chaotic and brutal reality that is 9,617km away.
Yes, this is an issue which is hard to discuss. However, it is an issue which is even harder to ignore.
The analogy that comes to mind is that of a train. It is like we are on this train that has plunged into a deep dark tunnel three months ago. We keep wanting to step back out into the light, but the tunnel just seems to go on and on and on. I guess all we can do is pray for a miracle, and grasp onto the hope that somewhere in front of us, no matter how far in the distance, there is a speck of light.