18 April 2019
A headless paper cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on an overpass. Photo: Bloomberg
A headless paper cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on an overpass. Photo: Bloomberg

What we can learn from the street protests

As the democracy protests wound down on Thursday, a sense of sadness came over their advocates.

That feeling is likely to persist for some time.

Some are frustrated that the protests achieved nothing and that they retreated empty-handed, with the Beijing and Hong Kong governments refusing to concede anything.

Those who remained in the protest zone in Harcourt Road to the end feel there’s no picking up where they left off.

But the central government in Beijing and the Hong Kong administration may have suffered more — they have lost the trust of an entire generation of young people, the backbone of the civil disobedience movement.

Already, there have been numerous insightful discussions about the protests.

Some are about the common failings of all social movements. For instance, different factions emerge in the face of a stalemate.

Some commentators say it’s a matter of approach to a common goal.

Diverse factions can have different methods but they can work together. Similarly, non-mainstream groups can be part of the bigger campaign.

But some argue that the lack of organization and the largely leaderless nature of the movement were its own undoing.

They say student groups such as Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students should form political parties and join forces with the pan-democratic camp for the Legislative Council election in 2016.

An online commentator suggests Hong Kong people should emulate Wang Lijun.

Wang was vice mayor of Chongqing and the right-hand man of former municipal party boss Bo Xilai. Wang captured the world’s attention when he fled to the United States consulate in Chengdu in February 2012 after a falling out with Bo.

By using Hong Kong’s global profile, Hongkongers can pressure the United States and Britain into getting more involved in domestic affairs, according to the commentator.

Despite Beijing’s repeated warnings against “overseas forces”, people familiar with the country’s history know that without external forces, there would not have been a Chinese Communist Party. In its early days, the party received support from Moscow-based Communist International.

Mao Zedong paid a visit to the Soviet Union soon after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 to thank Joseph Stalin.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mao sent troops to North Korea and Vietnam. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels contains the slogan “Workers of the world, unite!”, one of the most famous rallying cries of communism.

Communist cadres condemned the protesters for inviting “foreign meddling” but we should proactively seek support from major western countries if we are to succeed in ensuring a freer hand in choosing our leaders (in this instance before the enactment of article 23 of the Basic Law which concerns national security).

Democrats of the world, we can unite.

If Hong Kong had not been under an authoritarian regime, it would have achieved democracy peacefully. But history cannot be changed.

There have been a lot of ideas about ensuring future movements are not hijacked by violence.

In the past three months, protesters have endured beatings from the police, triads and hostile groups. Nonetheless, they refused to submit meekly, vowing to confront police tyranny with “tyranny of the people”. 

Virtually all successful pro-democracy movements are non-violent in the first place but all social movements face a dilemma over how to achieve their ultimate objectives — peacefully or by force. 

Is there a middle ground?

No one knows for sure but a strategy built on solidarity and perseverance might be the answer. We may court defeat ourselves against overwhelming odds.

There’s no denying the road to democracy is a rough-and-tumble kind of journey but that doesn’t mean the government can hold us back.

Fake democracy will never be acceptable to Hong Kong people who know what a real one is. They know that their freedoms can only be defended with true democracy.

In the post-protest era, there are three major tasks we must accomplish — learn from the experience, bring the movement into communities and mobilize new blood to continue the fight within the existing political framework by contending in Legco elections.

Time is on our side. Numerous public opinion polls have shown that an overwhelming number of young people support democracy compared with roughly 55-60 percent of the general population.

Over the past decade, the number of registered voters has risen by 290,000 to 3.5 million. First-timers are the largest source of new voters.

By the 2016 Legco election, there will be an additional 50,000 to 60,000 new voters aged 18 to 19 and there will be more in the 2020 election.

We saw this trend in the recent Taiwan local elections in which first-time young voters helped defeat the ruling Kuomintang.

Candidates from Trees Party, founded in August by young pro-democracy environmentalists, won in Nantou and in Hsinchu city.

It won’t be a surprise to see some Hong Kong student leaders emerge as political stars.

The first thing they should do is a kind community outreach to make amends for upending the lives of ordinary citizens.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 11.

Translation by Frank Chen


Workers dismantle a barricade under a protest banner that gives them a hint of things still to come. Photo: Bloomberg

Police officers assemble before moving in to demolish the Admiralty protest site. Photo: Bloomberg

Demolition trucks tear down empty tents during Thursday’s street clearing. Photo: Bloomberg

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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