A snapshot of opinions at Occupy Hong Kong

8 October 2014
Sid Zoichi

Sid Zoichi is currently on the ground in Hong Kong reporting for Red Flag. Follow @RedFlag_news on Twitter for updates.


When Hong Kong police fired tear gas to disperse Occupy Central, in the Admiralty district of the city on 28 September, many protesters reasoned that they should put their eggs in different baskets.

In the following days, up to 9 different locations were occupied. People believed that the satellite sites could entangle parts of the police force and the government wouldn’t have the resources to carry out a crackdown at Central. Besides, if Central were lost, protesters could go to the other sites and continue the struggle on the streets.

However, not all the sites had the number and resources to maintain long-lasting occupations. Because one of the principles of the movement is non-violence, the cops just removed roadblocks quietly at night at some sites when the number of protestors dropped.

There are three sites still holding their ground: Central (Admiralty), Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. Unlike Mong Kok, where fights between pro-occupy and anti-occupy forces were quite intense, the Causeway Bay site is less confrontational.

When I was visiting this site on Monday afternoon, there were about 80 protesters. The occupied area is the smallest of the three, encompassing a section of street no longer than 200 meters. Tents were set up behind the roadblocks at both ends of the street. Towels and clothes were hung out on ropes tied to nearby lamp poles, which made for a colourful scene.

People were sitting in small circles of friends or alone. A young couple brought their little daughter here to experience some democratic education and have a picnic. Passers-by were taking photos or reading the posters, but the nearby shops were hardly disrupted by the protest. Only a handful of cops presented and they kept their distance.

I approached two young people, who felt more comfortable chatting in Mandarin than in English. One was a student. As most other youth, she was shocked by the aggressive police tactics on 28 September. Cops had ripped the goggles from the face and pepper sprayed her friend, who is temporarily blinded now.

She told me that she can only visit the sites during the day because her parents are strongly opposed to the protest because her aunt is a public servant and the family is worried about her employment. On the other hand, her boyfriend’s father, who has a “red record” (meaning he has worked for or cooperated with the Chinese government), is surprisingly supportive of what they are doing.

Despite this, she expressed her dislike towards the mainlanders who come to Hong Kong to buy baby formula and luxury goods. She argued that proposed new amendments to the Race Discrimination Law would give everyone living in Hong Kong the same rights as the permanent residents and encourage more mainlanders to come. I noticed that a free right wing newspaper called Local Press has been handed out at Occupy Central, in which the same argument is promoted.

When I mentioned the Pan-democracy Camp, she showed an expression of strong disgust: “They are what we called ‘Zuo Jiao’ [roughly translates as ‘Left Clowns’]; can’t trust them.” I ask who should be trusted. “Leung Kwok-hung, he went down on his knees in front of students at Central.” Leung is a member of the Pan-democracy Camp. So there is not total clarity.

I came back to Causeway Bay in the early afternoon of Tuesday. There was a heated debate occurring between a man and two young women. The man was in his 30’s, an immigrant from mainland and working in the financial sector. “I’m a right winger so I don’t support what they’re doing on the streets”, he told me. “My friends who work in Shanghai’s financial institutions can’t stop laughing now because investments have been shifted away from Hong Kong to Shanghai! People only care about democracy when living in a materially affluent society. Hong Kong has to develop first. Look the economic achievement in mainland!”

I remind him that people in mainland have few democratic rights. They are repressed by the government all the time. It was like talking to a wall. “I think the repression is necessary, because we need a strong government – can’t let the Communist Party collapse.”

The two young women were making paper cranes, which symbolise hope in many Asian cultures. One of them, Stella, speaks excellent mandarin. “I am first year at uni and … had been doing support work during the student strike and the sit-in protest outside the Legislative Council. When I saw what happened in the ‘tear gas night’, I felt that I had to join the front line and have been at Occupy Causeway Bay site for a week. I am doing various duties here, including giving public speeches, taking the role of picketer and making yellow ribbons.”

I asked how long she and her friends are going to occupy. She spoke with pride and steadfastness: “Causeway Bay may not last very long because the number of protesters is too small to stop a police crackdown. Then Mong Kok would be the next to retreat. But if we can’t hold here, then I will go to Central (Admiralty) – definitely not going home! We won’t give up until the government accepts our demands. Maybe they won’t give everything we want but civil nomination for the chief executive election is the bottom line. No withdrawal from the streets unless this is promised.”

I mentioned that negotiation between the student federation and government are announced to begin on Friday. “I hope this will be fruitful. However, the end of this occupy movement is not going to be the end of our struggle for democracy.” I ask about the left and the right. She said: “I am left wing but I don’t agree with everything the left has argued for in this movement … In terms of the arguments around mainland, I don’t think Hong Kong can lead a national movement. The mainland people may awaken themselves in the future, but Hong Kong can’t wait for another 40 years.”

On Tuesday evening at the Admiralty site I meet Boyi, who is in her 20s and works at a financial company. Like others, she was moved to join the movement after seeing the images of the tear gassing. “I have a job so can only come after work. After staying at the site overnight I will go home to take a shower and go to work again … going home to play video games is much more comfortable, but those students choose to stay here, because they are genuinely fighting for our future.”

Boyi’s father is a retired police officer and all his friends are in the police. “I don’t understand why all the police offices are opposing the Occupy, I asked them and they can hardly give convincing explanations. My sister supports the Occupy as well and wrangles with my parents all the time. Her husband is from mainland. Even though growing up in a patriotic family in mainland, he comes here regularly to support.”

I mentioned that the movement has been labelled leaderless, and she responded: “I don’t want take orders from someone on the top. However, I think we need a platform to collectively make decisions and [need] some representatives to negotiate with the government. They should only be our spokespersons, but shouldn’t make their own decisions on behalf of us. I don’t support the student leaders such as Joshua Wong [the founder of the student activist group Scholarism] because they are more concerned about their personal interests.”

There is a significant amount of anti-Chinese mainlander sentiment being stoked by the nationalist right. Boyi, like others I have met, clearly had been influenced. “People in Hong Kong don’t automatically hate the mainlanders, but we worry about the Beijing government will use the immigrants to take over”, she said.

Some of the tensions reflect a general chauvinism, yet concerns for democracy are weaved into the explanation: “I don’t want my future children to be patriotic, impolite and apathetic about the freedom of speech … If the chief executives are selected by Beijing, they will take away the already decreased democratic rights in Hong Kong and turn the society into totalitarianism.”

Then there are economic problems. People’s concerns on these fronts are being deflected onto mainlanders in general. Although being a full time worker in the financial sector, Boyi can only afford to rent a tiny apartment with enough space for one bed, one desk, one wardrobe and a small bathroom. There is no way she can buy a house in the foreseeable future.

Most of the Hong Kong youth are in similar situations. It is understandable for them to feel frustrated when they see mainland opulence coming to Hong Kong to buy gold jewellery and Hermès bags as though they are just grocery shopping. But it’s not like Hong Kong is without its own rich capitalists and landlords. The left in the movement has tried to explain the class divisions both within the mainland and within Hong Kong. However, it is not an easy task.

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