Real Hong Kong News
15th July, 2016
Localism: From Street Protests to Council Chamber (Series, Part 1 of 5)
Localism, a political ideology that has developed and flourished in Hong Kong over the matter of a few years, was originally labelled “fascist” and “xenophobic” sentiment toward “Mainland Chinese” with no weight nor influence. However, it has rapidly become a mainstream phenomenon which the traditional pan-democrats and pro-China loyalists, and CCP stooges, desperately try to incorporate into their political agenda – regardless of their sub-definition of the ideology and their true intention: trying to harness followers of this movement for their own ends.
From protests targeting smugglers in the Northern District, to the months-long Umbrella Revolution, to campaigns against China’s colonisation on many different levels (e.g. the compulsory use of Simplified Chinese characters and Mandarin at school), it is not hard for one to come to a conclusion that the younger generations in Hong Kong are passionate about Hong Kong and its political future.
Although localism still receives a large amount of negative press – generated by pro-China loyalists, CCP’s propaganda machine and some international media which continue to play the same tune of xenophobia and racism – Localism is now a mainstream political ideology which has driven a new wave of debate around (or, perhaps a movement towards) Hong Kong independence. Hong Kong independence has for decades been a taboo: many, including pan-democrats, feared it would trigger China to roll out their tanks and conduct another Tiananmen massacre. Yet, new political organisations are emerging and blazing a new trail in what had until recently been regarded as a stagnant political scene in Hong Kong.
In contrast to recent years, under the British rule prior to the 1997 sovereignty handover Hongkongers were largely politically apathetic. News headlines and protests were dominated by the political “regulars”, who now laud themselves, after 30 years, “veteran democratic fighters”. It used to be rare to see a significant number of youngsters advocating or driving democratic movements.
Only in the past few years have younger political organisations advocating localism begun to emerge. Civic Passion (founded in 2012), Hong Kong Indigenous (founded in 2015) and Youngspiration (founded in 2015) are among the most well-known at present (July 2016).
Since the wave of localism began, pan-democrats, particularly Democratic Party, Civic Party (known as the lawyers’ party in Hong Kong), League of Social Democrats (led by Legislator Leung Kwok-hung who is better known as Long Hair) and many individuals who have been regarded as “democracy fighters” in Hong Kong (e.g. Martin Lee Chu-ming and Anson Chan Fong On-sang) have been criticised for their political stance (or more accurately their allegiance): are they genuinely supporting Hong Kong’s democratic progress or simply prolonging the “fight for a democratic Hong Kong” to gain political power and resources in order to continue their dominance of the “pro-democracy” arena. Neo Democrats, a relatively new political party founded by former members of Democratic Party, emerged as a “mild-localism” group. Although they often talk about localism, Neo Democrats too have been criticised for joining hands with the pan-democrats in condemning protesters who take part in anti-colonisation-by-China protests.
Demosistō founded by core members of Scholarism in 2016 as well as Hong Kong Arrāy* established by former leaders at Hong Kong Federation of Students are two new pan-democratic political organisations that feature youngsters who are often praised by the international press since the Umbrella Revolution (which both groups call “Umbrella Movement”), and are labeled as “heroes of Hong Kong”. However, the way many Cantonese speaking Hongkongers, especially the younger generations, see these pan-democratic groups is far from the English media portrait.
Civic Passion is regarded as one of the first localist groups that helped bring localism to the mainstream, after Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan’s (better known as Wan Chin) “Hong Kong City-State Theory” began to take root amongst Hongkongers: To many localists Chin is as an inspirational figure, despite his vision for localism being increasingly debated as localism rapidly gains support and different branches of localism emerge. The bright yellow colours of Civic Passion – which started as an online media and streaming TV show platform – have captured a lot of attention at different protests across Hong Kong, thanks to the group’s “controversial stance” (e.g. instead of clinging on the ideal of “building a democratic China” advocated by pan-democrats in Hong Kong for decades, Civic Passion believes that Hongkongers should focus their energy on fighting for a democratic Hong Kong) and radical approach (e.g. blockading the entrance of the Legislative Council building where villagers were staging a sit-in during the days-long anti North-eastern Development Plan protest, stopping police officers from getting inside the building) or supporting protesters (including providing legal aid) who break the “peaceful” protesters’ rules. Numerous members of Civic Passion have been arrested at various protests and a number of them have served time in prison for their trouble.
Hong Kong Indigenous first started as a group of youngsters who wanted to protect local livelihoods and support local small businesses – protesting in the North district where smugglers have caused massive inconvenience, and supporting hawkers during Lunar New Year in 2015 by sweeping the streets and emptying bins during the public holiday period. Hong Kong Indigenous became an instant talk-of-the-town after the clash between protesters and police on the evening of Lunar New Year 2016, later dubbed “Fishball Revolution”. Its spokespeople Ray Wong Toi-yeung and Edward Leung Tin-kei were both charged with instigating a riot, although many reason that what happened on that day was merely a protest that deviated from the “peaceful, rational, non-violent, non-verbal violent” (PRNN) format that Hongkongers are “obsessed with”.
The recently established political organisation, Hong Kong National Party, is perhaps the most daring one, for the fact that their political aspiration is an independent Hong Kong – an agenda no politician and very few commentators have touched on. Started by a group of Gen-Y-ers, Hong Kong National Party has presented a lot of bold arguments challenging the status quo and questioning the legitimacy of the Hong Kong SAR Government and China’s claim over Hong Kong’s sovereignty.
Youngspiration, one of the first political parties formulated after the Umbrella Revolution, gained its fame at the 2016 District Council election when they took a single seat. The significance of this event is not to be underestimated: it represented Hongkongers’ discontent with pan-democrats who they see as failing to advance the democratic progression in Hong Kong. In fact many think that under the reign of the pan-democrats, the degree of freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated rapidly since the 1997 sovereignty handover.
The “news” and the “olds” in Hong Kong’s political scene are battling on their ideologies, their political beliefs, as well as in the upcoming Legislative Council election. Who are they? What do they really stand for? And how are they planning to achieve what they advocate?
The upcoming Legislative Council election, scheduled to be held on 4th September this year, is seen by many as the most important election in the history of Hong Kong, a battle between the veteran pan-democrats (including those younger figures they support and endorse) and the young and budding political figures in the pan-localists camp – as the localists call it: the revolution of the ages. With many young political figures expressing their intention to take part, in this series, Real Hong Kong News spoke to a number of these rising political figures, to find out how they see the future of Hong Kong, what their visions are, and to uncover the personal struggles they have endured during the fight for the future of Hong Kong. We also talked to localists with lower profiles, to find out who they really are and why they choose to take the path they have taken.
Hong Kong Arrāy*: 香港列陣‘s official English name cannot be found, the party dissolved soon after its establishment