Emerging from beneath the Beijing umbrella

Opinoins_protesters-hong-kong-walking-web1Protests are necessary for democratic Hong Kong future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. September 30, 2014

There is certainly more to the Hong Kong protest situation than what we see and hear on television and the Internet. With a foreign eye though, I can only assume that those protesters are just striving for what we have here in Canada—surely that cannot be wrong, although the method of obtaining it’s not necessarily kosher.

When a chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member committee for a region of over seven-million people, that can hardly be defined as democracy; the same democracy that was promised in 1997 when Hong Kong was handed back to be ruled under the Chinese “one country, two system” structure; the same democracy that citizens of Hong Kong have still yet to experience; and the same democracy that mainland China is now keeping at arm’s length, making protocols ever harder for equality to be achieved. The word democracy is a lie. So began the unrest in Hong Kong that resulted in 80,000 people crowding the streets, using umbrellas to fend off law enforcers armed with tear gas.

“Crowded” is the apt word for life in that metropolitan city. My father spent much of his childhood and teenage years there, and I continue to have family residing in Hong Kong; what they always tell me is that the conditions are cramped. A living area the size of a Yaletown micro-suite, with far less lavishness, will commonly house a family of four, five, six, seven, and more. I should be grateful, they hint.

Although Hong Kong is a main hub for international commerce and is an economic powerhouse, the citizens are not wealthy. The majority are middle-class and they are getting by. In addition to this, 50 per cent of the population is living in government-supported or -subsidized housing. And the future influencers—the current students—are looking pessimistically at what can be and what probably will be: a government with a fist full of dollars and a region at its knees. Hong Kong is not what it once was. Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou have now taken Hong Kong’s dominance as China’s gateway from the west. It can be said that Hong Kong needs China more than China needs Hong Kong.

However, Hong Kong’s culture and the Hong Kong people have long been removed from the mainlander’s ideals and values. A simple point is that the two regions don’t even speak the same language. There is no doubt in my mind that the two places need one another, but with a strong desire to take steps further apart, I accept the fact that those of Hong Kong are identifying more with Western culture as opposed to the traditional Chinese way of handling politics.

People of Hong Kong want money and they want status within the global economy—not just China’s. We know what it would be if it stays. I’m interested to see what the people of Hong Kong can do if they depart further.

Fight for your right


The pros and cons of peaceful protest

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

What began as a peaceful protest near Rexton, New Brunswick on October 17 turned violent as armed RCMP clashed with those opposing shale gas exploration and fracking. Led by the Mi’kmaq First Nations people, the protesters created a blockade and asserted they were “willing to die” for their position. Molotov cocktails and firearms don’t necessarily demonstrate peace or a willingness to negotiate, so when the smoke cleared, guns were holstered, and the roads were emptied, 40 protesters were arrested and five RCMP vehicles were torched.

This was a fine example of a peaceful protest gone wrong, but has a peaceful protest ever gone right? Has dissatisfaction ever been effectively communicated through defiance? Do rebels ever sway public opinion? Personally, I am a supporter of protest: when injustice is clearly displayed, it’s our duty as citizens to stand up and stand together. The history books are full of great examples of effective peaceful protests. Of course the results weren’t immediate, but those who banded together sparked changes and got the rolling wheel of revolution heading in the right direction.

What some consider mischief, others see as heroic. Hell, when put in a high pressure situation, I hope I have the guts to march out in front of a moving tank like the students did in Tiananmen Square during the June Fourth Incident in 1989. I like to think that I have the courage to stand up for my fellow man when the situation calls for it. We all like to believe we can take down Goliath, and we like to cheer for the underdogs, but often we simply bark—what happens when we bite?

More often than not, we consider protest to be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Just take a glance at the accomplishments—oops, I mean the consequences—of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. When done right, a protest will trigger debates, dialogue, and meaningful conversations. When done wrong, it becomes a spectacle and a shame on the city, country, and even mankind.

There is a lesson we need to learn from all of this: lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s hunger strike, Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-Ins for Peace. The strikes, boycotts, and protests garner attention, but all lead to tragic results. They effectively call attention to a problem, thus paving way for a solution, but we must recognize that there might not be such thing as a peaceful protest: all protest hurts in one way or another.

As disruptive as it is, protesting is our human right—or it should be. North Americans are accustomed to their safe little abodes and often only see the devastation of violent protests in other countries. Those people in Egypt and Turkey aren’t uneducated ruffians causing trouble for the establishment. They’re just like us, trying to find comfort and trying to defend something they truly believe in. Those people are “willing to die” for their cause, and to me that is something humanity needs. Protest is an amiable choice and a potentially horrible one—but when push comes to shove, only the cowards are passive.