By Bob San
TORONTO (Nov. 4, 2014) — The political protests in Hong Kong, otherwise known as the Umbrella Revolution or Umbrella Movement, is well into its second month. While crowds at the three major protest sites are smaller than when the movement first started, organizers and activists seem to be digging in and showing no signs of retreat. The same can be said of the Hong Kong leaders, who are steadfastly defending the central government’s (China) position of no compromise.
Where will this lead? When and how will it end? Will there be another Tiananmen Massacre?
I recently talked to my longtime friend and University of Minnesota alum Janet Nammay Cheung, who lives in Hong Kong. She gave me a first-hand account of the historical movement, and her views and feelings about it.
Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms and specifies universal suffrage for choosing its leader as an ultimate goal.
But hopes for genuine democracy in the former British colony were dashed in August when China ruled that the Hong Kong chief executive candidates for the 2017 election would be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.
The decision sparked widespread protests, led mostly by university students and activists, who want the public to have the right to nominate their own candidates, and not some handpicked by the Communist Party.
They claim vetting by a loyalist committee will create a “fake democracy”, with only pro-Beijing candidates able to run, and have taken to the streets of the Asian financial and trading hub.
Cheung is a 1985 graduate of the University of Minnesota Business Management School. She is now a management consultant in Hong Kong. The following is my interview with her via email:
San: Janet, how have the protests affected your daily life?
Cheung: To me, the inconvenience is minimal. We usually take the subway, or if I need to take the bus/taxi etc., just reserve more time for the traffic.
San: What is your feeling about the protesters?
Cheung: Deep down, I marvel at the courage of the students and the professors. They have successfully waken up a whole generation of young people, who previously has no interest in politics.
San: How big are the turnouts at these protest sites now?
Cheung: The “main camp” is in Admiralty, with Causeway Bay and Mongkok being the other two locations, but of a much smaller scale. The crowd is very small during office hours, say as small as less than 30 people. After work, more people come, but still a relatively small crowd. Friday and Saturday nights are the peak time. People often ask- with such a small crowd occupying the main street, why don’t the police take action? Well other than political reasons, every time the police attempt to do something, a big crowd emerges in a very short time. Guess this is because HK is small and convenient, plus the power of what’s apps, Facebook etc.
San: At this point in the movement, what do you think the appropriate strategies are for the protesters?
Cheung: I think they should retreat and change their tactics. They have been blocking major roads for over a month now. Many small businesses are approaching bankruptcy. Taxi drivers, truck drivers are screaming.
The complication is that many individuals who are staying overnight on the street said that the students and the professors do not represent them. So at this moment, there is no leader for the movement, and no one has a solution on how to move forward. The general public is losing patience, there is big tension between the police force and the public, and it seems that this is what the government wants.
San: How have the protests affected Hong Kong as a society?
Cheung: I must add that HK is now seriously split into two camps. When we visit Taiwan, it’s like don’t start a conversation with a taxi driver or unknown person regarding whether or not you support the movement. Even within a family, the views are often split. In the coming years, the government will be stagnant, and the economy will turn bad, I think. We deserve a better government indeed.
Despite her pessimistic outlook for Hong Kong, Cheung still retains that unique Hong Kong pride, especially after she went and took pictures at my request at the Causeway Bay protest camp. There she saw students and people of all ages gathered peacefully, and many students were studying or chatting with people in the neighborhoods. And around the camp, she saw a study room where the college students can keep up with their homework, laundry facilities, garbage and recycling bins, and a make-shift studio where people can learn how to make origami umbrella.
“I am proud of HK,” Cheung said. “It’s amazing how peaceful and patience we all are. The study room, garbage recycle etc. at the camps, these wonderful things grow organically. These are probably the most considerate protesters in the world.”