With so many talks being given by Joshua Wong recently, much of what he says may be quite repetitive. Especially as we have read and seen so much on the matter. So it was only fitting to invite along professors to stimulate greater discussion and provide a wider range of views to provoke further thoughts and opinions. Hopefully, that's exactly what we have achieved, and here are the views of our Public Affairs Officer and 3 of the PO sub-committee members who were present at the event.
(If you have views of your own, please do not hesitate to share them with us by commenting below or submitting your ideas to email@example.com!)
Naomi Chan (Public Affairs Officer)
'Is Joshua Wong even eligible to hold a conference in one of the most prestigious universities in the UK? He is only a child, who is so radical and his acts are always not mature enough in order to survive under the wrist of the Chinese or even the Hong Kong government.'
Indeed, Joshua is only a 19 year-old guy, and he is the founder of Scholarism, a student activist group in Hong Kong. As Joshua mentioned during the conference, he started to be involved in political protest as early as the age of 14, protesting against the High Speed Rail in 2010. The Anti-Civi Education Demonstration in 2012 marked the beginning of Joshua's involvement in political protests. Being vocal in civil disobedience and student movements gained him fame within the political community. Being a key player and also the first few who crossed the police border whilst 'invading' the Citizens' Square during the Umbrella Movement last September, brought global media attention to this teen. The Times Magazine during that period of time placed Joshua onto their cover for their Asia Edition, making him well-known across the globe.
Trying to be political neutral at all times, the radical ideas about democratisation of Hong Kong by Joshua is not the main factor that appeals to me, nor the fame that a youngster can gain through involving in student movements in Hong Kong. What strikes me is his ambition and his courage in taking up such a challenging role during such a difficult time in Hong Kong. In the eyes of the older generation, full democracy and universal suffrage seem to be a goal that merely exist in their dreams. 'It can never be achieved in Hong Kong. Bear in mind although it is a so-called 'special administrative region' of China, afterall, in the eyes of the Beijing government, it may be of no difference with other major and emerging cities in China, such as Shenzhen, Shanghai.'
In times when worries and concerns about the future of Hong Kong in the next 30 years (before the end of the 50-year promise of the 'One Country, Two Systems' agreed between the Chinese and British government in 1984) circulates within the Hong Kong community, we are indeed, grateful to have people from the younger generation, such as Joshua, who is willing to stand for Hong Kong. I end with a note of advice that Joshua specifically spoke in Cantonese to the audience, who are mostly from students from Hong Kong: The future of Hong Kong do rely on you all, the elites who being so fortunate to be educated in such prestigious institutions in the UK. Please do come back after you have all graduated. Hong Kong needs you.
Lilian Wong (PO/SS Sub-committee)
As I saw this young boy of our age making his way to the discussion panel with an ordinary school bag which looked like the one we all once had, accompanied by a undisguised look of exhaustion on his face, there wasn’t an immense sense of marvel and awe that I usually felt at a talk given by renowned academics or professionals. Joshua Wong was not present that night as a lecturer, but as a student who wished to share his insight and experience to his equals. I believe the PowerPoint presentation given by Joshua wasn’t relatively impressive to most of us as the information was rather factual and most of the students who went to the discussion that night would have familiarised themselves with the pro-democracy movements in recent years. As a result, the spotlight of the night rested upon the Q&A session where direct interactions took place.
The most poignant and forthright question that everyone was secretly hoping for came in the middle of the discussion, when the question of whether the Umbrella Movement was counter-productive was raised candidly in light of its subsequent intensification of social division and economic consequences. This challenge was overturned by Joshua with a simple yet gripping response – It was not Scholarism who has divided the citizens of Hong Kong but the government and the CCP’s persistent refusal to dialogue and direct negotiations. Rerum Cognoscere Causas - ‘To Know the Causes of Things’ is the motto of LSE, and to my surprise, Joshua, with his heavy Cantonese accent, seemed to have better spelled out the essence of the motto than a LSE student. Would divergence in political views and raising voices for socio-economic demands have been non-existent if they had not been manifested in this movement? Not everyone prefers blunt confrontations and the tension it inevitably brought upon every aspect of our daily life. Many have found it difficult to start an unpleasant argument with our beloved ones on this sensitive issue when you are supposed to have a peaceful conversation during dinner time. All these fears are more than justifiable and I see no reason why you should insist on deepening the division with a two-edged sword. However, the point of divergence here is not about whether you prefer smooth peanut butter over crunchy, but on which path should your home embark in the near future. The Umbrella Movement is not the cause of the dissatisfaction and frustration plaguing the city, but a wakeup call for those who wished to bring about changes to the deep-seated, root cause of things – the lack of people’s representation in the political sphere. This shortcoming, combined with the government’s failure to recognise and respond to existing social demands has culminated to an extreme sense of powerlessness and the resistance movement was a consequence born out of it.
As an ending note, some suggested that the shift towards democracy was a long journey for a China which was not even long liberated from feudalism. In their view, what we need is to wait for a generational transfer of power to the younger generations of China, the future leaders of the country. I doubt whether such an erratic wait is worthwhile for us to bet all our chips on. Time may or may not change the minds of the Zhongnanhai successors but it could definitely blur our memories, as well as our children’s, on why we resisted in the September of 2014. As Joshua had made clear in his final remarks, we cannot rely solely on the support from the international community and we surely cannot rely on the gradual change in the CCP’s way of ruling envisaged by some political analysts. All we could do is to stop burying our heads in the pile of sand assembled deliberately under the name of prosperity or social harmony, but instead, be more informed on the political developments in Hong Kong and come to your own judgment. Rerum Cognoscere Causas.
Janice Leung (PO/PA Sub-Committee)
Joshua Wong was obviously the star of the show, but the one sentence that stuck with me was this:
“We can’t tell the Chinese what to do; they will punish us if we do!”
Professor Christopher Hughes could not have put it any better. The “we” in this statement could refer to any group of people – few could stand up to China’s current economic and political weight without eventually making at least some concessions in China’s favour. China’s meteoric rise to superpower status over the past decade has left most of the former European imperial powers in the dust. Its censorship keeps the domestic population under tight control; those who fight it must keep dodging the Great Firewall’s ever-growing blacklist of phrases with increasingly creative ways. Dissenters are spirited away like they never existed, even though everyone knows where they have gone. Of course, these are grossly theatrical overgeneralizations, but nonetheless the point stands. The one-party state may be ruthless and corrupt, but you have to admit it is very good at doing its job. But that’s not the focus of this article.
What really caught my attention was the second half of the statement – “they will punish us if we do!” This raises a question: why does China retaliate? Although it has the capacity to do so, it could choose not to – there are many other ways to reject a proposal or halt a movement. It could use dialogue, compromise, set agreements; the list goes on. So why does it choose to be aggressive? The answer is very complex, but I believe a part of it lies in the history, both personal and modal, of China’s leadership.
The current Chinese leadership experienced firsthand the tumultuous 1970s and 80s, a period of unprecedented social upheaval. As with any experience, it shapes individuals’ outlook and behavior. To the outsider, the heavy-handed methods employed by the government seem incongruous and anachronistic to the supposedly modern world China has become a citizen of; to them, these methods are all they have ever known.
The last time there were any serious calls for reform on the mainland, it ended with tanks storming Tiananmen Square – bloody as the event was, it proved that punishment was a viable method for silencing dissent. Fast forward a decade or so, Hong Kong’s Occupy movement, Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and Xinjiang and Tibet’s growing restlessness for autonomy all seem to be replays of the pro-reform movements of the 1980s. Drawing on past experience, the logical response to these challenges to the central government is punishment – not of the same kind as June 4th, but punishment nonetheless.
Looking beyond the people who make up the central government, one could even argue that the nature of China’s leadership has never changed – to this day, it is dynastic, with the President as the Emperor, and the people as his subjects. The people have no say in who governs and who does not, the middling ranks of the CCP cater to the whims of their superiors in hopes of rising to a higher level, the highest leadership defers to the wishes of the President; how does this look any different from China from circa two thousand years ago? Of course, this is a very speculative argument, but one that is worth thinking about.
If China’s aggression is caused by the traumatic experiences of China’s leadership, then it follows that a generational change in leadership may bring reform. The new generation will have grown up in a time of peace and prosperity, as well as with access to a wealth of information through the growth of the internet and social media. The next group of leaders will have been shaped by very different experiences to their predecessors, and so will very possibly have different approaches to governance. Perhaps all democracy needs in China is time – the democracy movements just have to be patient and keep resisting until then.
Helen Li (PO/SS Sub-Committee)
I have heard many things about Joshua Wong, and this talk was, for me, the first time seeing him in the flesh. I came to the talk with a genuine interest in what he himself had to say about his actions, the Umbrella Movement and the political climate in Hong Kong; I left feeling somewhat overwhelmed by how I felt after his rather emotive closing words. Despite this, after the emotions subsided, I began to really pick apart what were some of the still unanswered concerns I had about what he said. Although Joshua remains optimistic about rallying more of the civil society to join in on his pursuit for universal suffrage, and eventually self-determination for Hong Kong, whatever bargaining chip we could construct from this seems weak and small. Even if Hong Kong elites were to abandon the city by 2047, the Beijing government may merely see this as an opportunity to open the floodgates and effectively replace the city, already entrenched by gentrification, with Mainland Chinese – essentially, a “new Hong Kong”. The Guangzhou-Shenzen-Hong Kong Rail Express Link (due to be finished in 2018) after all, will make it much easier for this “migration” to occur.
There is also the question of the aftermath of self-determination in Hong Kong, and whether it will result in real liberation of the people, or societal crisis and collapse. Self-determination does not always lead to desirable outcomes, and it would be naïve to assume that success previous colonies experienced with self-determination is indicative of how it would transpire for Hong Kong. With regards to his aim to gain wider public support, I do think that for a large part of the older generation who remain stubbornly skeptical of his efforts, this is an opposition rooted in their disapproval of his “hot-blooded” behaviour rather than towards universal suffrage as a basic human right. Winning the support of the wider public requires experience; an acute understanding of what different sectors in a society want and a clear idea of how to balance these different needs. Despite these apparent concerns, I applaud Joshua’s bravery and admire his relentless perseverance towards what he believes to be right for Hong Kong.