21 October 2016
In 2015, the spirit of the Umbrella movement energized Hongkongers in supporting the city's football team and taking part in elections. Photos: AFP, HKEJ
In 2015, the spirit of the Umbrella movement energized Hongkongers in supporting the city's football team and taking part in elections. Photos: AFP, HKEJ

Why 2015 was better for Hong Kong than many people imagine

Was 2015 really so awful for Hong Kong?

Frankly speaking, it is pretty easy to cite rather many bad things that happened over the course of the last 12 months, but there is also much to celebrate, even though the good things are perhaps good only if you have a longer-term prospective.

A golden thread ties together all that is to be found on the positive side of the balance sheet – the thread is composed of Hong Kong’s resilient and unbowed people, who simply refuse to accept that the current “reality” is reality forever.

Let’s run through some examples of how the people have prevailed against the overwhelming and growing pressures to make Hong Kong that much more like the mainland, with all that this implies.

First up, because it is a wonderful example of Hong Kong ingenuity, are the football fans who were told that they could not boo when the home team was playing a team from the mainland and were warned that it was absolutely forbidden to express so called localism by booing the national anthem.

So what did they do? Mixing humor with ingenuity, they turned up to the match with signs that had the word “Boo” inscribed on paper.

It was an eloquent and cheeky way of making a bigger point.

Then there’s the increasingly successful campaign to thwart the Education Bureau’s evident intention to turn schools into something akin to factories for exam-passing machines.

Although the entirely hapless secretary for education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, cannot bear to admit defeat, it is pretty clear that the atrocious Territorywide School Assessment exams for Primary 3 students are dead in the water.

Parents and their allies had earlier defeated Mr. Ng’s plans for so called patriotic education in schools and yet again demonstrated that they would fight tooth and nail to secure a proper education for their children.

More complex but nevertheless profoundly important is the growing involvement of young people in both political and social affairs.

This was vividly demonstrated during the recent district council elections but is also being seen elsewhere in places where a new generation, motivated by the Umbrella movement, have decided that they don’t need to be out on the streets to continue the fight for a more democratic Hong Kong but can pursue this objective in a host of different ways.

This also brings us to the results of those elections, in which, according to the chief executive, the democratic camp was supposed to be crushed by the people demanding that they pay the price for participation in the Umbrella movement.

The outcome was a severe disappointment for the pro-establishment camp, which lost ground while the democrats gained.

And 2015 has also turned out to be a good year for the media.

Yes, I know that this is not obvious, but while the mainstream media, especially in the newspaper and television world, has been losing ground, a flurry of new internet-based websites and radio broadcasters launched in 2015, attracting a growing audience.

The net result is a much healthier diversity of opinions and news sources that are readily accessible.

Admittedly it begs the question of sustainability, because producing news and quality content costs both effort and hard cash. However at least there is something to sustain.

Most of all, we need to thank the government, primarily its leader, Leung Chun-ying, for providing a stimulant to get people off their backsides and creating a focus for getting Hongkongers to think about what really matters.

CY, of course, is a wonderfully polarizing personality who has the ability to stir even the most apathetic of people into protest, but he is not alone, and credit should also be given to his closest associates, who do a pretty good job in this regard.

Were it not for their efforts, do you think Hong Kong would now be having a much needed debate over the allocation of public resources, spurred by the administration’s determination to scupper the plan for a universal pension scheme?

And what about the growing debate over land use?

Were CY and his hapless Minister for Destroying the Countryside, Paul Chan Mo-po, not so keen on destroying the country parks, we might not be having a widespread debate over other ways of securing land for housing.

These debates are vitally important, yet without the extremist views of the administration, they would be relegated to the back burner.

The fact that these matters are being discussed is hardly a guarantee of a satisfactory outcome, but remember the golden rule: governments always do their worst when they do things in silence.

Hong Kong is far from silent, and the barrage of noise gets all the usual suspects clucking around and complaining about polarization and paralysis due to excessive debate.

The alternative, presumably one the anti-democrats favor, is a cowed quiescent population taking orders from above without question.

Fortunately that is not the Hong Kong way, and 2015, yet again demonstrated that, when push comes to shove, the fine people of this place will not be cowed.

–Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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