These are just some notes, as I commute home from Tsuen Wan, in the New Territories, toward Lamma Island where I live in Hong Kong.
I’ve struggled to write here about the recent protests for a number of reasons. Time being the foremost. I’m trained to be firstly very reflective on what I want to say (as a philosopher), so just blurting out my thoughts is not ideal. I also want to check and cite my sources and verify every bit of news, but, alas, that leads down some long rabbit holes of its own. And then I want to look at historical precedents to help give context for all of this: Tiananmen, Burma 1988, Ukraine 2014, Korea 2016, etc. etc.
For now, however, just some thoughts as they’ve come to me in the last few weeks that might be helpful for friends/family/readers back home and elsewhere.
- Hong Kong is not a “city.” It is, kind of, but it’s more of a “region,” a Special Administrative Region, or S.A.R. to be exact. It’s a big area incorporating some dense city, which is partly on Hong Kong Island. Some of the city is also on “the mainland” in an area called the New Territories. That city is usually referred to as Kowloon – though that designates just part of it.
- Shenzhen, where Chinese special police or military forces are building up, is literally on the other side of a border from Hong Kong SAR. They’re 25 kilometers or so from the city, but they’re Shenzhen is immediately next to HK SAR.
- Chinese officials are ramping up rhetoric against protesters here – early on they labeled them “riots” even though the only rioting happened when police or triads (organized criminals) became involved. Now Chinese spokespeople are using the term “terrorism” to describe things. This is absolutely false. However, it is developing the same demonizing language we tend to see before, and to justify, violence.
- Local police are cooperating at times with the triads and, reportedly, with Chinese officials. This, despite being nominally autonomous from China.
- Local government seems to be run by China at the moment. Carrie Lam has been described as Beijing’s Puppet both by the press and by at least one local pro-democracy politician, and this doesn’t seem incorrect.
Things still seem safe though. It’s a huge region. Crime is still lower than anywhere in America, I imagine. Certainly gun violence is virtually non-existent. Healthcare remains superb, the ferries run on time, and, minus a few hours on the general strike day, so does the metro.
News headlines that play up “city-wide chaos” or a city “paralyzed by protests” etc are going for effect rather than reality. I’d feel perfectly safe amongst a group of protesters. I might not around police or groups of men in white shirts (the dress of the triads on at least a couple occasions).The gravity of events here are, so far, not so much a matter of my safety (or my family’s) but more around the clashing of the brutal momentum of a growing authoritarian state and the will of a small group (7 or so million, but compared to 1.4 billion, very small) who so far have evaded direct confrontation.
Big questions are being played out: what do people do when freedoms are taken away? Will they be complacent? Will they help an oppressor, for enough money? Will they leave if they can? Will they stay and fight?
So many of the 20th century’s “lessons” are supposed to be here for us to draw from. But history is easily forgotten. Humans are easily distracted. And everyone thinks this time it’s different. We’re unique. Until, perhaps, it happens. But then, it’s too late.
Time to get home to my wife for dinner.
More than thousand HKers sing Les Miserables’ ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ at HK international airport with their calls for free election and democracy. Here is the Ground Zero in the war against authoritarian rule. That’s the reason for us never surrender. pic.twitter.com/1MkTp4BkVg
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) August 10, 2019
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