As always, I’m very far behind in current events on the blog… You’ll probably have heard that the protests were cleared out in Admiralty on December 11, and in Causeway Bay on December 15. It’s a strange feeling – I was not as emotionally involved with the demonstrations as many other people, but it was an absolutely incredible expression of what people can really do working together.
The very first time I ever was in the Admiralty area was when the student strike was happening with open lectures at Tamar Park, and I hardly noticed the traffic on the highway just below. With the rapid expansion of the demonstrations and the takeover of the streets, suddenly seeing tents and supply stations on Harcourt Road became my new normal, and my understanding of that urban landscape housing Hong Kong’s administration was thus established. It’s weird, then, to see cars where I had grown accustomed to seeing people.
The “Three Sons” Announce Their Surrender to Police
On December 2, the founders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace finally determined to do what they had planned for weeks – years, even. They sat down at a press conference to announce that they would be surrendering to the police. This decision adhered to one of their founding principles of civil disobedience, and what they defined as its continued respect for the rule of law. Their English-language website explains,
The person acting in civil disobedience is prepared to accept due penalty. The act is therefore not a challenge to the rule of law. Rather, it is an attempt to get the public to reflect on whether the existing law and order meets the requirement of justice.
For weeks police and pro-Beijing individuals have criticized what they describe as the movement’s undermining of the “rule of law.” In early November, a group of lawyers protested against occupiers for not complying with the High Court’s injunctions. The silent protest was initiated by Stanley Chan Wing-leung, who was paraphrased saying that lawyers needed to “safeguard the rule of law.” During a meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing during the APEC summit, CY Leung told him that Occupy Central had “seriously shaken Hong Kong’s rule of law and disrupted social order.”
But the “rule of law” as a legal term doesn’t quite mean what the above individuals have used it to mean. This editorial by HKU professor of law Michael C. Davis clarifies the difference between “breaking the law” and “undermining the rule of law”:
[…] not all law-breaking effectively undermines the rule of law. The case for civil disobedience not doing so may be especially high when the civil disobedience itself is non-violent and reasonably confined, and is a protest against the government undermining democracy or the rule of law.
A more direct threat to the rule of law typically comes from government. As the term “rule of law” suggests, the ruler may more readily put the rule of law in jeopardy. The commitment of the rule of law is that nobody is above the law and everyone is subject to the law applied in the ordinary manner. Further definitional refinement may include notions of justice, adherence to human rights and so on.
Indeed, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has a section on its website that says the same, emphasizing that no one – including the Chief Executive and other branches of the government – is above the law. So at this point, when the protests had reached a new level of violence with no response from the government, the Occupy Central founders felt it was time to turn themselves in to the police. An SCMP editor argued that rather than destroy Hong Kong’s rule of law, the protests – and the OC founders’ decision – had actually strengthened it.
Some read this as the co-founders simply distancing themselves from a movement that was spiralling wildly out of their nonviolent promises. Apple Daily reported Benny Tai saying that after the escalation, Occupy Central couldn’t find common ground with the students – that led credence to the above line of thought. Others saw it as the leaders abandoning the students they had promised to support. To me, the leaders of Occupy Central never had control of the movement once the student strike moved to Civic Square – the students took inspiration from them and from their determination to uphold nonviolence, but the students were the ones who had the moral, emotional, and organizational power.
The OC leaders explained their reasons at the press conference. They urged the students to withdraw from the occupation sites for their own safety, and emphasized that
Benny Tai underscored this point, reiterating the idea that to withdraw now rather than continue struggling would allow activists to regain their strength to plan for the pro-democracy movement’s next steps.
They read out a letter to the Hong Kong people, further explaining their actions and describing their future steps (Chinese/English), in essence promising to bring the pro-democracy fight to a grassroots level through four steps:
- Having debates in courts and other professional organizations
- Working in the community
- Increasing programs for “democratic education” (“民主教育”)
- Writing a social charter
However, very few people in the movement seemed to want to join in the “Three Sons” (三子) of the Occupy Central core in surrendering themselves. Rather than putting themselves up for surrender first, most seemed to be determined to stay until the police came to arrest them – to stay until the end. This group included the students and even many older folks like Jimmy Lai. Joshua Wong explained that Scholarism respected the Occupy leaders’ decision, recognizing their contributions to starting the movement, but that they would not surrender themselves.
In response to the Occupy leaders’ announcement, the police issued a statement emphasizing their commitment “to protecting public safety and public order” and welcoming the leaders’ surrender with a promise to be fair and impartial in receiving them. Interestingly, they also suggested that radical elements were infiltrating the protests and causing them to be violent.
Troublemakers, radical individuals and organisations often infiltrate into the illegal assembly, making the situation very chaotic. The unlawful assembly in the vicinity of Admiralty is still of high risk and it is necessary to re-open the roads so as to reduce risks associated with the unlawful assembly.
That last sentence was phrased to suggest that clearing the streets was not just to protect the “public,” but also to protect the protesters. The statement implies that the protest’s form opened it to “risks,” allowing “radicals” to “infiltrate” the movement and thus endanger those peaceful, not-“radical” protesters. Good protesters, bad protesters.
The police did note that some “radicals” were advocating actions like spray-painting officers’ helmets – which, at the Action Stage, was indeed brought up.
The next day, the “Three Sons” and a number of other core Occupy Central supporters – including Fermi Wong, the founder of Unison, the first NGO in Hong Kong to advocate for ethnic minority rights – arrived at the Sheung Wan police station to turn themselves in. It was a very tight, crowded space on the sidewalks around the station. Directly across the station doors was a group of anti-Occupy folks with large posters of the leaders in prison suits. Also across from the station, but off to the side, were a group of students who’d arrived to support their teacher as he surrendered. A small sidewalk from where these students stood led farther back away from the station, and this was where a group of men and women had gathered to sing and pray in support.
Because of how cramped it was, I couldn’t really see the speeches the Three Sons gave, but I could tell when they walked into the police station because of the massive media crowd that followed them across the street. I left before they came back out, but you can see that video here.
At 3pm, Occupy Central closed its operations, and its marshals – the source of so much controversy – were no longer affiliated with the group, but rather just individual protesters. I’m not sure if all of Occupy’s functions have been closed, such as whether the lawyers they helped gather are still offering legal aid to protesters… But suffice to say that symbolically, Occupy Central was over, leaving just the students in the Umbrella Movement and the public in the Shopping Revolution. Benny Tai himself said the surrender marked the end of the period of civil disobedience that Occupy Central had promoted.
The Hunger Strike and Communicating with the Chief Executive
Wong and two other members of Scholarism were adamant that they would continue their hunger strike until the government restarted the electoral reform process. Wong commented on his Twitter account that he understood people’s doubts toward the action, but that he hoped to bring new attention to the movement. And yet there seemed to be something strange happening among the students, as Scholarism had to deny that there was any division between them and the older students in HKFS. Apparently Alex Chow hadn’t known about the plan for the hunger strike until it was publicly announced, and none of the HKFS students joined the strike. Wong explained it as a “division of labour.”
CY Leung, meanwhile, continued to condemn the protests and those “violent radicals” the police described. He apparently also told Wong to take care of himself in the hunger strike, which strikes me as rather belittling and paternal. In response, Wong told him to face the central political issue at hand already. Scholarism also wrote him an open letter (click “see more” for English), asking him to restart the dialogue on political reform. Their English translation is a little awkward, but it’s very passionate:
It is the duty for a leader of a city to cater the public needs and find the way out for political crisis. What Mr Leung doing is just completely the opposite: trying to escape from people’s resentment, being indifferent towards the Occupation’s reasonable demands, criticising any struggle as useless and meaningless. This arrogant attitude is certainly bullying people with power. Now we are willing to sacrifice for conversation by hunger strike. Please shoulder your responsibility and be sincere to students and all Hong Kong people by starting conversation again.
CY’s office was kind enough to issue a statement in response, saying that they were indeed doing their best to ensure universal suffrage for the Chief Executive election in 2017. But they refused to restart the process of reform, emphasizing that
[…] any discussion relating to constitutional reform must be guided by the regulations set out in the Basic Law and the Interpretation and Decisions of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). We must follow the law in order to achieve genuine universal suffrage. Expressing views on constitutional reform through illegal and confrontational means is bound to be futile. We hope the students who are undergoing hunger strike could take good care of their health.
Many people came out with love and support for the students on the hunger strike. Though others joined the hunger strike, almost immediately after they started, there were signs that it could not last long because of their health – one of the young women reported having vomited in the early morning of December 3.
There were those who doubted the sincerity of the strike. A blue ribbon group on Facebook posted a photo suggesting that the students weren’t really on a hunger strike if they were eating rice porridge.
(There’s something strange with these groups, as I notice that at least two of them will have the same post, but that post will not have been a “shared” post – for instance, here’s 藍絲帶運動 The Blue Ribbon Movement calling for a rally to support Hong Kong police, and the same exact post and text by 正義聯盟 Justice Alliance; and a similar situation with replicated posts against 9wu – which means that it’s likely the same person(s) are copy/pasting the content of each post individually. In other words, rather than multiple parties sharing one another’s content, it’s one person/group creating multiple pages and “groups” to either reach a broader audience, or to show wider support. On the whole, this bit of fishiness doesn’t seem to be a big deal to me – it reminds me of the numbers game that the Occupy and anti-Occupy groups play with petitions and popular support. But it says something about tactics and does cast doubt on the anti-Occupy group claims.)
For some reason, though, while CY Leung adamantly refused to come speak to the students all throughout the student strike in September – which then led to the students not wanting him at the government-student talks – the blue ribbon groups had easy access to him. The Blue Ribbon folks posted a photo of Leticia Lee face to face with the Chief Executive, giving him a letter requesting the following:
- A “bailout fund” (“緊急救助基金”) to help businesses and individuals recover economically from the protests
- Severe punishments of the occupation instigators, including the “Three Sons” and student leaders
- A meeting with the public to discuss the handling of the protests’ aftermath and the future of Hong Kong’s development
If the Blue Ribbon folks were feeling good about that letter, then Yellow Ribbon people were mocking the companies that had filed for the court injunctions against the protests. Phyllis Kwong Ka-yin, a lawyer representing one of the taxi groups, was reported to have broken an ethics code in a previous case.
The Action Stage
An alternative to the Big Stage now developed at Admiralty, which people began to call the Action Stage. Here many people began to discuss future steps the movement could take. Although the Pan-Democratic camp had issued a statement asking the students not to promote any more potentially violent escalations of the movement and to stop trying to surround the government buildings.
But a number of protesters were in favor of doing just that. TranslateHK and some others transcribed parts of the dialogue. Some argued that rather than stick to total nonviolence, protesters should use self-defense; others argued for making the police feel their own personal economic victimhood – which would also “[make] it less boring for you.” Others claimed that without international media at the protest sites during the movement, the PLA would have been sent in to clear the protests by force (a claim I personally strongly doubt).
People also argued for increasing the confrontation with the police rather than retreating. They referenced the 2005 protests against the World Trade Organization, which was the last time that tear gas was used in Hong Kong.
11.14pm. Protester: why protester overseas throw stuff? To make police scared. If they are scared, they wouldn’t be so willing to fight protesters
Protester: Watch the videos of Korean protesters in HK during 2005 WTO meeting.
11.16pm. Protester: throw stuff first in a distance, then you charge the police. Don’t go all the way up front and take the beating immediately
11.16pm. Protester: What Korean farmers did during WTO HK are good learning materials. E.g thousands running to police they will be scared & retreat.
Protester: Hong Kong has been protesting for a long time but we still remain at baby stage. We need to learn proper protest art.
Other people on Twitter got into the discussion as well. One person posted, “The reason HK Police beat students is cause they are not scared. Koreans showed how us in 05 how it’s done! http://youtu.be/pr8jEXv8acU” – and another responded, “IMO (in my opinion) can’t compare peaceful locals on democracy & Violent foreigners on world trade. WTO was undisturbed, btw (by the way).” This response is interesting to me for creating a difference between locals as peaceful and ideologically (and therefore morally) driven, and foreigners as violent and motivated by base economics. It makes me wonder where Koreans living in Hong Kong stand on the current movement…
Another response to the above discussion is pretty appropriate, I think, especially in light of Ferguson. “FYI (for your information), in the US, where I’ve lived, “scaring” the police is a good enough excuse for them to shoot you legitimately.”
And yet this is so confusing – what will ultimately achieve social change? Nonviolence, or violence? Will riots in Ferguson really change anything in the United States, considering that Los Angeles in 1992 apparently has failed to do so? Will three students on a peaceful hunger strike bring CY to his knees? Alex Chow said it wouldn’t do anything. (As we know now, it didn’t. As for Ferguson, “it’s too soon to tell.”)
The following night, a number of speakers from the Action Stage got onto the Big Stage during the open talk period. Again, they argued for self-defense:
Protester: Gandhi had 2 rules for non violence, belief in God and in humanity. But do we still believe in the humanity of police?!
Protester: Using violence is better than covering our weakness and cowardice under the banner of “peaceful & non violence”
Spying from the Mainland
On another note, there’s been reports of Beijing trying to infiltrate university student unions. A group of City University students who were running for the Student Union quit the race, revealing that they were approached by a pro-Bejing group called Y. Elites Association Ltd., asking for their cooperation in exchange for some kind of monetary reward. At first it sounded pretty ridiculous to me, but considering how much influence the Hong Kong Federation of Students has had – in early November it was found to be the most popular political group in the city – it rather makes sense.
Additionally, the police announced that they would be investigating some 200 protesters for participation in the demonstrations. On top of this, a number of politicians have reported being followed or having their phones tapped; some have been experiencing this for years, while others are just now being investigated.
The British are coming! Not.
The evening of December 2 also saw the emergency debate in the British Parliament on China’s refusal to admit MPs into Hong Kong. Of course, China said that anything the British did to protest their decision would be “useless.” Stunningly, as SCMP reported, China also took the stance against foreign intervention even further:
Beijing has dismissed the notion that Britain has any moral responsibility for Hong Kong after 1997, shortly after a top Chinese diplomat claimed the Joint Declaration that settled the city’s future was already “void”. […]
Asked whether Britain still had any responsibility for the city as a signatory to the agreement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that was not the case.
“Britain has no sovereignty over Hong Kong that has returned to China, no authority and no right to oversight. There is no such thing as a moral responsibility,” she said yesterday. “The real aim of a small minority of British people trying to use so-called moral responsibility to obscure the facts is to interfere in China’s internal affairs. [This] cannot succeed, and is something China certainly cannot accept.”
Overnight there were conflicts in Mong Kok as the shopping continued. I’m not following the developments of 9wu quite as closely as others, but this image argues that the movement should focus on gold and jewelry stores, which are largely responsible for pushing out stores catering to local residents (a result of the influx of mainland tourists – suggesting 9wu is, in a way, much more targeted than the general occupation).
- In such a tense period, shirtless graffiti guy was always a Twitter favorite:
- The Internet has also provided an easy-to-understand explanation of the police-protester situation in 9wu using PacMan
- Here’s a great short documentary following three women – one from mainland China, one from Vietnam, and one from Hong Kong (my friend Ansah) – and how they bring their unique backgrounds to the movement.
- A flashback to the Million Man March – on December 4, SocREC posted this video of someone in a Guy Fawkes mask swinging a flag on the Big Stage. Not clear what the context of this is – I haven’t looked into it yet.
- Here’s a really fascinating article on people living in mainland China who identify with the founding principles of the Republic of China – the “Three Principles of the People” laid out by Sun Yat-sen, which are nationalism, democracy, and the livelihood of the people – and therefore celebrate Taiwanese national celebrations. They’re known as 國粉, meaning fans of the Republic of China. They recently toured Taiwan after the election.
- An actor from HKTV’s new show, “The Election,” was spotted at the protests – real life blending with fiction!
- This guy was a frequent presence at Mong Kok with his yellow umbrella and “I want true universal suffrage” poster, but I suppose he’s actually a blue ribbon guy…?
- Here’s an essay by Evan Fowler, who’s a writer and activist who very much promotes the idea of a Hong Kong identity that’s completely unique from the mainland, criticizing those who criticize the Umbrella Movement for relying on rumors as a basis of their arguments against the movement.
- In response to some protesters’ suggestions that a boycott would be more impactful than a hunger strike or the street occupation, people fished this old infographic back up – it’s a pretty astonishing revelation of how tightly tycoons control the city’s basic economies.