20 November 2019
Civic participation and public awareness of civil rights are the best weapons against tyranny and repression. Photo: HKEJ
Civic participation and public awareness of civil rights are the best weapons against tyranny and repression. Photo: HKEJ

A milder approach to preserving our way of life

On Jan. 16, 2013, Benny Tai, then an associate professor in the University of Hong Kong law faculty, published an article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal which proposed the idea of Occupy Central for the first time.

The article didn’t get much attention at the beginning but it later turned out to be a manifesto that would inspire a mass movement never before seen in Hong Kong.

Also, it would change Hong Kong forever.

Inspired by Prof. Tai’s work, I would like to put in my own proposals to help Hongkongers achieve the ends of a free and empowered society. 

1. Build an independent knowledge system for civil society in order to preserve academic freedom. An increasing number of news media and universities are falling under Beijing’s control.

2. Grow civil society so that it transcends politics and partisanship and able to make informed judgment.

3. Establish a research project on social policies that will be self-funded — crowdfunding comes to mind — so that it’s free from government interference.

There are no less than 10 academics who are willing to donate 5 percent of their salary. We could raise HK$400,000 (US$52,300) every year.

The topic, methodology and direction of the research project should be open to discussion and the entire process should be democratic.

In 2011 there were more than 9,100 constituents in the tertiary education sub-sector on the election committee. If one-tenth of them are willing to donate, we could raise enough money to fund at least 90 research projects each year.

While most academic research projects by universities adopt a top-down approach, ours will have a bottom-up approach, so that our findings always reflect real grass-roots sentiment.

4. Raise public awareness about social issues and political rights by encouraging members of society to engage in public discussions and actively participate in social affairs.

5. Ensure our actions are sustainable even if our goals have been achieved. With a mature civil society, we can exercise better and continued oversight of government actions.

These proposals are far more moderate than those of Prof. Tai.

Note that these don’t involve civil disobedience and all it takes for them to succeed is perseverance and the resolve to change the status quo.

However, as the old saying goes, “you can’t wake up a person who pretends to be asleep”.

If members of society resign themselves to fate and live with anything imposed on them, any plan — no matter how moderate and feasible — will be far-fetched to them.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 25.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of the Shadow Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, a non-governmental organization