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Friday
Oct032014

What do you see in the Hong Kong protests?

I asked this of my friend Vikas Hsin, who was taking part in the protests: what they were like and why people were out on the streets? She wrote the following about what she sees as the causes and central aims of the protest. I've translated her essay into English, and the original Chinese is below.

~*~*~

The people of Hong Kong are known for their apathy toward politics. “Occupy Central” had been floating around for over a year; most assumed it to be merely the laughable rhetoric of a few marginal politicians. The “Student Boycott” had been in the works for months, and many thought it was just a bunch of young people carried away with their own political idealism. It was August 31 when Beijing announced it had approved the controversial draft on the framework of proposed elections in the city, crushing hope of true universal suffrage for which so many had fought, but even this did not stir many of the city’s residents to action. As of September 22, only a few thousand out of Hong Kong’s over seven million residents had joined sit-in protests. But when the first tear gas and pepper spray were released into the air on the night of Sunday, September 28, when police forced down the first line of protesters, social media selfies began to disappear, replaced by yellow ribbons. In that moment, 87 canisters of tear gas were enough to bring tears to the eyes of all of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s student movement began to coalesce in 2011, when students, parents and teachers alike stood up against proposed changes to the educational curriculum – changes that would have introduced “patriotic education” that some thought was little more than brainwashing. But this movement’s momentum was limited, it lacked professional training. So why did authorities send riot police against them, armed with tear gas and batons?

You could say it was because of bad judgment calls – on the part of the police and government as well as the protesters. Occupy Central, which had been scheduled to start on October 1st, announced Sunday morning that it would begin early, so the police officers in charge of maintaining order there traded a day of rest at home with their families for duty on the front lines. And as these police gathered, the students who had been there for days also became those protecting order on the front lines. Without any single leader, the goals of the protesters were disparate, and as a result, things began to spiral out of control on the scene. The police attacked the people they were supposed to protect, and the people screamed at the police officers they were supposed to trust.

The most heartbreaking part of it all was that the night pitted Hong Kongers against each other, though we all love this place we call home. The more tear gas was fired, the more people came running to the scene. It didn’t change the fact that some of us are still politically apathetic, some didn’t necessarily have a clear stance on the political reform. Some were not even inclined to support the student movement or Occupy Central. But because they believed that the democracy movement should not become a scene of violence, they gathered one by one, carrying their umbrellas. It was not for political beliefs, or for economic reasons, or for the causes of factions. They wanted peace for the people of Hong Kong.

On September 29th, a dreary Monday, public transit saw no crowds of professionals on their way to work. Those riding buses would smile when they saw another person wearing black in protest. Victoria Harbour, Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok, major commercial and political areas in Hong Kong, were paralyzed. The wide streets and small alleyways were blockaded, and the doors of stores shut tight. Protesters came by foot and bicycle, and people from all over Hong Kong donated generously to them.

Every ten meters or so, a makeshift stand would hand out water, food, sweets, fruit, tissues, face masks, goggles, ponchos, cooling patches, plastic wrap, and umbrellas. In each area, these donated goods seemed inexhaustible in their supply, coming in batches delivered almost continuously, just as people were constantly collecting trash and recycling. This was a peaceful demonstration neither violent nor uncivilized.

At five o' clock, students arrived in their uniforms, carrying their book bags. At seven, professionals came in their business attire and their high heels. At nine, young people, ethnic minorities who grew up in Hong Kong and spoke fluent Cantonese, arrived on the scene to proclaim their support for the peaceful movement. Around eleven, tattooed punks began to arrive by motorcycle and delivery truck, unloading material goods to help those gathered there. Such a spontaneous outpouring of mutual aid was unprecedented in Hong Kong, and brought rounds of applause as well as tears as protesters welcomed the selfless donations from people of all walks of life, and everyone put aside their disagreements and differences. On that night, a feeling of peace truly suffused the over 100,000 Hong Kongers who had joined together.

But underneath that peace there was a current of anxiety. The shut-off areas were too peaceful. Some began to play games with the donated goods, some brought their pets to the crowds to enjoy the atmosphere, some got riled up and demanded protesters march to the front lines, and some politicians even seized microphones and called for the downfall of the CPC. The peaceful movement had begun to change, turning into a carnival or an extremist meeting.

But just as things reached this point, people gathered there began to call for the crowds to calm down and be cautious, reminding everyone that this movement was about peace, and urging them not to forget its original purpose – they were not here to have a good time, or to lash out in violence, but to seek peace together. Everyone was able to calm down, and unite once more.

Although this peaceful movement was not a single entity, there was a special kind of understanding everyone shared, an understanding that when a clash with the front line of police occurred, everyone would step back and disperse, not hold fast and oppose them. This sounds like a kind of retreat, but in truth it was the peaceful resistance of Hong Kongers, who are not violent vandals but law-abiding citizens. We knew that we did not need to sacrifice those on the front lines, only to act rationally, as a united whole. Although physically advancing is a form of progress, in this particular instance, retreat was a better choice. After waiting until the site became more orderly, everyone silently returned to their originally positions, opened their umbrellas and sat down in silence, sticking together in non-violent resistance.

The power of the Internet was easy to see in all aspects of the movement. Protesters distributed needed items to the various areas they were gathered based on information they received via smartphone and app, while updates on the status of different groups were shared in the same fashion. But at the same time, misinformation crept in, and some people tried to stir up trouble and spread lies.

Several times, it seemed that things might erupt in violence. Conspiracy theorists believed that this was a plot by China’s central government, that once the protests got out of control, they would have reason to use the troops based in Hong Kong to crush them. Whether true or not, when things began to shift, Hong Kongers who had remained at home took to their computers and waged an all-out war against the false reports, and protesters on the scene verified and disproved the rumors floating around. They also reminded everyone not to be fooled or incited to rash acts. Though the police may have acted improperly, the people of Hong Kong did not need to strike back. The government may have been cruel in its enforcement of the law, but the people protesting had no need of violent retaliation. The purpose of the umbrella movement is to demand change with peace, to respond with peace. It began this way, progressed this way, and at each turn, at each moment it might spin out of control, it remained this way, depending on everyone working together to maintain calm.

In that respect, is it not much like psychological warfare? Perhaps, but the people of Hong Kong have not started a war nor have they engaged in one – they have only resisted peacefully. 

 

香港人,政治冷感。「佔領中環」,說了一年有餘,這大概又是政客的噱頭吧;「學生罷課」,從年初開始醞釀,這是年少氣盛的一時衝動吧。2014年8月31日,人大常委搥定政改框架,自9月22日開始靜坐示威的學生民眾,也不過廖廖數千。直到28日的星期天,一個風和日麗的下午,第一發的胡椒噴霧,第一枚的催淚彈,第一批的前線學生民眾在地下被拉扯拖行……從那刻起,社交網路的版面開始變得單調,一張張的自拍照改成了黃絲帶的圖片,87枚催淚彈的威力強到令港人隔著屏幕也感到鼻酸。

香港的學生運動從2011年國民教育爭議始萌起,至今組織未見壯大,成員亦未受專業訓練,對於周日的場面,警方為什麼會對著他們出動了防暴警察、催淚彈和長鎗?這或可歸因對於形勢的錯估──作出誤判的並不只是政府警方,抗爭一方亦然。原定十月一日發動的「佔領中環行動」提早於周日清晨宣佈啟動,原先為佔中所部署的前線警員全部取消休假並推上前線,結果連日站在最前沿的學生就成了集會人士的第一波防線。在沒有領袖組織統籌之下,集會民眾方針不一,結果場面螺旋式地失控,警方攻擊應要保護的市民,市民對著本應信任的警察嘶吼,最痛心的是,大家同是獅子山下的香港人。催淚彈放得愈多,趕到現場聲援的民眾也愈多。仍舊是政治冷感的他們對於記者訪問政改事宜,未必能說出個所以然來,有的既不偏好學運,也不支持佔中,但就基於認為香港民運不應發展成暴力場面的信念,一個個撐著雨傘站了出來。他們不為政治理念、不為階級、不為陣營,就只為「香港人的和平」。

9月29日,憂鬱禮拜一,車站裡不見上班人潮,等車的人互相看著各自身上的黑衣,會意微笑。中環金融區、金鐘行政區、銅鑼灣商業區、旺角購物區,香港幾個主要重心區域都癱瘓了,大街小巷封鎖起來,商店的門緊緊關上,集會人士坐著躺著。現場物資得到廣大市民的捐獻,每數十米就一個補給站,礦泉水、能量飲品、麵包、水果、毛巾、口罩、眼罩、雨衣、散熱貼、保鮮膜、雨傘……各區免費送來的資源在此難以盡列,每一分鐘都有人在派發傳遞物資,每一刻都有人在回收廢物垃圾。和平遊行,不暴力、不野蠻。黃昏5點,學生們穿著校服、背著書包;傍晚7點,上班族穿著西裝、踩著高跟;晚上9點,一口流利粵語的本土少數族裔列陣,高呼支持和平運動;深夜11點,滿身刺青、騎著重型機車和開著貨車的江湖人士,載著滿車的物資來支援現場。這是香港史無前例的自發互助,眾人眼泛淚光,掌聲四起,歡迎著各界的無私奉獻,感謝著大家的不計前嫌。這一晚,數以十萬計的民眾之間彌漫著和平的氣氛。

但在平和底下,仍滲有一絲的憂慮。封鎖區過於平靜,有的開始拿起物資玩起遊戲,有的抱著寵物來湊湊熱鬧,有的雄起心來說要衝擊前線,甚至於有政客拿著麥克風嘶喊著打倒共產黨……和平運動開始變質了,變成了嘉年華會,變成了激進團體。此際,陸續有人扯著嗓子呼籲眾人要冷靜且謹慎,提醒著群眾這場運動雖和平,但初衷絕不可忘,大家不是來吃喝玩樂,也不是來當流氓暴民,在場者應共求和平目標。就這樣,喧鬧的場面冷靜了下來,運動又再次團結起來。這場和平運動雖無主導團體,民眾間卻有個特殊的共識,就是當與警方前線遇到突發情況時,大家馬上疏散撤離,不反抗、不留守。這聽起來似乎是退縮讓步,但這理念的背後是港人要和平抗爭,市民並非暴民,也毋須前線人士犧牲,只需理智團結。進固然可攻,但就這次的情況而言,退守是更好的選擇,守待場面穩定下來,大家再默默地回到原地開起雨傘靜坐,繼續著黏膠式的非暴力抗爭。

是次運動的過程,也充分體現了網路戰的運用。透過智能手機和通訊應用程式,集會人士得以調配資源,各區的最新訊息也得以傳達。但同時間,誤謬的資訊也混雜其中,有人煽動起事,有人故造謠言,好幾次和平運動眼見就要變成暴動。陰謀論者認為這是政府甚至中央的計謀,一旦場面失控,他們的駐軍鎮壓也就變得合理化。孰真孰假姑置勿論,當情況有變,在家支持的市民就當起鍵盤戰士過濾虛假情報,現場支援的民眾辨清實況後,便立即提醒與會者勿被誤導,也別受挑釁。警方執法或有不當,但市民無需衝擊;政府執政或有不善,民眾亦無需暴動。雨傘運動的理念就是和平爭取訴求、和平應對情況,起首如斯,過程亦如斯,一波波幾乎快失控的場面就靠著大家的互助而壓制下來。這是否心理戰?或許是,但港人既不開戰亦不應戰,旦求和平抗爭。

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