Young activists pay the price for their passion
Former student union leader Billy Fung Jing-en and fellow activist Colman Li Fung-kei are facing possible jail terms for their actions during a protest against HKU’s governing council. Like many young people they are waking up to the terrible consequences of their activism. And it’s their political elders who are partly to blame
Where young people lack experience, wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in The Old Regime and the French Revolution, they make up for with enthusiasm. In the past few years, we have witnessed plenty of “youthful enthusiasm” in Hong Kong. The Occupy protests are such an example. The Mong Kok riot is another, so is the advent of localist-inspired separatism.
In all those instances, I would argue they have not advanced Hong Kong’s political development. If anything, it’s the opposite. While politically inspired passions are intoxicating, many young people are waking up to the terrible consequences – it’s the morning after.
Among those are University of Hong Kong’s former student union leader Billy Fung Jing-en and fellow HKU activist Colman Li Fung-kei. Both are now facing possible jail terms for their actions during a student protest against the university’s governing council and its chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.
They are the latest of dozens of young protesters to face court-imposed punishment for their activism. You may call it persecution. But that narrative may be hard to sustain if you still believe our courts are independent.
Fung said he might be the first student to go to jail for defending university autonomy and academic freedom. Brave words; many of his supporters think the same way, too. However, it’s not clear that agitating for a public disturbance against the HKU council and its members amounted to a defence of the university’s core values and mission. At the very least, reasonable people may disagree with Fung and his comrades.
Less charitably, young activists like Fung and Li, and disqualified lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, simply crossed the line. In their passionate belief in the rightness of their cause, whatever they do is deemed right or justified, even if it breaches community standards of what counts as politically acceptable behaviour.
Things might have been better if there had been political elders who could provide them with guidance and advice – or at least coordination. Instead of offering leadership, those who ought to know better called them heroes and vanguards, gleefully cheered them on and let them run amok.
They sent young people to the barricades. When that didn’t work, they were happy to blame it all on the government and Beijing for their “oppression”. For sure, hardline officials are partly to blame. But the opposition is letting their foot soldiers pay the price.