Godwin Tan looks at the media’s portrayal of the Umbrella Revolution
Martin Jacques, one of the world’s most renowned authors on China, recently opined that ‘China is Hong Kong’s future – not its enemy’. In an article for The Guardian, Jacques expounded on the miraculous growth of mainland China and how ‘Hong Kong got rich because of China’. Jacques lamented over Hong Kong’s past, emphasising that the Special Administrative Region had been historically deprived of democracy, and stated that China has ‘overwhelmingly honoured its commitment to the principle of one country, two systems’. Why then do Hong Kong citizens remain unhappy? Jacques believes that ‘protesters cry democracy but most are driven by dislocation and resentment at mainlanders’ success’.
One of the biggest and most consistent flaws in recent commentaries on Occupy Central is an eagerness to portray the protesters as either democracy martyrs or social terrorists.
Unsurprisingly, Jacques’ article and a few of his sweeping assumptions seem to negate the diversity of the protesters. Some may go further to say that it challenges the shared passion and optimism of the Hong Kong citizens. Of course, it is bold of Jacques to do that, especially since he sometimes asserts without empirical evidence. Is it possible to largely ignore the political sensibilities of Hong Kong protesters, which have so heavily fuelled their motivational speeches and songs? If the majority of the participants were truly concerned with the loss of Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness vis-à-vis the mainland, how would participating in the movement help their cause? On the contrary, the demonstration has damaged business’ confidence and created problems for the working class. Even in the long run, there is no guarantee that a transition toward democracy would lead to a superior economy. Jacques’ broad strokes do little justice to the actual situation.
This is where Jacques, like a significant portion of the international media, fails to convince. I make no apologies to say this: One of the biggest and most consistent flaws in recent commentaries on Occupy Central is an eagerness to portray the protesters as either democracy martyrs or social terrorists. This merely makes the issue appear easier to understand and manage.
The protesters do not conform to a single mindset, and the Chinese government’s response must appreciate such nuances
(Un)fortunately, human beings, especially when mobilised in massive numbers, are not confined to opposite ends of a two-dimensional political spectrum. Their diversity is better described as operating within a three-dimensional space: Even if the majority of protesters collectively decide to strive for ‘democracy’, individuals may end up taking drastically diverse paths and positions. There will be those who think that they are at a specific point of the space when, in reality, they are nowhere close. Within the group, some are tenacious and firm. Others are vulnerable and dynamic. Some have thought hard before supporting the decision. Others simply follow the crowd. The protesters do not conform to a single mindset, and as such, the Chinese government’s response (if there is one) must appreciate such nuances.
This is not a simple argument against the naysayers. It is a fact that even Occupy Central protesters must confront. There are many students in the movement who, I suspect, remain unsure about the cause of their struggle and the entire notion of liberal democracy. There are those who may have been driven by peer pressure or swayed by the biased media (pro-Beijing and pro-Occupy Central) and thus are simply jumping on the bandwagon. Do they really know enough? Will they have the resolution to fight long enough – keeping in mind that every hour they occupy, the economy loses a little? Or is it more passion than knowledge? More style than substance? Already, there are signs of cracks within Hong Kong’s social fabric, with prevalent infighting and resistance from a portion of the working class. Democracy is a means to an end, an ideal that comes with its own jarring flaws. In this regard, what end do these young and passionate hopefuls pursue?
Featured image: Pasu Au Yeung