• Wed
  • Nov 19, 2014
  • Updated: 11:35am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Fear of losing the Hong Kong way of life is driving the street protests

Stephen Vines says lack of democracy alone doesn't explain people's anger

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 1:42am

What really propelled the anger that lay behind this week's massive July 1 demonstration and is manifested in so many other ways?

There is intense frustration, and also revulsion, over the hypocrisy of Hong Kong's ruling elite. But this is dwarfed by a bitter feeling of having been cheated and threatened by the removal of the fundamental underpinnings that make this place special.

When the concept of "one country, two systems" was under discussion in the early 1980s, many critics argued that a one-party state would never allow Hong Kong to have any real degree of autonomy. However, there is an optimistic spirit in this city and a majority chose to believe that somehow the "two systems" part of the equation would indeed flourish.

When the State Council in Beijing recently went out of its way to put in writing a firm warning that Hong Kong's autonomy was entirely subject to the dictates of the leaders in Zhongnanhai, the apologists still sought to put a positive spin on this.

However, when the warning was coupled with a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary, most people clearly understood that if Hong Kong's rule of law was to be undermined, it would deal a crushing blow to lingering hopes for preserving a much valued way of life.

Losing what Hong Kong already has tends to worry people a great deal more than failing to get what they want in future.

This explains why it was not just the determination to achieve democracy that managed to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people to march through the streets and to participate in numerous other anti-government rallies. It needed something more to provoke this sense of anger.

Now despair over the future is compounded by the almost shameless hypocrisy of Hong Kong's elite. People are not stupid. They note, for example, that while government leaders are pushing for a programme of national education in local schools, they are sending their own children overseas to be educated. Apparently, only common people need patriotism classes.

Then there are the tycoons who line up to make declarations of patriotism while increasingly funnelling their funds into overseas destinations and, adding insult to injury, warning that if people don't shut up, they will send even more money overseas.

And it doesn't stop there. The ranks of the angry are swelled by the brazen way in which the government treats ordinary people while cosseting the already privileged; thus, for example, massive rubbish dumps are planned for construction adjacent to the homes of ordinary folk while the residences of the elite are never disturbed.

Hong Kong's fine people have had enough; more and more of them have decided to join the protest movements even though they are told that their voices don't count because they lack "realism".

The middle ground between the government's supporters and their opponents is being rapidly eroded as even so-called "moderates" in the democratic camp realise that the people's anger makes tepid compromise an unrealistic option.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's real rulers seem determined to have a take-no-hostages fight to punish those who refuse to obey. As Bertolt Brecht famously said with bitter sarcasm, "The people have lost the confidence of the government, the government has decided to dissolve the people and to appoint another one."

As sarcasm struggles to gain acceptance in Hong Kong, I hope the government will not take this seriously. Then again, maybe sarcasm is official policy, as we are told that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is doing a fine job.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

Share

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
7

This article is now closed to comments

suewilliams321
Exaggeration distortion and fear-mongering underpin Vines every argument. Is he still naive enough to truly believe that elites don't rule everywhere,even more so in the West, though a lot more subtly hidden. The USA is effectively an oligarchy according to a recent Princeton Study with 80% of legislation found to favour the elites. As for the UK, there is growing backlash against the unholy trinity of mainstream parties/corporate-owned media/vested elites that impoverish/misinform the masses; and yes rubbish dumps, fracking sites are never proposed/located near the rich and powerful. For someone so cosmopolitan and informed, can this be genuine ignorance or something more Machiavellian?
dunndavid
During the American Revolution rich successful men led a rebellion against one of the best governments in the world at the time, because they feared thing might soon get worse. These men such as Ben Franklin, John Hancock and George Washington showed great character putting the countries interests over their own. After the revolution they continued their life much as before, had they failed they would have faced execution. They saw themselves as subjects to the ultimate judgement of a higher being. In China by contrast, faced with the destructive, murderous policies of Mao between 1949-1977, China's elites essentially offered no resistance, preferring to put their interest over those of the country. They did not see themselves as responsible to anything other than expediency. This is the fundamental difference between the U.S. and China.
Dao-Phooy
Good commentary and so many valid points.
nmp_inc
After the petty and trumped up arrests of the July 1st protest it seems the SAR government has decided to start dissolving Hongkongers. One party rule (which is what HK has) and democratic centralism lacks the capacity to grasp or deal with sarcasm.
mercedes2233
Is the writer an expert political analyst, or is he just speculating like the rest of us? HK lost its previous 'way of life' (whatever this means. Britain never gave HK a representative government either, and Anson Chan wasn't worried about that then.) in 1997. People who won't accept it can leave, those who stay will have to accept reality. An overwhelming majority of people (7.1 m) expressed their satisfaction with the workings of the Govt. It is therefore not much of a rich/poor thing.
mikecheung99@gmail.com
Wumao love to talk about other countries as a distraction from the topic at hand. pathetic
mercedes2233
Hands up, Hongkongers who have been 'dissolved'.
Has HK ever had anything other than 'one party rule'?
Yes, important to be able to deal with sarcasm, more than making money.

Login

SCMP.com Account

or