Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Occupy ending in Hong Kong - here's what I fear

It's looking like the end of the line for Occupy Central in Hong Kong. The protests are expected to cleared at 9am local time tomorrow, and what hardcore resistance remains is likely to be brushed by the police force. It's unfortunate, because putting politics aside, it was truly a beautiful protest. It was well-organized, polite, clean, and almost entirely peaceful. Unlike other movements which claim peace, the Occupiers practiced what they preached and drove a truly pacifist movement. There was art and there was song. Hell, there was free wifi.

Video I took today walking through Occupy. Not the most exciting video, but if you haven't been to the protest site, you'll get more of a sense of what it was like than the news reports will show.

In the end, apathy won the day for the government side. They simply waited out the protesters and waited for them to go home. Back in October, the decisions to use tear gas and violence simply galvanized the students. But it's hard to keep outrage up for 73 days, when most of those days are simply monotonous rather than inciting. In what seems like a last-ditch effort, some of Occupy's young leaders staged a hunger strike in hopes of opening up talks with government leaders. It was a fairly misguided and pathetic effort to gain sympathy, and like the movement itself, it was defeated simply by being ignored.

This "not with a bang, but with a whimper" ending to Occupy is a huge win for the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong. The protesters created awareness, but essentially got nothing.

What scares me about Hong Kong's future

While many of the young people see Hong Kong as truly distinct and unique, the older generation of Chinese have a pan-Chinese pride. The title of this commentary piece, Protesters must abandon fantasy of a 'Hong Kong race' free from the mainland (might be paywalled), is fairly typical. It closes:
Yet the reality is "Hong Kong race" has no place in the world and Hong Kong's destiny is intertwined with that of China.... Hong Kong people must muster enough courage and wisdom to find a new place of pride in the family of 1.3 billion.
For many Chinese, the "Chinese race" is what matters. There are many in Hong Kong who are "proud Chinese" and wish to be part of the motherland. It is very similar in my view to German or Japanese nationalism of the 1940s. Whenever anti-Occupy people speak negatively about the movement, there is always talk of "foreign interference"; the implication being that "true" Chinese would never turn against China and that therefore it must be those dastardly foreigners behind it all.

Hopefully Occupy has sent a message that this is far from a unanimous view. And Hong Kongers are starting to see themselves as more Hong Konger and less Chinese. (The link suggests that of those claiming a distinct identity, three times as many claim "Hong Konger" as "Chinese".)

Nevertheless, Beijing controls the media, including all social media platforms, and it ruthlessly punishes dissenting voices. Random citizens are thrown in jail, but even celebrities toe the line in fear of being blacklisted. Beijing will surely continue to slowly crush the unique Hong Kong culture and bring it in line with its bland, sterile, Orwellian positioning as a global power.

For now, Hong Kong remains special and different. Even if it has never seen democracy, it has enjoyed political freedom for such a lengthy period of time, and its culture has flourished because of it.

So even though this is the end, my hat is off to the young protesters. They fought hard to preserve the culture of their home, and anyone who loves the uniqueness of Hong Kong is indebted to them.