In October the principal of Hong Kong’s Shung Tak Catholic English College posted an open letter opposing Occupy Central protests, which was widely circulated and discussed on social media in both Hong Kong and mainland China. The letter asked, “Who will reap the greatest benefits if Hong Kong becomes chaotic? Who will reap the greatest benefits if China becomes chaotic?”1 The principal, Kung Kwong Pui, then accused the United States government for stirring up trouble and destabilizing East Asia.
This was only one episode of an intense battle between the Occupy Central movement and counter-movement over whether western money and training had put protesters on the street. On the one hand, allegations were swirling on how Occupy Central was only a U.S.-financed plot against Beijing’s authority. On the other hand, the primary movement leaders, including Chan Kin-man and Joshua Wong, firmly denied such claim and repeatedly emphasized that umbrella protests were a domestic grassroots movement. Continue reading
The media has portrayed current Asian demonstrations, such as the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, as unsuccessful because the protesters’ requests have not been met. By another measurement, the awareness of issues and recognition of the power possible by targeted and collective peaceful action, they have been very effective.
The long-term residual effectiveness of the Asian movements and other protests across the globe authentically can be measured only in small increments with some of the most significant and basic results at this point not always visible but rather felt at a deeper level of understanding. Protests are influencing people to change their beliefs, mindsets, and attitudes which are psychologically the most difficult elements to modify, but which ultimately are the most potent factors in creating authentic social change. The evidence is that more and more people in increasing numbers of nations are expressing dissenting opinions and demonstrating their right to be heard regarding issues affecting their lives.
Nov. 1, 2014 – Lennon Wall Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Occupy did not end without its share of drama. It started with tear-gas, proceeded with a full course of street scuffs, and concluded with multiple arrests. But it was a far cry from those tragic endings in the past, which still haunt the nation’s memory and stain the regime’s legitimacy. During this 11-week confrontation, while the government gave in no ground to the protestor’s main demand, it instructed its police to use restraints, and it waited until the protest’s low points to clear the protest site. The result is a double victory in the short run: a political status quo and a diffusion of a crisis without bloodied hands. It is a strategy of waiting out. Continue reading
The Umbrella Movement and Occupy Central with Love and Peace face new challenges now that the occupation seems to have reached its conclusion. First among the challenges is, what to do next? How to keep the movement going in the absence of the tactic that made it a movement at all? I will speak to this issue from the perspective of my research on two other Chinese protest movements that flourished during direct and dramatic confrontations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and then later faced the dilemma of how to keep each movement going after confrontation ended. These two movements are the Chinese democracy movement of 1989, and especially its diaspora counterpart that mobilized after June 4th, and the religious group Falun Gong, which also mobilized outside of mainland China after homeland repression drove supporters underground. From these two cases, I draw the conclusion that unless Umbrella activists depart from the historically specific tactical repertoire of Chinese democracy activism, the uprising may go the way of June 4th: a wonderful flash in the pan of liberal spirit but ultimately a failure. Continue reading
While the Umbrella Movement may ultimately prove lacking in results, it certainly has not lacked in drama. Part of that drama comes from the attempt to locate the Hong Kong protests into a broader legacy of social movements. The image of young Hong Kong students calling for expanded democratic rights drew immediate comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the “Occupy Central” part of the movement seemed a clear nod to the Occupy Movement in the United States. Both of these links reflect the transferable nature of protest legacies and the importance of legacy mobility for contemporary protests in China (and beyond). Yet protest legacies can mean very different things to activists and their targets, giving shape to how a movement is understood culturally and structurally, as well as how activists and state agents act. To illustrate this point, I will consider four movement legacies that serve as significant sources for the Umbrella Revolution and their implications for how the Hong Kong protests have unfolded. Continue reading
A Hong Kong student leader, Yvonne Leung, said, “The Hong Kong government needs to take lots of responsibility for what’s going on.”1 She was referring to the government’s responsibility to offer genuine universal suffrage and end the impasse.
Unknown to Leung, her statement echoes the state-centered theory of contention — that it is state policies that inadvertently “construct”2 movements. The Umbrella Movement is no different. At every step of the way, the Chief Executive C. Y. Leung’s policies have backfired, first giving rise to the movement and then fueling it for two months and beyond. Continue reading
This guest essay is written by Dr. Doron Shultziner, an interdisciplinary scholar who studies non-violent struggles for democratic progress, and Kirby Hung, a participant in the umbrella movement in Hong Kong.
The main tent in Mong Kok that was later removed by the police.
Since late September, a historic movement is taking place in Hong Kong which became part of China in 1997. Following a long-awaited period and delays, the Chinese government announced its political reform to allow universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens but only for 2-3 candidates who will be selected by a pro-Beijing council of 1,200 members. Angry students started a class boycott, which culminated in the storming of the main government building in downtown Hong Kong. Police use of teargas and pepper spray against students who used umbrellas to protect themselves backfired into a huge demonstration of about 100,000 citizens. Several weeks have passed since that event climax and the umbrella movement maintains its momentum.
In this context, a battle of great significance has been taking place in Monk Kok, the second largest protest site of the umbrella movement for democracy in Hong Kong. In a surprise move between 5-9am on Friday (October 17) morning, police forces cleared protesters, tents, and barricades from the busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, in what seemed a major setback to the movement. Yet, since Friday evening protesters regained parts of the street in what appears to be a major watershed of the struggle. Continue reading
On July 1, the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, more than 500,000 people held large-scale pro-democracy demonstration in support of universal suffrage and political development in the city. This was the biggest street demonstration in Hong Kong’s history.
The scale of the protests reflects local residents’ anger and frustration at Beijing’s intervention in Hong Kong’s democratic development. As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong retains “a high degree of autonomy” with its own executive, legislature, and judiciary system under a “one country, two systems” framework. However, in early June, the Chinese government issued a strongly-worded “white paper,” asserting that Hong Kong does not have “full autonomy” and the ultimate power over the city lay with the Beijing authority. A few months earlier, the central government also stressed that the election of the next chief executive in 2017 only allows candidates who “love China,” although it promised Hong Kong could vote for their own leader by universal suffrage in 2017. Continue reading