Landing in HK!

It’s finally happening! One year ago today I was a nervous Fulbright applicant, and today the one thing I wanted most (short of a cat of my own) is beginning.

I’m both nervous and excited – I’m arriving in Hong Kong at just the right time to start my research. The fancy way of explaining my research, which is being printed in the U.S. Consulate General’s Fulbright booklet, is that I will

“conduct research on modern Hong Kong history at the University of Hong Kong […]. Her work will examine the extent to which ethnic and social diversity, both past and current, shapes the ideologies and actions of political activism in the pro-democracy and domestic workers campaigns in order to explore how these tensions have created or destabilized notions of Hong Kong identity.”

HK My Home

A bus stop advertisement reading “Hong Kong, My Home” in multiple languages including Thai, Hindi, Arabic, Korean, and more

In other words, I’m interested in observing organizations that advocate for foreign domestic workers’ rights, and organizations involved in the Occupy Central movement and other aspects of the pan-democratic camp. What I hope to find are the overlaps between the two groups, whether current or in the past, to see what the discussion about democracy actually means beyond lofty ideals of universal suffrage. Who counts as the voting body – “the people”, or “Hong Kong people” – in this desired democracy, and why?

On August 25, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing began a week-long meeting to discuss Hong Kong’s political reform. Today, August 28, a draft of the framework for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017 was sent from the chairmen’s council of the NPC to the Standing Committee, and it does not look good for the pan-democrats. The draft states that

  1. Candidates for chief executive must be endorsed by half of the nominated committee members,
  2. The maximum number of candidates is two or three, and
  3. The Committee will consist of 1,200 members.

None of these – especially (1) and (2) make pan-democrats happy, and so within hours of the document’s release, Occupy organizers were meeting to discuss how they would respond after the final vote on political reform occurs this coming Sunday. If they remain unsatisfied, which seems very likely, then Occupy Central may very well happen as soon as next month – or next Sunday even – and students will begin boycotting classes, starting a mass civil disobedience movement (that is, assuming a large proportion of Hong Kong’s population joins, considering that both the pro-democracy/pro-Beijing sides are obsessed with who has more numerical support).

A street-side banner advertising Occupy Central's unofficial civil referendum on constitutional reform

A street-side banner advertising Occupy Central’s unofficial civil referendum on constitutional reform, in which almost 800,000 people participated

So this is all very exciting because it’s happening now. This could not have been better timed for me, especially considering that this time last year, people were saying Occupy Central might happen soon, and I wrote my Fulbright essays thinking I would, at best, arrive in Hong Kong after it had all happened. It still might not happen after all, but it’s far more likely now than it was last year.

But I’m also very nervous because it feels so momentous, historically and personally, and I feel very inexperienced to be working on these subjects at this time. Thankfully, Fulbright is all about the learning experience and the cultural exchange. Without any pressure on me to produce articles or papers, I can just be present to learn, think, and grow (though producing an article would be amazing). I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.


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