Over the past month, thousands of protesters started occupying the major districts of Hong Kong. The collective protests, commonly known as the “Occupy Central” movement or the “Umbrella Revolution,” intend to pressure China into granting Hong Kong an electoral system which satisfies international suffrage standards in 2017. In other words, it’s an outcry against the tyranny of Beijing. Students huddled together; volunteers brought in supplies; fingers were seen tapping away on smart phones - who doesn’t love it when a bunch of hot-blooded youngsters weave anti-communism chants into musical tunes? On the most fundamental level, being part of a battlecry is intrinsically invigorating. When blue-shirt antagonists started invading the holy ground with teargasses and pepper sprays, the city rose up together in synchronized motion.
Upon seeing videos of screaming students and passionate rallies, we naturally hopped on the bandwagon. Like any other Hong Kong native, we made the yellow ribbon our profile pictures. Automatically, our Facebook timelines blended in with the sea of yellow. Sure, we were drowning in the mainstream, but it felt good. We were fighting for suffrage rights, standing up for democracy, and most importantly, we were saving our city from the flames of communist China. We were virtually marching along with the crowd.
The yellow ribbon, which has branded itself as the symbol of democratic pursuits, is essentially an icon for all things heroic. On top of becoming the generation’s sword and shield, it has also become a fixture for its creative subconsciousness - I’m sure you’ve seen pretty cool graphics of yellow umbrellas or selfies of girls in yellow articles of clothing. Haven’t you heard? Yellow is the new black.
Here in Hong Kong, we’re neither strictly Chinese nor blindly westernized. In truth, we are more than the sum of its parts. Because the city was part of the British territory, the city was home to progressive, forward-thinking communities while China was still very much under the iron rule of Mao. After being part of the British empire for 156 years, we were handed back to our motherland in 1997. Reunification with China has allowed Hong Kong to enjoy vast luxuries including an independent judiciary system, common law, and the freedom of speech. The “One Country, Two System” constitutional principle, formulated by Deng Xiaoping, was established to allow for a more adaptable transitional phase. The ultimate goal? A smooth reunification with China in the long run.
Back in the days, Hong Kong was mainly a fishing village - unpopulated and undeveloped. Then came the 1950s, which marked the sprout of Hong Kong’s economic prosperity. The city’s industry, which was founded on the textile sector, quickly underwent rapid industrial development and became a production powerhouse for clothing, electronics, and plastic goods. The rest was history, and today, Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s primary financial hub is undeniable.
Our economy as a whole emphasizes on small and medium-sized enterprising developments instead of consolidation, which is when smaller companies merge into a larger one. Throughout the process, Hong Kong’s success also benefited from its pillars of economic development, including low taxes, lax employment laws, low government debt, and free trade - just to name a few. However, before we bask in the glory of our city’s tale of success, let’s not get carried away.
During the 1960s, China imported food and water to Hong Kong under very low rates. As a consequence, the living costs have managed to remain hugely affordable during the tumultuous time of industrialization. Hong Kong thrived under such privileges and in 1978, the Open Door Policy was introduced. The protocol essentially appointed Hong Kong as a mediator between China and the western hemisphere. As a result, Hong Kong prospered as a catalyst for commercial and financial services. During the two decades prior to the 1997 reunification, statistics showed that China’s trading patterns grew at an average rate of 28% per annum as well.
Sadly, as the saying goes: what goes up, must come down. No economy can enjoy rapid growth forever. It is an unfortunate but inescapable fact. There will always come a time when a city or country’s economy gradually reaches a state of saturation. Hong Kong is no exception. Should Hong Kong’s economic growth begin to decline, we beg that you interpret it under the lenses of macroeconomics. At the core of it all, economic saturation is a natural progression that happens to all markets.
Another concern that seems to be aggravating the youngsters is perhaps the impression of Hong Kong being “wrongly toyed around.” Ever since China rediscovered its new-found status in the global hierarchy, Hong Kong has been plagued with a subtle sense of distrust. Is China rising to the top without us? In actuality, the expansion of Hong Kong’s economy was a direct result of China’s then highly restrictive policies. But this has already become history. Today, China has greatly lowered its boundaries on top of easing its restrictions. Therefore, it’s only natural to see businesses flow directly to the motherland. In the face of adversities, Hong Kong must stand together to create jobs and careers - ones that will challenge and appreciate the younger generation at the same time.
Between the both of us, we have an accumulation of 12 years abroad (and counting). But before you label us as white-washed or culturally detached, you should know that our experiences have only further cemented our cultural identities. The truth is, it’s easy to boast our Chinese identity when the yellow-starred flag hovers above the Olympic podium. It’s easy to flaunt our roots when it’s convenient but when we find ourselves among Chinese tourists who seem slightly more rowdy, we’re all guns and swords. Instead of growing hand-in-hand with our Chinese counterparts, we tend to indulge in sentiments of discrimination. Being abroad has also allowed us to view democracy as more than just a textbook concept.
Democracy is not free lunch. It does not mean that the government is unconditionally responsible for its people’s happiness. Democracy guarantees citizens basic human rights, legal equalities, and channels for creative expression. These rights are considered crucial because they allow individuals to build good lives for themselves. Hong Kong, as far as we’re concerned, has always provided us with these equalities. Sometimes, we tend to take things for granted and assume that the grass is always greener on the other side.
I think the bigger question we’d like to ask is - what are we trying to achieve for Hong Kong through these protests? Is this universal suffrage movement in actuality a claim for independence? Is this an attempt to throw our chief executive out of the picture because that brings us closer to the ideal Hong Kong? The biggest irony beneath all is perhaps this - those who are demanding for democracy are also the ones with the most rigid stances. Over the past month, it almost seems as though the fight for democracy has evolved into a faceoff between yellow and blue ribbons. Individuals who are not keen on occupying the streets are being viewed as politically apathetic; previous protesters who are backing away from this movement are being seen as traitors. Similarly, joining in with the yellow rebel yell has become an automatic ticket of acceptance, offering protesters a bubbling source of empowerment. This civil divide is making us wonder if the movement is even centered around improvements for Hong Kong anymore.
These attempts for the “betterment” of Hong Kong have also caused detrimental effects on local businesses. Retailers have been suffering from an average of 15% to 50% decline rate in sales. For some smaller companies, their revenues have even dropped by 80%. While bigger establishments are able to take the hit, smaller enterprises will not be able to weather the storm. They simply do not have the liquidity to make up for such losses. Students are also putting their education at risk which, as we have learnt, is the most irresponsible thing young people can do.
At the end of the day, no matter how many umbrellas have been sacrificed, there lies an irrefutable fact: Hong Kong has always been and will continue to be a part of China. Metaphorically, being British was only a passing, or a “fling.” Our relationship with Britain only constituted for a mere 156 years in our history. Whether you like it or not - blood is thicker than water. And on a more fundamental level, the pursuit of democracy has never been as simple as a battle cry.
This, is why we love our city but have unapologetically left the ribbon.