The Umbrella Revolution

By Kristen Linsalata and Evelin Rodriguez

On October 17, an intense standoff erupted between protestors and Chinese authorities when demonstrators tried to reclaim a protest site in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. This recent standoff is just one of many demonstrations that have occurred in several major city intersections in Hong Kong since September. The non-violent protests are a result of the Chinese Parliament’s decision against letting Hong Kong voters nominate candidates for the 2017 election. This decision allows China’s National People’s Congress to essentially eliminate any candidates that are not loyal to Beijing, according to William Wan’s August 31 article in The Washington Post, “China refuses to give Hong Kong right choose leaders; protestors vow vengeance.” The protests in Hong Kong raise pressing questions—that is, are there possibilities of a new democracy bug in the east? And if so, can these protests help the cause of those seeking democracy in China?

The “Umbrella Revolution,” a term coined because of the protestors’ use of umbrellas to protect themselves against the police’s use of pepper spray, officially reached its peak when video footage of a police officer beating a pro-democracy protestor went viral on October 15. The video shows officers carrying Ken Tsang, a member of the Civic Party, a liberal democratic political party in Hong Kong, into a dark corner where they proceed to repeatedly kick and punch him. The public was outraged, and some protest groups such as The Hong Kong Federation of Students, called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung, and other police officers involved, according to the article.

The authorities claimed that the officers involved in the beating would be suspended, however, not even two full days later, another pepper-spray attack was reported. On October 17, when clashes again broke out between Hong Kong police and demonstrators, the police used pepper spray and their batons against the crowd when demonstrators tried to reclaim a protest site in Mong Kok cleared by police earlier that morning, according to a BBC News article, “Hong Kong protests, police use spray in new clashes,” on October 17.

Although the number of protests occupying the streets of Hong Kong appears to be decreasing, the nature of the clashes is escalating. The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, CY Leung, has already stated that there is no chance of China retracting its decision to vet candidates, which only raises questions, not answers them. Since the Chinese government refuses to allow democratic candidates, will the protests only grow more violent in nature? The recent events in Hong Kong have made college students appreciate the fundamental constitutional rights that they have in America. “I guess people don’t realize the freedoms that they have in America,” Per Forgaard, an International Business major, said. “Americans, and other autonomous countries, have the right to protest for a cause. Yet, in Hong Kong, you have to fear losing your life, or becoming seriously injured, just to have the right to have democratic candidates run for office.”

The Hong Kong protests are eerily similar to another bloody protest in 1989–the Massacre in Tiananmen Square. On June 14, 1989, several hundred civilians were shot dead by the Chinese army in an effort to crush democratic protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The 1989 rally that called for a democratic government lasted for several weeks, gathered 1.2 million people, thousands of whom went on a hunger strike, according to a June 3 CNN article, “Tiananmen Square Fast Facts.” However, the result was a grisly blood bath, with a death toll that has never been fully determined. In the weeks following the protests, anyone that was directly or indirectly involved in the demonstration was arrested.

“The fact that the Chinese government seemingly tries to eradicate Tiananmen Square from their history is extremely concerning,” said Eivind Austboe, a MBA graduate student said. “It’s crazy to think that some Chinese citizens don’t even know about the event because of how censored Chinese history is, and it is their own country’s history.”

The Tiananmen Square massacre did not cause the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to adopt liberal principles. China defies the laws of liberal politics in the twentieth-first century, as it creates a semblance of liberty and autonomy but never truly adopts it. For example, ordinary citizens in China can browse the Internet and read the news, but only through censored platforms. The CCP has managed to circumvent pesky liberals beliefs by tailoring them to their liking. For instance, while Chinese citizens do not have access to Facebook and Twitter, they have access to their equivalents-
-Renren Network and Weibo, which are social networking sites in China. In fact, Chinese citizens are allowed to protest certain things; the government has allowed displays of public opinion, as long as it is not a critique against them. Typically, Chinese protests are passionate but contained. However, the effects of globalization and capitalism are not easy to control; ideas are permeable and cultural interactions are potent.

Some citizens claim that the Chinese government has only improved the current condition of Hong Kong. It may be hard to believe, but Hong Kong was still a British colony being ruled from London, up until only 17 years ago. In fact, Hong Kong was introduced to its first taste of any semblance of democracy when the Chinese government took over, according to Martin Jacques’ September 30 article in The Guardian, “China is Hong Kong’s future –not its enemy.” It introduced the “one country, two systems,” approach, which distinguished capitalist Hong Kong from the rest of Socialist China. Some assert that Hong Kong’s resistance to Chinese government is unfounded, and based on idealistic ideologies because without China, Hong Kong would be unable to flourish, according to the article.

It is impossible to predict or calculate just how long China will remain authoritarian. Can democracy penetrate through the Great Wall? It might be possible. Will the recent onslaught of excessive force by the Chinese authorities galvanize support for the pro-democracy demonstrators? Another important question is, how would a democracy in China look? There are seemingly more questions than answers. It is going to take the restructuring of the status quo, and of politics in general, to decide if democracy will be truly beneficial to China.

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