The Real Hong Kong News
7th November, 2014
The Long and Shortsightedness of the Occupy Movement
(Article submitted to TRHKN by Pak Lau 留白 – terminologies edited for consistency)
This is, in a way, a response to a comment from a vendor that I work with. She is a middle-aged small business owner who upon seeing my yellow ribbon said “You guys have lost sight of what you are protesting against, now it’s costing the city money and is affecting people’s livelihoods. My friend in Causeway Bay pays $200,000 HKD per month for rent and her sales are way down. You guys can’t see past your ideals and are short-sighted in your goals.”
For the sake of keeping a business relationship going, I had to excuse myself by saying that this conversation should be left for another time.
This is the time.
There is no central leadership in the movement so I only speak for myself. I will not address the issue of criminal gangs being paid to disrupt the protest nor the alleged collusion with the police.
Some folks who are disrupting the peaceful protests (other than the thugs) are middle-aged, aggressive, verbally abusive, and they lack a moral compass (by threatening to rape). They appear to be wage labourers and lower management or even business owners. Their main grievances are: You are obstructing my work and you are selfish and inconsiderate.
This is a case for educational reform as they don’t seem to understand the reason why Occupy protesters are protesting. The connection between politics and your life is your participation in YOUR government. Traditionally, the Chinese state has been seen as a paternal figure that is to be respected and obeyed, this sentiment continues to this day where government and civil servants hold a certain cache for older people. They’d tell other grandmothers with pride that their kids or grandkids work for a certain government department. The competitive primary and secondary education system is still based on sets of exams that encourage rote learning instead of critical thinking at a young age. Rote learning has its merits, as I learned as an immigrant in Canada where I excelled in math and sciences and along with other immigrants (from Hong Kong and elsewhere) we arrived with skills several grades above the average Canadian. However, in terms of the humanities and liberal arts, it is imperative that our young people can think for themselves and that a rational discussion based on evidence is critical for making decisions such as whether or not to attend the protest. The ability to think outside of what you are used to, and to assess the situation from a moral perspective and whether it’ll contribute to society at a whole is what our educators should be teaching. If they had proper education at school and at home, then they would know that being disrespectful will get them nowhere. The connection (or lack thereof) between politics and their everyday lives is addressed below.
Observation #2: The realist vs. the dreamer
There have been many articles arguing for both sides, whether the demands of the occupiers are realistic and whether Peking will give in. I am a big picture guy and I work in the arts so I am surrounded by dreamers, and more often than not, I am the realist. My stance is that there are some universal values that cannot and should not be compromised. Human rights such as the right of assembly, the right to free speech, and the right to choose our leaders should not be compromised. From that starting point, I am realistic enough to know that Peking has taken a hardline stance for years, and more recently by publishing the white paper. However, the “party” is still just formed by a group of individuals, many of them very educated, and they share some basic values because ultimately we want what is best for ourselves and for our families and friends. There are arguments that if Hong Kong is granted a “high degree of autonomy” to elect its leaders that it’ll lead to independence movements from Hong Kong to Tibet to Uygur regions. The Tibetan independence movement started way before the Occupy movement in Hong Kong. Let’s step back even more, what’s wrong with Tibetan independence? Put it to a vote, if the people living there want independence, then put it to a referendum and let the people decide. After all, we should be evaluating the situation from a human point of view, rather than a Chinese or Hongkonger point of view.
Observation #3: We never had universal suffrage under British rule and we were fine, so why are you causing trouble now?
Times were different then. Baby boomers were nearly always guaranteed a job if they had a university degree. In addition, they could actually save money, enough to buy a flat, support their family, and go on vacation without a worry. They even confess that young people have it hard these days, with recent graduates some of whom with masters degrees from reputable institution working too many hours for too little pay and living at home or in subdivided units. Is this the way to motivate our young people? Not to blame our parents, and they took advantage of the opportunities offered to them. We’ve all heard horrible stories of struggles from our parents and grandparents, but the difference is that there was a chance of upward mobility. The current established wealthy class is colluding with the government (also part of that class) to keep the status quo. This kind of income disparity is unacceptable and arguably the cause of these recent events. History is out of our control, but the promises that were made should be kept, and the British government has abandoned us for the sake of doing business with China.
Observation #4: A Politically Active Citizenry
I grew up in the West, and sometimes we take the idea of democracy for granted. I have encountered some apathy on multiple levels but here in Hong Kong we are engaging in a grand experiment. To bring democratic thought to a country that has NEVER had it and try to implement not a Western set of ideals, but a local version of a new political thought. We are craving the opportunity to talk to each other, to debate and engage in real conversation about the future of our city. The more we talk, the more we understand how the laws affect our daily life. There is one thing to say to the people who complain that they are losing business, that they have to pay some ridiculously high rent, that they depend on mainlander business, it is because you are not allowed to participate in lawmaking that the rent is high and that mainland tourists get a discount on transit while the MTR raises the fares every year for ordinary citizens. No we cannot have a referendum on every single issue but the right to elect your representative and on the promise that they will perform according to their platform is tantamount to whatever everyday struggles we have to deal with. The human rights ideals that we hold dear are bigger than all of us.
Despite the current difficulties, I think it is better that the Occupy movement happened rather than not. There is no better time than now. It has sparked debate on the most important issues of our time within our city and has effects on China and the rest of the world. I have never been so proud of our young occupiers than when I see their dedication at the various protest sites. It brings tears to my eyes to see my fellow Hongkongers treating each other better than I’ve ever experienced. Through my short-sighted correction glassware, I see that this is a long term struggle, with each step closer to our distant goal.
By Pak Lau 留白