Division, that’s the real legacy of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement
Our differences are built into the very categories with which we think about news events, and the very language we use to talk to, and more often shout at, each other
Benny Tai Yiu-ting said “civic awakening” had been the greatest legacy of the Occupy protests three years ago.
A co-founder of the Occupy Central movement, the legal scholar made his remark during a gathering of hundreds to mark the start of the event that brought Hong Kong to a standstill for 79 days.
Tai is probably right. But beyond the rhetoric, the more interesting and relevant question is what the people of Hong Kong have “awakened” to.
There are now broadly two metanarratives, the yellow and the blue versions, through which virtually every political and even social development is seen.
You call it awakening, I call it polarisation.
So, depending on whether you are yellow or blue, the recent jailing of activists is either political persecution or a well-deserved reckoning. Those jailed are either prisoners of conscience or troublemakers.
The unauthorised raising of banners calling for Hong Kong independence and even personal attacks on university campuses were either an exercise in free speech or its abuse.
Tell me what you think about the so-called co-location immigration arrangement, regarding a joint facility with the mainland, at the future high-speed rail terminus in West Kowloon, and I can tell whether you are yellow or blue.
The Occupy movement itself is either a noble endeavour or one of the worst things that ever happened to the city.
For a supporter of the yellow ribbon, a pro-Beijing person is either an incorrigible opportunist or someone who is brainwashed. For a backer of the blue ribbon, a pan-democrat is either a hopeless idealist or someone on the payroll of foreign forces.
When I started working as a reporter in the early 1990s, political differences between people were more a matter of shades and degrees. Now, it’s so clear-cut because we have become sharply divided.
Our differences are built into the very categories with which we think about news events, and the very language we use to talk to, and more often shout at, each other.
That, to me, has been the real legacy of the Occupy movement. But to be fair, given the deep social and political problems in post-1997 Hong Kong, something like the Occupy movement would have happened even if Tai and his friends had never agitated for it.
Is there a way out? Probably not any time soon. Given that democratic reform is dead in the water, social betterment and improvement in people’s living conditions may be the only way to mitigate the current crisis, but not to resolve it.