Ever since the protests in Hong Kong began about three weeks ago, I have been arguing and fighting with many of my friends in both Hong Kong and Canada via e-mails, long distance telephone conversations and even over many meals. There are usually five camps of people among my friends: those who, like me, support democracy at all costs and, therefore, support the protesters; those who are pro-China because they see China as their motherland and any disturbances and challenges to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities are seen to be disloyal; others who are just pro-business and do not want chaos and disorderly conduct to prevent them from continuing to make good money in Hong Kong; those who live and work in China with foreign passports whose main goal is to make a quick buck and then returning to their respective adopted countries to retire; and, finally, those who have chosen to retire in China and, therefore, adopt the attitude of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.
I have long predicted that such an outburst would be inevitable. Historically, Britain’s handover of Hong Kong back to China was the right thing to do. Hong Kong should belong to China and Britain has occupied and reigned the island during a time when China was weak and helpless. But, in reality, Hong Kong has thrived under British rule for over 150 years and its status as an international free trade centre and economic powerhouse over the years was indisputable. During that time, Hong Kong citizens (including myself) couldn’t care less about politics. In fact, we took pride in being politically frigid because all we cared about was how to climb up the corporate ladder and make more money.
I had applied for emigration to Canada even before the notorious June 4 Tiananmen Square protests took place in 1989. I’ve never had confidence in communist and autocratic governments because I believe we, who grew up in Hong Kong under British rule, have very much taken democracy and freedom of speech for granted. With the censorship of the press, the likelihood of me practising as a professional public relations practitioner without restraints would have been zero. I also did not not want to be any part of the government propaganda that I predicted would influence Hong Kong when China took over. I left the city where I was born and educated in 1990 and have never looked back or regretted my move.
When many of my friends said that Hong Kong is getting worse nowadays, I begged to differ that, on the contrary, the people of this Special Administrative Region of China are actually getting better in their political consciousness. Hong Kong people are actually speaking up for themselves and fighting for democracy and freedom of speech. Twenty years ago, such street protests in Hong Kong were simply impossible and would not have happened. I am particularly sympathetic with the student protesters who are really fighting for their future. With all the media analyses that have been appearing both online and offline, few have focused on the demographic split on what’s happening there. Students from both high schools and universities have a right to speak their minds because they are fighting for their future. Many of the protesters are also aware that they might not get what they want from China, but they do believe in the fundamental principles of democracy: speak up or you will be silenced forever!
I see many business-minded baby boomers in Hong Kong who focus on making money and maintaining Hong Kong’s status as an international business centre. I also see another group of boomer parents who took to the streets with their kids either because they were worried about their safety or they were just simply sympathetic to their cause. I do not buy China’s conspiracy theory that the United States and Britain have influenced the students and funded the protesters’ movement from behind the scenes. I also agree with the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who wrote in The Globe and Mail op-ed that “it is a slur on the integrity and principles of Hong Kong’s citizens to assert….that they are being manipulated by outside forces.” I have many friends who can’t even influence their own kids – it’s absolutely insulting to the bright, young students of Hong Kong to mention that they were capable of being influenced by the West.
At the moment when this blog is posted, the protesters and the Hong Kong government are still at a standstill. The authorities are trying to buy time and the protesters continue to ask for the Chief Executive C. Y. Leung to resign. This situation should not be compared to the Tiananmen protests because Hong Kong is not Beijing, and China is no longer the China of 1989. None of the protesters expect China to grant their request for universal suffrage, but if anybody believes that this demonstration will just go away because they will be fatigued, then they are really naive. Some dialogue is better than no coummunication at all and nobody wants to see any blood shed, particularly among the students.