Hong Kong Protests: Strength of the umbrella

(c) Dorathy Lee

Even if they do not appear in the media anymore, the protests are still everyday life in Hong Kong. We analyze what happened and what could possibly happen.

A smart French actor once said: “Braveness is like an umbrella. If you need it most, it is missing”. The residents of Hong Kong took their umbrellas to the streets during the last weeks. Here is an update about what happened.

Just several days after we published our article regarding the problems in Hong Kong, a massive event started. Masses of people went to the streets, financial centers were brought to a still stand and the first clashes arose. Popular newspaper and TV channels covered the protests and it became one of the most important topics world wide. In the recent days the coverage was shrinking again. But how does it go on? What did the protests cause? And what stays after the biggest Chinese civil disobedience since the Tianamen massacre?

What happened in Hong Kong?
Since the Hong Kong government did not stick with their plans of free elections in 2017 tens to hundreds of thousands, mostly students, went to the streets. Other reasons were the manipulated educational system, real estate market and predominance of the big companies in Hong Kong. The students movement connected with the Occupy Central movement, whereupon an uncountable amount of residents sympathized. Partially harsh reaction of the police to the mostly calm citizens on the streets also produced a lot of anger. Students and educational staff were striking for several days to release their anger and caused by the huge amount of people, the main economic district Central had to be shut down for some days, which again led to economical loss on the Hong Kong Market. It also resulted in the shut down of the Hong Kong stock market for a certain time. The protests remained mainly during the last week of September and the first week of October but are still sustaining in a smaller form. Though, currently there has not been any progress since both sides did not make any confessions yet.

Even if none of the demands of the demonstrators have been fulfilled, the protests were an enormous success. The uncertainty and sometimes unreflected decisions of the government have been a sign for the citizens. Dorathy Lee from Hong Kong tells us the protesters had the feeling “something could finally really change”. The persistence and believe of the last weeks made the character of the protesters even stronger

(c) Dorathy Lee

(c) Dorathy Lee

How do the supporters feel about the protests?
“For the majority group of people who are pro-democracy, what happened in Hong Kong are some of the most memorable moments in the recent years”, Dorathy Lee reports. She is also part of the movement. She is proud, how exemplary, peaceful and still determined the protesters present themselves. “Instead of rioting, Hong Kongers decided to protest through art performances, paintings, book sharing and discussion”, she adds. She sent us some photos to see what she was talking about. Lee states, that the new sense of community spreads out through the society. She tells us, how bus and taxi drivers were blocking the streets to support the protests, how the trash which was left over was tidied up together and how locals who live close to the places of the happenings supplied the protesters with drinks and food. Lee explains that they sometimes meet in parks for whole afternoons to create posters showing yellow ribbons which they hand out to bus and taxi drivers who should spread them across the city. Hongkongers also write their wishes on little post it’s which they stick on big walls together. Dorathy Lee calls it “some of the most emotional moments in her life”. She said, she was really happy to be a Hong Kong citizen and, that she has the feeling that a lot is moving lately.

The symbols, the yellow ribbon and, especially, the umbrella, are spread out artistically all over the city – there is no chance to ignore the emerging resistance. The umbrella has a wonderful symbolic meaning for the feelings of the Hong Kongers. An every day tool they do not use to be prepared for the weather but to protect themselves against their own government and the tear gas of the police.

How do the opponents see the protests?
But not everybody in Hong Kong supports the protests. A lot of the residents are scared of the missing business caused by the protests. Laborers are frightened by the economical loss and are even scared of losing their jobs. And there are also just uninterested people who are annoyed by the traffic situation. A lot of the citizens are fed up after six weeks. They want to get back to their everyday life and can not handle the problems the protests bring with them anymore. Another argument is that the number of tourists is decreasing – although compared to September 2014 the number has actually increased.

Pro-Chinese activists also gather on the streets to support the Chinese government. The biggest group is the Alliance for Peace and Democracy. They want to free the streets from demonstrators and demand the comeback of law and order. They want to free the streets from demonstrators and demand the comeback of law and order. Both movements do not really get in touch – although some journalists got attacked by supporters of the Anti Occupy Demonstrators. (The reaction towards journalists is made visible in the video from Vice as well) The Anti-Occupy Demonstrators also wear an equivalent ribbon in blue – but this one is not in principle meaning that one supports China but means solidarity with the police. Even if most Hong Kongers are either wearing blue or yellow, there appear to be more and more who wear both or a green one – to support the protests and the police at the same time.

How does the government see the protests?
The government is visibly surprised and also overwhelmed by the extent and endurance of the protesters. The strength and the networking of the activists have not been expected. If the government tries to shut down the internet, the protesters connect trough FireChat – basically Whatsapp through Bluetooth. They also prepare themselves with umbrellas and diving masks against the pepper spray. The police is criticized a lot due to the physical aggression on totally harmless citizens. During the discussion and interviews, members of the government regularly come up with backfiring phrases. Like the statement of CY Leung, which produced a lot of irritation. He stated during a speech, that resident who earn less than 14000 HK$ (about 1400€) should not have the right to vote. The background of this scurrile statement is a mystery to most Hong Kongers. Dorathy Lee is also surprised by the first official of the police, Steve Hui. He would show an inappropriate image, since he was mocking activists steadily. She is also frightened by the videos which popped up online showing police officers brutally beating up one of the most famous activists.

The attempt of an intolerant handling of the protest backfired since the activist have much more influence through social media and power of will than anybody expected. Talks were offered by the government but regularly canceled. Finally, students and members of the government met for a discussion on a HK TV channel last week. The government offered a mostly weak and helpless picture whilst the students showed themselves quick-whited, creative and concerned about the future. “They have been celebrated a lot on social media.”, Lee tells happily. Though the talks have not been really constructive. At the end there was nothing more than a dissatisfactory statement of Carrie Lam, second official of Hong Kong: “I am afraid that we can only agree to disagree”. Though, the government would be open minded for further talks. LINK Those have not taken place yet.

 

Even the Chinese government seems unsecure in a certain way. Their command towards the US, UK and basically every other Western government to not get involved shows a way of helplessness. The Chinese government also keeps the news out of the country. Scared of a chain reaction, it has banned and censored any coverage inside China mainland.

What happens at the moment and what will happen in the future?
The youth woke up. And it won’t change soon. Most of the young Hong Kongers and even some of the older generations enjoy the cohesion of political activity. The flame is kindled and spreads, an end of the protests in every way is not in prospect. Just a few days ago activists hang a huge yellow banner saying “Umbrella Movement” on the Lion Rock, one of the most famous mountains in Hong Kong which also has a symbolic meaning as it represents the spirit and development of the city during the last 30 years. Meanwhile the banner was removed by the government.

Asia News Weekly reports that there was a planned election in three protests camps to increase the pressure on the government. Those were canceled since the protesters could not agree about the complexity of the questions. It could become difficult to fight for democracy, if the protesters are not able to find an agreement about the smaller questions. A concrete, common plan is still missing. Steve Miller says in his Asia News weekly podcast: “They have the option for open dialogue. But if they can’t organize themselves, they wont’ be able to organize a democracy and their movement will fail.”

Nobody can predict what follows up now. Some are scared that the government could become more brutal and the protest may come to a bloody end. Others hope that the city gets back to normal and they can go on with their business. And then there are those, who see the only possible way in continuing the protest until the government yields. 9 out of 10 activists would go on the streets for one more year says a poll by Reuters. There are even the first attempts of bringing the protests to China mainland. Another poll says, that 3 out of 4 Hong Kongers want the protests to end. Joshua Wong, leader of the student group scholarism answered this poll as following: “If we leave now, our hard work will have come to nothing.”

Only one thing is certain: Something will happen. And it will have global impact. Both sides stick with their plans and standpoints. If they are able to find compromises in time or if the tensions will lead to an escalation remains to be seen.

China has to come up with proper ideas about handling Hong Kong in the future. The world wide support Hong Kong gains is increasing. Residents of countries in the same situation, like Taiwan, connect with Hong Kong. There is a chance, that so of the goals the activists have could really be achieved. A Chinese admission could lead to an experiment of a Chinese city with totally free elections, a free economy and uninfluenced education.

But if the protests and activism will remain, it also could affect immigrant workers and the business sector. Companies could decide to move to more stable cities, probably in the nearby Shenzhen. Safety problems could lead to less tourists and fewer business migrants.

Whatever happens, it is definitely worth it to keep an eye on the developments in Hong Kong.

Header picture: (c) Dorathy Lee

Niklas Melcher ist Student der Kommunikationswissenschaften. Als Liebhaber Ostasiens, Fußballenthusiast und Nachtschwärmer schreibt er regelmäßig für mokant.at. Kontakt: niklas.melcher[at]mokant.at

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