Several members of the Free China Post team travelled to Hong Kong recently to document the protests, and we conducted a series of interviews with the locals there, in particular the students, professionals, and everyday attendees to try to find out what makes them tick. Why did they choose to attend, and what were their demands from the government?
In a series of youtube videos, which we painstakingly transcribed amidst terrible audio, poor lighting, and a majority of interviewees who preferred that their faces were not filmed, we tried to make clear the diversity of views and complexity of the situation in Hong Kong. From all this, this author found a few takeaways from the movement, which has showed no signs of slowing down, that defied expectations.
This is drafted in response to the significant flow of comments and narrative from those who portray lawful and peaceful protests as chaos, disorder, and criminality. They point to the most radical elements of a movement that encompasses nearly 30 percent of the population of Hong Kong as embodying the views of the majority. They ignore and paint over the protestors’ views, while also glossing over the crimes of their illegitimate government, and the totalitarian criminality of the CCP which seeks to dominate the political thought of “ethnic Chinese” all over the world. They dismiss the demands for democracy with throwbacks to colonial history, ignoring the handover process, the promises made, and the fundamental right of all humans on earth to take part in some semblance of self rule – controlling ones’ destiny and not simply acting as cogs or passive observers of their fate. The enemies of democracy and freedom are strong and they are vocal, but here are some of the voices of some who have come out in support of a better Hong Kong.
No Uniformity of View
Amongst all the protesters, there seemed to be no absolute ideological alignment on a host of critical issues, including views towards China, views on independence, views on the “one country, two systems” framework which is supposed to be the basis of relations between the two entities, nearly anything except aversion to an increasing feeling of political impotence, and a demand for the government to rescind the extradition bill.
Some protestors expressed the feeling that they were Hong Kongers, and that this represented a unique identity. Others, even including a group of hard-core activists handing out gas masks outside the Legislative Council building, anticipating clashes, expressed that they felt ethnically Chinese and that they were of Chinese nationality.
Some protestors’ aim was ultimately political independence for Hong Kong, others preferred a refinement of the existing framework that protected Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous rule until 2047, and others cited historical and cultural reasons why Hong Kong should maintain ties with China.
Some expressed distrust and distaste for the Chinese government and claimed that they were meddling in Hong Kong affairs, others praised the Chinese government for “apparently” not intervening, and others too expressed total apathy towards the form and performance of the Chinese government seeing them as a completely different country whose government should have had no bearing on Hong Kong’s future.
Some saw “one country, two systems” as fragile but important, and a good way to proceed in the future. Others saw it as a joke, as a contradiction in itself, unworkable, and “a lie.”
Suffice it to say that no two protestors expressed the same views as to where Hong Kong’s future lay.
A Demand to be Heard
One theme that repeated in our interviews was that these mass movements were a way for Hong Kongers’ voices to finally have an audience. After several popular movements, an undemocratic transition, and a series of elections that have seen pro-authoritarian and pro-market elites crush dissent and ignore not only popular opinion, but the good of the territory, Hong Kong, especially the youth, are fed up. It seems that their views and voices are in discord, after receiving the benefits and curses of being connected to mainland China for the past two decades, having experienced a taste of democracy without ever experiencing true representation, they are still unified in their demands for representation of their voices. Their hope is that the repeated mass mobilization of a large swath of society will force the government to respect their demands, something which has yet to truly occur.
What was quite shocking about these movements was the relative hopelessness with which the protestors viewed their situation, yet their willingness to try anyways. Around half of the protestors expressed the view that the protests would likely have no effect, yet they still had personally come out in support, risking their life and limb. With the economic stagnation brought about by decades of mismanagement and support for elite interests over the people, with political stagnation brought about by decades of steadily increasing authoritarian tendencies and broken promises for increased representation and real democracy, and with the prospect that by the time they have children, the current youth of this country may have lost their language, their opportunities to own homes, their liberties, and their very future, there is little left to lose.
There was one demand that nearly all the protestors shared, that Carrie Lam step down, and that Hong Kong hold truly democratic elections for the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive through universal suffrage, a right promised by the Basic Law of Hong Kong, yet never implemented.
At a very minimum, without these demands being met, it is very unlikely that these protests will die down, at least in the foreseeable future, absent some significant change in the status quo.
For more, please watch a small selection of our interviews, which have been subtitled in English. Excuse the poor quality, lack of faces, and noise, and open your mind to the complexity of their thinking about their very futures.
Staff author: Ari B