A Look at the Pro-Democracy Protests in Hong Kong [updated]

The Chinese government is afraid that the protests for democratization will lead to similar movements on the Mainland.  Putting their censorship apparatus into high gear and making this protest the most censored events ever, the Chinese government blocked Instagram and began deleting posts on Weibo and WeChat containing words and phrases such as “Occupy Central” and “yellow ribbon”, a symbol of the movement.  Cheekily, a Chinese blogger posted what he called the “most astonishing photos on Instagram today” — screen captures of images that failed to load, and his “photos” were reposted tens of thousands of times.   Free Weibo offers unfiltered searches on Weibo and identified which phrases are blocked in China.  Hoping to prevent Mainlanders from witnessing the protests, the government suspended tour groups from going to Hong Kong.  The protesters tried to win over tourists who were in Hong Kong. Information, of course gets out and Chinese media spun the protests into Hong Kongers celebrating China’s National Day.

National Day

香港万人集庆国庆 / 支持依法落实普选 – Hong Kongers celebrate National Day / Support the implementation of universal suffrage in accordance with the law

People in China always seem to know much more than what the government tells them, and their reactions to Occupy are actually cover a wide range.  Many are watching with interest.  Some wondered how the government should deal with the protestors, and others believe that the United States is behind the protests.  Many were skeptical of the economic reasoning behind opposing the protests, but a popular sentiment was that Hong Kong has benefited a lot from China but is just hard to please.    Some pointed out that Hong Kong is more democratic now under Chinese rule than it was under British rule, a fact that invites comparison to the US electoral system.  

In neighboring Shenzhen, some, including young adults of similar age to the demonstrators, in Hong Kong are dismissive.  An unemployed laborer said, “What do people want? They want to live in a bigger house and have a higher quality of life … What does it matter to me who the emperor is?” and a 24-year old university graduate had an equally pragmatic view: “All I have to say is that those kids are too naïve. It’s so easy to get them all riled up…They don’t need to raise a family, but I’m worried about how these businesses are going to do in the future.”  Yet, a college student admires the initative: “When we are in high school, other than sleeping you’re pretty much always in class or doing homework…These kids are out organizing major protests, but when we’re 15, all we can do is watch TV or stare at our computers.”

Even in Hong Kong, people are split.  Friendships are being tried, and generational divide suggests that the amount of a person’s support for the movement depends a pragmatic consideration of how much Hong Kong is dependent on Beijing.

Though student groups and the Chinese government are publicly obstinate over their positions, some like lawmaker Regina Ip believe (though properly leaning more towards Beijing) that a democratic system for Hong Kong can exist under Chinese rule.  “Is Hong Kong Chinese or is Hong Kong Western?…It is in our interest to be both.”  For her, democracy is not simply an end to achieve.  “While I fully support and understand the normative justifications for a democratic system, having seen Hong Kong’s democratic transformation, the big question in my mind is in what way more democracy added value.”

On October 1, while Director of Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (中央人民政府驻香港特別行政区联络办公室 / 中央人民政府駐香港特別行政區聯絡辦公室) Zhang Xiaoming (张晓明 / 張曉明) dismissed the protests saying “the sun rises as usual”, the government mouthpiece, The People’s Daily condemned the “illegal” movement, reaffirmed its plan for Hong Kong, and warned of “unimaginable consequences” if it continues (original in Chinese; English translation).  Beijing’s strategy has been to let the movement fizzle on its own and then move in for the kill, the so-called “anaconda strategy“.  The government hopes that anxiety over business, employment, and the economy will turn the public against the demonstrators making it easy for them to put an end to the protests without direct confrontation.   A video promoted by Xinhua featuring someone known as “Worried Uncle” pleads with protestors to return to their worried parents has gone viral.  Your voices have been heard…Has it ever occurred to you that your parents and children are waiting for you to go home? They are worried about you.”

Another video shows a Hong Konger yelling at a protester to go home so he can go feed his kids.