China is Nobody's Master
Translated by Vivian L., Written by 陳雅明 (Ming Chan)
not even over the fact that you don't despair.
Just when everything seems over with, new forces come marching up,
and precisely that means that you are alive.”
— Franz Kafka, Diaries of Franz Kafka
On the last day of August 2014, we were all jolted awake from a daze of stress and anxiety. Life was as usual, but a shadow loomed large in the sky. On a closer look, people had turned into hideously large bugs. Distraught with despair, they hid in the shadows waiting for life to trickle away. Such is the despair I had felt on that day, not unlike the imagery in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
This is an era of hope and of despair. So much is about to happen, a historic revolution is upon us—yet nothing is going to happen, or so it seems. We had hoped that one day, we would wake up to a different Hong Kong where we could enjoy real freedom; we had hoped that one day, we would gather in the Civic Square [Translator's note: The area in front of the Central Government Offices was dubbed “civic square” by student activists after the national education protest in 2012. The government calls it the Forecourt of East Wing.] to celebrate the triumph of democracy; we had hoped that we Hongkongers could decide our own fate. Yet the world does not go without a fair share of absurdity—in a world dictated by an oppressive regime, no less. Any effort to resist oppression would be rendered minute and inconsequential. The clear-headed knows what needs to be done but having their hands tightly tied, they swallow their pride. The indifferent continues life in blissful ignorance, albeit only deceptively, existing rather than living. In a world such as this, how may Hongkongers imagine a future for themselves?
It would seem the chronicles of Hong Kong is nearing its end. Will Hong Kong's narrative, which started as a small village in 1842, end in 2047 when China's promise of “one country, two systems” ceases? From a small fishing village to an international metropolis, Hong Kong has been proven an extraordinary example of a modern society. Will our generation see Hong Kong stoops to an ordinary city of the People's Republic? Will the Pearl of the Orient turn to dust in our hands? After WWII, the surge of immigrants who took refuge in Hong Kong's safety and stability had given the city an abundant supply of new blood. Born and raised in Hong Kong, they were the first generation of Hong Kong natives who planted their roots here and called the city their only home—a home that they strived to change for the better. Since the 1970s, the younger generation of Hongkongers had ditched the refugee mentality of their parents' generation. They began thinking about Hong Kong's future: they participated in social movement and demanded political reforms under colonial rule while Hong Kong as a civil society began to take shape. From 1980 onwards, democracy became a common cause for Hongkongers both young and old.
However, as talks of Hong Kong's future ensued between Britain and China, 1980s was also a time when many in the pro-democracy camp misled Hong Kong into the path of “democratic return of sovereignty” where the fate of Hong Kong was believed to be in lockstep with that of China—no democracy for Hong Kong without a democratic China. Blinded by the unification of Greater China ideology, they mistrusted Beijing and hailed the “one country, two systems” policy as the utopian ideal for a self-ruling Hong Kong, only to have 30 years wasted on a fruitless journey. When Beijing blew the introduction of direct elections in the 1988 Legislative Council election, leaders of the democratic movement should have known democratisation did not sit well with the Chinese government. When the tragedy struck at Tiananmen Square in 1989, they, of all people, should have realised such a brutal regime that had the blood of innocent students' on its hands was not to be trusted. In dire circumstances, one may find it plausible to trust a woman of the street. Yet in absolutely no circumstances should one put his trust in the Chinese communists. After all this time, some who used to promote the democratic return ideology now accused Beijing of ditching democratisation promise. It is but a futile effort. A look at the Chinese communist party history would tell anyone that the jockey for power among party leaders almost always comes in the expense of ordinary people. Those who were naive enough to advocate a democratic return were but obliging pawns in China's connivance.
If the democratic return advocates have a change of heart now, they are either incredibly stupid or incredibly good at self-deception. In fact, it is not 'stupid' that can describe their bewildering action. They are simply contented with limited democratisation within the current systems where they now benefit. Their passion for a democratic Hong Kong was quenched by the paltry concession they have gained over the years of fighting for democracy they no longer believe in. Now that China has irrevocably ruled out a true democracy, Hongkongers must wipe away our despair with utmost clarity: democratic return is no longer an option; we must declare its utter failure and reject the notion altogether. The majority of the young proponents of democratic return idea back then have become veterans of the pan-democratic camp now. Although we have little hope of these old-timers having the ambitions they once had, we wish they could do as Confucius had taught, “In his old age, ... he should abstain from acquisitiveness”. Precious time has been wasted on the democratic return bull-crap. If politicians cave in to “acquisitiveness” and allow the phoney universal suffrage proposal to be passed for whatever interests in exchange, history will remember them as the culprits who ruined Hong Kong's democratic process. When the election plan tailored to Beijing's taste get vetoed, Hongkongers would be happy to see them pack up all their democratic return nonsense and make way for newcomers. Their times have passed. So long and good riddance!
Right now, we need to fend off all passive pessimism and blind optimism. We need to assess the current situation and review our history. Nobel laureate Albert Camus said in his Nobel prize in Literature 1957 Banquet Speech, “Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.”
We need not follow the footsteps of our previous generation on our road to a democratic Hong Kong. Rather, it is our tasks to seek a new way and shoulder new responsibilities. No one knows whether the history of Hong Kong will end in the year 2047, but the duty to prevent our beloved city from destruction lies in our generation. Democracy is more than the pursuit of universal values, or an extra line of protection. The quest for democracy matters to the lives and future of generations of Hongkongers to come.
In 1982, China announced it will take back the sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. At the time, Hongkongers overwhelmingly opposed to the handover. But then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping cooked up an alternative reality where the people of Hong Kong desired unification with China. China also objected Britain's idea of Hong Kong as a “three-legged stool” and the proposal to include the people of Hong Kong in deciding its future, demeaning Hongkongers at every turn. 1984, the year of the signing of the unequal treaty Sino-British Joint Declaration, is arguably the most disgracing year in the history of Hong Kong. 2014, 30 years after the joint declaration, Beijing is attempting to demean Hongkongers one more time by forcing a phony universal suffrage proposal upon us. For 30 years, Hongkongers have suffered enough absurdity and humiliation from Beijing. From this day on, Hongkongers shall stand to defend themselves. Even we may not get back the democracy and freedom we so well deserve, we must rise and fend for our dignity. We must reject this Beijing scheme to control our future. Any legislator who gives the green light to Beijing's proposal is an enemy of Hong Kong. They will be condemned for years to come.
Some in the pro-establishment camp argued that Beijing's decision is final and irreversible, and for the sake of the whole society, we should accept the proposal. These people have been far too comfortable being flunkies of Beijing for too long. Beijing is a god to them. Beijing's decision is the truth above all else.
The same goes for the advocates of democratic return and the occupy Central leaders. All of their assertions have been made on the premise that Beijing's authority is not to be challenged. No wonder democratic movement has long been plagued with persistent irresolution and aimless manoeuvring, which would only result in, at last, the whole campaign going to ruin.
Compared to Beijing's denial of a free election, we are more disappointed with the occupy Central movement headed by Benny Tai and Co. We are not disappointed with Beijing's ruling because we never held expectation. But with the occupiers, we are fraught with disappointment because we have had high hopes for the occupy movement.
Only days after China decided to curb free elections in Hong Kong's next leadership election, Benny Tai has backed down from his enthusiasm in the civil disobedience movement. Conceding failure before even trying to fight, Tai declared in an interview that the occupy movement would be unable to alter political reality.
The demise of the occupy movement may have dashed our hopes and exacerbate the grim outlook ahead of us, but it accentuated that any future rebellion adopting the occupiers' kind of “peacefulness” will be in vain. It also showed us how the democratic return proponents, Occupy Central trio all fall to their knees before Beijing — just as the pro-Beijing flunkies do — like a slave worships his master. It is ludicrous how one can claim to be pro-democracy on one hand and practises slavery on the other. It is like having a person who has no personal integrity nor the ability to determine what's best for himself and others clamouring for democracy. It's just wrong. China seems overbearing and formidable, not because it is a nation of stature, but because many have “fallen to their knees”.
Now, the democratic movement in Hong Kong lacks focus as the occupy campaign withers away and successors have yet to gather momentum. Right now, Hong Kong needs a new direction. The democratic return ideology ought to make way for the “Hong Kong democratic independence” movement. It is a concoction of Hongkongers' longing for democracy and the demand for independence. During their fight for democracy through the years, the democratic return advocates rarely had a vision for an independent Hong Kong. They had pushed for decolonisation but never independence. Instead, they had relied on a totalitarian regime that is China to realise its promise to give Hong Kong democracy. This is downright absurdity. It is an absurdity called “one country, two systems”. The “Hong Kong democratic independence” movement declares that China is no master of Hong Kong. Hong Kong deserves the right to determine its own fate. In the face of absurdity, we choose not flight nor surrender. Camus believed that continuing to resist absurdity for as long as one shall live is the only way to freedom.
There was once a story that goes like this:
A primary one student asks his grandfather, “The teacher handed us each a red scarf to wear today. She said the red scarves were made of blood. She told us to cherish it. But why does it only cost 50 cents to buy one in the store?” His grandfather answers, “Your teacher said so because the Party had said so. You say such things to survive. But no matter, in a month, you and your parents will move to Hong Kong and then you will be free.”
1949 marked the point when Hong Kong and China went separate ways. During the Cold War, it was for freedom that countless Germans from East Germany risked their lives to climb over the Berlin Wall into West Berlin. It has been for freedom that Chinese from north of the border have crossed Shenzhen River into Hong Kong. Here, we refuse lies and speak the truth. Here, we can live with dignity. Now, our city has come to a pivotal moment. We cannot let our home go to pot. If we fail now, we fail the future—the future that belongs to the children of our time.
At the end of Kafka's Metamorphosis, Gregor, the protagonist who has transformed into a large bug, dies. Despite his condition and the great despair it brings him, Gregor has struggled to live as he finds solace in his family. But eventually, his family grows so disgusted of him that they abandon him. His sister ends up resenting her brother and calls him a monster. Gregor has died of abandonment. Hong Kong may be more like Gregor than any one of us.
Assistant Editor-in-chief, Undergrad, HKUSU