Why Hong Kong’s Protests Exploded

Credit: The New Yorker
Published on December 9, 2019 - Duration: 10:05s

Why Hong Kong’s Protests Exploded

After six months of unrest, anti-Beijing protesters are increasingly unwilling to compromise.

With fierce and sometimes violent debate redefining the region, where will the movement end up?

Jiayang Fan reports.

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Why Hong Kong’s Protests Exploded

[gun firing][woman screaming]- [Woman] Go, go, go, go, go, go!- Part of the surreal natureof these protests is thatyes, you're hearing guns go offand you're seeing tear gasand there are stampedes coming.[crowds chanting]But you also look up andthere's Louis Vuittonand Victoria's Secret and huge adsand you think, I mean, am I in a war zone?Or am I in a shopping mall?And sometimes, it's both.The Hong Kong protests havegone on for five months nowand as I spent weeks theretalking to variousmembers of the population,not just the protestors,I realized that this story is aboutHong Kong's reckoningwith its own identityand its relationship to the outside world,meaning China and the West.[tense music]The protests began with anextradition bill in early June.The extradition bill wouldallow suspected criminalsto be extradited to mainland China.It invited a lot of anger and suspicionbecause if people in Hong Kongcan be taken acrossthe border and tried inmainland China's very questionable,opaque, dubious court system,then what else will the party do next?The Hong Kong people feel likemainland China is encroachingupon the freedoms of this citythat was guaranteed autonomyand mainland government wasreally reneging on its promise.- [Newsreader] Therewas a symbolic loweringof the Hong Kong and British flags.- Hong Kong was a Britishcolony for over 100 years.In 1997, it was finallygiven back to mainland China.The one country, two systempolicy stipulates thatfor 50 years after the handover,Hong Kong would still continue to enjoya great degree of autonomy.There was genuine beliefthat in about 50 years,China, having reached economicstability and prosperity,would grow toward aWestern liberal democracy.In the 20-odd years that we have left,it is exceedingly unlikely.If anything, it will be evenmore authoritarian regime.Beijing's need to fully possess Hong Konghas to do with two things.China's global image,and it's about its abilityto hold on to the rest of its territory.Tibet and Xinjiang, regions that might beemboldened to break away,and Taiwan, which China stillthinks of as a rogue state.In Hong Kong, this very cosmopolitan city,they rear children who growup speaking three languages,English, Mandarin, Cantonese,who are exposed topeople from every nationwho come to do business.They have a great social welfare system,state of the art hospital facilitiesand most importantly, an education systemthat still allows them toquestion the world they live in,much more so than in China.- This is not only a city movement,this is a movement for every citizenthat lives in Hong Kong.- So, Hong Kong identity, for many,is this immense sense of pridein their cosmopolitanism,[crowd chants]their capaciousness of identity,in a sense that they can containboth being culturally Chinese personand a person who holds manyliberal Western values.♪ The land of the free ♪In the 60s, 70s and 80s,many economic refugees fromcoastal villages in Chinawho are fleeing from the political chaosand the dire poverty,they termed Hong Kong the city of lightbecause they could see theglittering skyscrapers.Their one goal is survivaland the ability to find a job,and you have their children,these young protestorsasking their parents,you swam here, you foughtfor a better place to liveand you fought for an opportunityto make life better for yourself.That's what we're doing.This young man, in his mid-20s,he gave his name to me as No Nameand he talked a lot about hisrelationship with his father.His father has a tendencyto be quite violent,so No Name grew up being beatenby an authoritarian figurethat is not so different, in his mind,from what the Communist Party is like now.He said, "When I was nine or 10,"it wasn't that I didn't wantto fight against my father,"I couldn't, I was toophysically small and weak."So, he feels this moralobligation to support the protestand, if need be, die for it.The protest has becomeone about police brutalityand universal suffrage,and for the current Chief Executive,the very unpopularCarrie Lam, to step down.The violence is certainly escalatingbut what's so difficultabout these protests is thatit acquires a momentum of its own.It's almost like an organismover which you've lost control.I found myself questioningwhat was really going on.I tried to make sense ofthe meaning of identityin today's world,this growth of nationalismwithin the city.Hong Kong is not, at this point, a nationbut because it feels so imperiled,so besieged by these outside forces,it wants to hold onto its senseof native Hong Kong identitycloser than ever.Because Mandarin is theparticular dialect thatBeijing has tried very hardto popularize across China,it's perceived as a way in whichBeijing is trying to erase local culture.As a reporter, I was wearingmy green neon reporter vestand I was accompanied bya retired school teacherand we were speaking in amishmash of Mandarin and English.Upon overhearing theMandarin I was speaking,I was stopped and I was askedif I was indeed ajournalist from the West,then why did I speak Mandarin,why did I look the way that I did?And that was, I thinkthat was unsettling for mebecause, in the U.S.,I'm so used to everyoneaccepting a bifurcated identityof being Chinese-Americanand to really be the object of suspicionwas alarming for me.I'm proud to be both Chinese and Americanbut what exactly does that mean?And who am I swearing myloyalty to when I say that?Or is there any kind of loyalty?We feel the need toperform our identities,both in the context of aprotest on the streets,but also with the advent of social media,we need to broadcast to the worldwhere we stand politically and socially.And our identity, through performance,is something that we constantlyhave to affirm and confirm.I think that's a break fromthe previous generation.Hong Kong makes me think about protestsraging in other placesin the world right now,in Chile, Beirut,and how they're allabout mostly young peoplewho feel the need to activelyperform the way they feel.- Voice for freedom!- The sense that if they feelthemselves to be something,it needs to be expressed on an open stage.[calm music]

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