24 October 2016
Joshua Wong is building a political party on the remains of Scholarism. Ironically, he is too young to run for elective office. Photo: HKEJ
Joshua Wong is building a political party on the remains of Scholarism. Ironically, he is too young to run for elective office. Photo: HKEJ

What Scholarism’s demise means for student movements

Before Joshua Wong became synonymous with the 2014 Umbrella Movement, he was among a group of student leaders who led a mass protest against a plan to introduce patriotic education in Hong Kong.

The year was 2012 and Scholarism, the student activist group he founded a year earlier, was coming into its own.

On Sunday, Wong announced that the group is being disbanded. A political party and a new campus organization will take its place.

The move would be a logical step for Scholarism if it had not been forced upon its leaders by infighting that had made the group unwieldy.

That Wong’s new party might be premature is one thing. The implications of Scholarism’s demise for student movements in Hong Kong are something else entirely.

The new party is planning to field candidates in the Legislative Council elections in September.

Wong, however, does not meet the age requirement. He is seeking a judicial review to lower the minimum age limit for candidates from 21 to 19.

By contrast, there is no age discrimination in student movements.

Wong was only 17 when he rose to prominence during protests against a planned national education curriculum meant to teach Chinese patriotism to schoolchildren.

Scholarism was widely praised after the government was forced to shelve the plan.

Since then, there have been attempts to revive the proposal through the backdoor via cross-border exchanges disguised as field trips and more openly with government subsidies to schools and institutions that promote them.

In recent months, school programs have put increased pressure on students and their parents.

These include the Territory-wide System Assessment, Putonghua as a medium of instruction and simplified Chinese subjects.

There has been considerable public opposition to these policies but the government refuses to budge.

Recent actions by some disgruntled students, including blocking the car of the education minister, have been blamed on officials turning a deaf ear to their grievances.

They are accusing the government of using them to show its loyalty to Beijing.

This is where Scholarism’s leaders have shown their mettle by making it difficult for the government to ignore them.

Interestingly, when Scholarism began discussions on its future a year ago, it was smarting from its defeat in the fight for universal suffrage.

At the same time, it was trying to fend off claims it had become too politicized for its own good.

The decision to dissolve the group means it could start over and allow it to take the fight to the government through the political process.

That is one plank of the plan to move Scholarism’s advocacy forward.

The other its continued involvement in student activism, fighting for the interests and welfare of students.

Scholarism will exist in name only but its principles and values will guide its new leaders who will have to balance the interests of the party against those of their student members.  

We shall see whether they are getting more than they bargained for.

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EJ Insight writer

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