Reflections on the Umbrella Revolution and (the state of) Hong Kong

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Below is a post from my Facebook on 1 October 2014. This post has also been edited by Ana Lenard and published as an article in Craccum Magazine, the official student magazine at the University of Auckland.

umbrella man

You must all pay attention to Hong Kong.

The first thing to say is that not everyone is born into a democracy. I was lucky enough that a few years after I was born, a technocratic and progressive elite in Taiwan held the first presidential election just before I moved to New Zealand (after lifting what had been “the longest imposition of martial law by a regime anywhere in the world” at the time and ending one party rule). While I have not experienced its oppression (although my parents and grandparents speak of it), I do remember the opposition winning for the first time when I was a child, and also casting a vote in what would have only been its fifth election when I was old enough to vote (20). Taiwan owes its democracy now partially to a student movement that pressured the government to liberalise.

The movement that is swelling in Hong Kong at the moment shares some similarities to the Sunflower Movement that happened in my country Taiwan earlier this year. Both movements saw the occupation of their respective government buildings, with crowds growing exponentially in size due to the resonance it has beyond its organisers and with the populace. In Taiwan, the unusual tactics in such a young democracy had parliament brought to a halt despite the deployment of riot police and water cannons to disperse the protesters and ultimately saw significant concessions made with regards to the services agreement that Taiwan would have signed with its rival China (at least in areas of process and transparency); in Hong Kong, we are seeing tear gas unleashed on peaceful protesters trying to secure full suffrage and genuine elections, against the armoured police and the increasingly partisan media with nothing but umbrellas to deflect their projectiles.

Today that movement has that same potential for the people of Hong Kong. China needs to take its commitment of ‘One China, Two Systems’ and its promise of full suffrage seriously. Hong Kong is not an unstable, uneducated nor underdeveloped Territory. China can no longer appeal to its (increasingly) illusory mandate of stability or economic development to justify its authoritarian hold on power and its restrictions on freedoms. The Chinese Dream that the Communist Party of China is trying to sell its subjects in China is currently being challenged by the people of Hong Kong. What we are witnessing could be the start of an Asian Spring in China.

In my mind, these have become the biggest obstacles ahead for Occupy Central in Hong Kong. The situation in Taiwan was a democratic government that reluctantly but required to respond to the will of the people, and allowed an ‘exit’ for the government without losing too much face. The end-goal of the protests in Hong Kong is the very thing that would likely see it from happening, and this time there is not the same good will from the ruling elite. China likes to pretend that its (proposed) systems of selecting rulers is legitimate for its people, and deviating from that is a massive concession and can spark serious trouble for the communist party. Instead, China must claim that these protesters are ‘violent’, ‘unpatriotic’ and acting against the ‘interest and will’ of what it means to be Chinese and delegitimise them, before counter narratives begin doing the same to the Communist Party.

This is the last point I will make, that “China” – that is the People’s Republic of China – does not have a monopoly on a ‘Chinese’ identity. Taiwanese people often instinctively and sometimes artificially reject their Chinese heritage, because what is Chinese has been appropriated by the PRC. Its government often claims not just jurisdiction over areas beyond its actual authority – but also claims and prescribes a set a values that all ‘Chinese’ people ought to have as an intrinsic immutable part of being Chinese – but people in Hong Kong, Taiwan and even some of their citizens (more educated netizens in particular) are now rejecting that.

It is possible to be Chinese and pro-democracy, and while that might sound almost too obvious, that has actually been a recent development and people do not often view Chinese beyond the PRC or mainland China. That misalignment is probably most true when Hong Kongers tried to navigate what their identity meant prior to 1997 – back when it was clear that UK would restrict immigration from Hong Kong and unification with China loomed. It crystallised, when the people of Hong Kong, while being Hong Kongers, mourned en masse the massacre of Chinese strangers in Tianmen Square; this I would say was the beginning of that new heterogeneous Chinese identity. Taiwan will face that question one day, and in many respects, we often look at Hong Kong as an unfolding experiment in China’s One China, Two Systems model.

The PRC, Instead of having Hong Kong as an incubator for potential change (which they can keep at arms’ length), both as a route to liberalisation for China, and as an exemplar for resolving the question of Taiwan, regrettably has once again reneged on its promises and reminded the people in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world, why its rise is regrettable, as well as letting many Chinese people down.

中文:
大家都應該關注香港。

首先我想說的是,不是每個人都能出生在一個民主國家。我很幸運,在我出生幾年後,台灣明智的政府在當時進步的允許了第一次總統大選,不久之後我就搬到了紐西蘭(同時也結束了那「在全世界,最長的戒嚴自由政權」,與一黨獨大的統治)。
雖然我沒有經歷過不民主的壓迫,但我的父母和爺爺奶奶常會訴說他們的經歷,我明確的記得當我年幼時反對黨贏得了第一次勝選;也記得我成年後於台灣投票的第一次,僅是台灣近代總統選舉的第五次而已(20)。

現在台灣成功轉為民主制度,有部分的功勞要歸於學生運動迫使政府開放。 這是目前在香港快速擴大的民主運動,與一些於今年年初發生在我國台灣太陽花運動相似的地方。

這兩個運動都能看見學生佔領各區的政府大樓,而且人群的規模成倍數增長,由於這兩個不服從運動超越了其組織者進而和民眾共鳴。

在台灣,這樣一個年輕的民主國家以不尋常的戰術讓立法院陷入了停滯,儘管致使了防暴警察和噴水車來驅散示威者,但最終台灣政府在關於要與競爭對手中國簽署的服貿協議讓步(至少在過程和透明度的區域);在香港,我們看到了催淚瓦斯驅散著只想試圖確保真正選舉權的和平示威著, 他們手無寸鐵的對抗武裝警察與日益被黨派控制的媒體,只有雨傘能夠轉移他們的子彈。

今天,這個運動對香港市民具有相同的潛能。中國需要認真保守的達到它「一國,兩制」和全面普選的承諾。

香港不是一個不穩定,低教育水平,未開發的地區。中國不能再利用經濟發展和穩定性來推卸為何中國不能擁有民主自由。中國共產黨想試圖說服中國人的「中國夢」 ,目前在香港已被市民質疑。今天我們所見到的很可能是在中國正要萌芽的亞洲之春。
有我看來,這些都成為香港的佔領中環行動未來最大的障礙。台灣的情況是執政者就算不情願,還是必須尊重人民的意願,而下台的機制讓政府不會太沒面子。但香港的抗議活動的目標對於他們是非比尋常的事,可以看出,此時中共的統治階層並沒有同樣的良好意願。

中國喜歡宣稱他們具有統治人民的正當性,而背離此宣言並做出巨大的讓步,可能對共產黨造成嚴重的後果。

除此之外,中國必須聲稱,這些示威者「暴力」、「不愛國」,並違背了所謂中國人的「利益和意志」,非法化他們,去阻止其他反對者對共產黨的威脅。

最後,我想談的是所謂「中國」(中國人民共和國),不具有對「中國」的身份壟斷的資格。

台灣人常直覺,或有時人為地拒絕他們的中國傳統文化,因為那些所謂的中國常常指稱著中共。中國共產黨政府經常宣稱其具有超出其實際範疇的權力,不只是司法,而且還聲稱、規定了一組,所有「中國」人應該有作為一個中國人固有的不可變的價值 ,但在香港,台灣,甚至他們的一些公民(尤其是教育程度更高的網民)現在拒絕了。

同時認為自己是中國人又是民主運動分子的人將很難將他的民族認同與中共或中國內地結合。這樣的失調尤其真切於香港人嘗試著回首自己在1997年前的身分認同時,回到那個面對英國明確限制香港移民與中國統一逼近的時候。

這導致了,那些生長在香港的人,定位自己為香港人,並且為那些在天安門廣場遭到屠殺犧牲的陌生中國人哀悼,我認為這是一種新的異構中國人身份的開始 。台灣總有一天要面臨一樣的問題,而在許多方面,我們視香港展開的試驗為中國所謂一國兩制的範本。

然而中共,並沒有將香港作為漸進改革的培養皿(對他們而言近在手邊),既同時可以孕育一個自由化的途徑,也能作為解決與台灣問題的典範。他們遺憾的選擇再次背棄自己的承諾 ,再次提醒香港、台灣和全世界, 他的崛起是如何的令人遺憾,與如何的令許多中國人失望。

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