The year 2014 is drawing to close, and what an eventful year it has been.
Looking back at the top 10 news items of the past 12 months, one notices that almost half are related to political reform, such as the white paper released by Beijing on “one country, two systems”, the five-step process for political reform, and the Umbrella movement.
There is a central theme linking all these together, and that is the rise of Hongkongers’ self-awareness.
This self-awareness refers to a sense of belonging, indigenousness and self-recognition among a generation of people who regard Hong Kong as their home, the place where their roots are.
It also refers to the sharing of the same set of core values — such as the pursuit of democracy, freedom and the rule of law — among the majority of our society.
It is, in fact, this self-awareness of Hongkongers — not shields, helmets or barricades — that came into collision with Beijing’s repressive policy on Hong Kong this autumn.
The rise of this self-awareness didn’t come overnight. The Umbrella movement marked its culmination and told the world the city had come of age.
Strictly speaking, the forming of this self-awareness can be traced back to the transitional period during the late 1980s and early ’90s, amid heated debates over our identity, Sino-British political disputes and controversies over electoral reform, as well as apprehension about the impending handover of the British colony to China.
It was also during that period that the people of Hong Kong got their first taste of universal suffrage in the district council and Legislative Council elections.
After 1997, Hongkongers could at last proudly announce to the world that they were no longer living in “a borrowed place under borrowed time”.
After the July 1 rally in 2003, when half a million marched against the imposition of a national security law, many Hongkongers began to feel empowered and self-aware.
Subsequent events — such as the defense of the Star Ferry Pier, Queen’s Pier, “Wedding Card Street” and Choi Yuen Village against redevelopment, and the campaigns against the northeast New Territories development program and the moral, civic and national education syllabus — only reinforced this self-awareness and became an integral part of the city’s history.
It was these historic moments, one after another in the past 30 years, that gradually awakened self-awareness among Hong Kong’s people.
And so, what is the status of self-awareness among the general public today?
In an opinion survey done by the University of Hong Kong in 2012, nearly 35 percent of the respondents agreed that Hong Kong should become independent if Beijing permitted it.
Although some said the survey was politically incorrect, its results clearly suggested that the sense of self-awareness had firmly taken hold in the minds of one-third of the population.
As the old saying goes, you can’t retrieve the arrow you have shot.
Once this self-awareness has firmly established itself in the minds of Hongkongers, it will not succumb to external pressure.
More pressure will only lead to more resistance and more repercussions, which in turn generate even more momentum for this self-awareness to flourish further.
It is therefore not difficult to explain why more than 800,000 people cast their votes in the electronic referendum after the State Council released its white paper on “one country, two systems” in June and hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the street after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced its “831” resolution on Aug. 31 constraining the framework for the electoral process in 2017.
People who have awoken to this self-awareness are fearless, are willing to make sacrifices and will not back down in the face of tear gas, police batons or even guns.
They regard Hong Kong as their home and are trying to protect their city in all sorts of creative ways.
After the occupied areas were cleared, the resistance movement has carried on in different forms, such as “shopping” parades, Christmas caroling in large groups and the hanging of giant banners that read “We want a genuine election” on hilltops or bridges.
All these actions would never have materialized if there wasn’t a strong conviction behind them. Who would spend so much time and effort if they did not strongly believe in their cause?
Obviously, the resistance movement, which is aimed at embarrassing and wearing down the authorities, will carry on in other forms in the days ahead.
Some have even suggested that, to advance new frontiers, leaders of the resistance movement should draw lessons from India’s independence movement in the 1940s, in which protesters all laid down their weapons, helmets, shields and goggles, standing row upon row peacefully in front of the police and refusing to retreat — until they were brutally beaten up by the police and fell down in a pool of blood.
Of course it is unbearable even to think about such a scene, but given that more and more people in Hong Kong have awoken to that sense of self-awareness, some might already be prepared to go along that path.
Once that scenario happens, it will deal a death blow to the city’s administration, which already lacks credibility.
In any case, a self-aware mass is a force to be reckoned with, and the government is obliged to answer its demands.
Public opinion must be heard and addressed rather than contained, especially not by using force, otherwise the entire governing structure will topple into a crisis that will prove highly difficult to resolve.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 30.
Translation by Alan Lee
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