立場新聞 Stand News

Ordinary Hong Kong people in a show of extraordinary humanity

2019/6/21 — 18:27

616 金鐘道

616 金鐘道

【by: Tan Ning-sang (陳寧生)】

A sea of people, clothed in black, process gradually down the street. There are no leaders, no scuffles, no police, no trash, no injuries, no politicians, no directives, no security, no cones, no weapons, no antagonism, no violence, no crime – none of the behavior typically associated with mass protest. I walk alongside two million others even as countless more stand with us globally, Hong Kongers everywhere protesting peacefully, solemnly singing ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,’ self-initiating calls for students to be released from detention, for police brutality to stop and be held accountable, for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.

I had bought a last-minute ticket from London to Hong Kong just to attend this protest, knowing that I needed to be with my people, with my city, in this critical time. Though I had helped with a little organizing in the UK, I knew few Hong Kongers in England, and felt horribly alone watching my city deteriorate while other students happily celebrated the end of exams. I flew to where my heart already was.

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Walking from Victoria Park with a friend, I met a kind elderly man, aged 78, who was walking alone. We walked together for a while. He told me he has dementia and that he swims three times a week. He then proceeded to tell me his story, of why he came to protest against his wife’s wishes, of his childhood growing up in Hong Kong in the 50s, of his adolescence during the 1967 riots, of his early adult years studying at Hong Kong University, of his outraged participation in rallies for Tiananmen. We approach an overpass filled with other protestors yelling down at us, “Hong Kong People, Add Oil!” He looked at me and said, “You young people are so full of passion, it is inspiring. It is a good thing that the future is with you.” He smiled, as the crowd gently pushing us along.

It is the second consecutive Sunday of mass protest, of Hong Kongers coming out in extraordinary numbers to rally against a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed for anyone in Hong Kong to be extradited to Mainland China. Last Sunday, over a million Hong Kongers took to the street to indicate their disapproval of the bill. Despite this record-breaking turnout, Carrie Lam announced late that evening that the government would continue to push the bill through the Legislative Council. In response, activists sought to occupy the main government areas that evening, only to be forcibly removed by police.

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In light of Lam’s refusal to cede the bill, organizers called for a general boycott on the following Wednesday, the day that the bill was scheduled to receive its second reading. Even big businesses like banks, accounting firms, and law firms allowed employees to participate in the strike. But on that day, violent confrontations erupted between police and protestors, with police employing tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags against the largely unarmed student protestors. It was the first time that the police openly fired on citizens, leaving 79 injured, with 2 in serious condition.

Foreign media and governments then issued a flurry of condemnations on the use of police violence against protestors and the deterioration of rule of law in Hong Kong. That afternoon, the Legislative Council announced that it would not hold a meeting for the extradition bill that day; it further announced on Thursday that meetings were cancelled for both Thursday and Friday. Yet, despite mounting tension, Lam insisted on passing the bill. Organizers then called for yet another protest to take place on Sunday. Even though Carrie Lam then hurriedly announced on Saturday afternoon that the bill would be suspended, organizers urged Hong Kongers to still come out on Sunday, to which they did in extraordinary numbers.

This is Hong Kong, international financial hub, where capitalism runs amuck, where it is often said ‘Money is King’. This is Hong Kong, where pragmatism reign supreme, where competition kills creativity, where people work unbearable hours in hope of buying a house, starting a family, visiting and supporting parents as much as possible – though given that we’re talking about the world’s most expensive property market, the dream often remains nothing more than a dream.

But in recent years, this is also Hong Kong who rain or shine comes out in droves on the streets, Hong Kong who stands up and speaks truth to power against Beijing’s wrath, Hong Kong who jealously guards its culture and way of life for the generation to come. This is Hong Kong who doesn’t need marshals to keep its protests in line, Hong Kong who reminds you to be careful of the dip in the road ahead, Hong Kong who quickly self-organizes to give way to ambulances, Hong Kong who picks up after its own trash.

As a child of Umbrella Movement, this is the Hong Kong that I know, the Hong Kong that I love, the Hong Kong that I am so incredibly proud to claim heritage of. This is Hong Kong where peace is inflamed with justice, order constructed by passion, love opposed to fear. It is to this Hong Kong that we so fervently cling, this Hong Kong that we so fervently defend.

What other place in the world can a protest be called for with only three days’ notice, with a two million person turnout (one in three citizens) with virtually no need for any oversight – either by organizers or state security? For those of us who proudly self-identify as Hong Konger, we are well-aware that Hong Kong might be a little cramped, a little too high-pressured, a little unimaginative, a little stifling. But we also know that Hong Kong is full of people who are courageous, generous, polite, patient, kind, persistent, hardworking – in a word, good. And it is because of our love for one another that we know this to be true, deep to the bone: that there is no place like home.

In the midst of my overwhelming sense of emotion and pride for standing with Hong Kong during the protest, I felt a buzz in my pocket and saw that Carrie Lam had just issued an apology, admitting that the inadequacy of the government’s work. I and those around me had been walking for over eight hours, yes – we were well aware of the government’s dysfunctionality and inadequacy. But we needed the government and international media to see more than that, to see the government’s utter lack of humanity.

Unlike other protests, at this protest, every person was asked to bring a white flower in honor of a man, surnamed Leung, who yesterday gave his life for the city. Leading up to his death, Mr. Leung donned a yellow raincoat, unfurling a banner that read, “No extradition to China, total withdrawal of the extradition bill, we are not rioters, release the students and injured, Carrie Lam step down, help Hong Kong,” and then fell to his death outside Pacific Place. As we approached Admiralty, all along the tramway, white flowers were laid – of roses, carnations, lilies, also many origami and tissue-paper flowers – their fragrance penetrating our weary bodies, rising up to heaven. Directly outside the location of Mr. Leung’s suicide, a large group held up their phones as torches, observing a moment of silence together, honoring his death.

As a Christian, I have attended many vigils before; but there was something markedly different about this one. There was no one administering the vigil, it was organic, open to anyone who wished to remember Mr. Leung. By the time I arrived, there were no speeches about him or his life – I don’t think many of us knew much about him. Yet, I imagine that many of us who passed by Mr. Leung’s memorial felt deeply connected to him: for we know that he represents each of us, ordinary Hong Kongers whose way of life is violently and existentially threatened, whose very life is being taken away. Even if such words are largely metaphoric for most of us, Mr. Leung reminded us that the effect of those words can be very concrete, too real.

Perhaps colored by Mr. Leung’s death, while marching today, I felt more than anything a sorrow, a grief, an anguish for all of us who have loved and fought for Hong Kong year to year, generation to generation, only to gain so little, mostly ceding a lot. While marching today, I was particularly struck by how many people were coming out for how little we were actually fighting for. By some way of understanding, we had already ‘won’: the extradition bill was already suspended. Of course, we further demanded the bill be completely withdrawn, for police brutality to stop, for students to be released, for Carrie Lam to step down. It felt clear to me both by the numbers and the atmosphere that there were more fundamental reasons for people to march.

Why do we march?

In the extremely hectic, fast-paced rhythm of the city’s fairly materialist daily life, it can be easy to think of Hong Kongers as shallow, superficial, rude. It is probably true that we spend too much time shopping, take too many pictures of food, say far, far too many swearwords, and don’t open the door for others enough. But the passionate love that we Hong Kongers have for our city lie in our individual behavior or consumer patterns; for what is also true about we Hong Kongers is that we are willing to endure an extraordinary amount of hardship in order to preserve our shallow, superficial, rude way of life.

As witnessed today, last week, and over the decades of Hong Kong’s peaceful pro-democracy freedom struggle, the quality of Hong Kongers resides in our strength and ability to selflessly come and work together, of being ready and willing to be community together, to stand in solidarity with one another, without any desire to seek individual fame or fortune. We are willing to sit together, to work together, to cry together, to laugh together, to suffer together, to fall and stand back up together – even with strangers, in order to fight for and defend our city. Looking at the various leaderless protests that so many of us often attend, it becomes clear that what makes Hong Kong special is not a ‘you’ or ‘me’ individually, it’s us together, a community.

And it’s us as a community that withstands the otherwise destructive voice of pragmatism that constantly reminds us of our high probability of failure. We as Hong Kongers are not stupid or naively hopeful in our ambitions. We recognize that the road ahead is hopelessly narrow, with many large, sharp rocks stacked against us, with little to no space for our two-million person protest ‘dragon’ to maneuver. But as Hong Kongers, we also know it is we as a collective that make us strong, it is only through we as a collective that we at all have a chance of surviving. And so no matter how bad the previous fall, we will always succeed in finding the strength to come out and fight again, to defend the city we love, because we believe in and trust each other. For no matter where we are in the world, as long as there are ordinary Hong Kongers coming together, you will see us do beautiful and extraordinary things.

For though today we win, and tonight we drink, tomorrow we rise again.

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