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.
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.
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。