Joshua Wong tells world: We’ll keep sacrificing ourselves for Hong Kong democracy
Poster boy for the city’s Occupy movement talks to the Post about his time in jail, and his views on the democracy movement in Hong Kong
When he went to prison, Joshua Wong Chi-fung knew he could be in for a rough time. But he never imagined he would end up living with the same thugs who punched and kicked pro-democracy protesters in the Occupy movement he co-led three years ago.
The young men in question had an awkward encounter in jail after the student activist was handed a six-month sentence in August for his role in the run-up to the Occupy sit-ins. Surprisingly, after the initial alarm, there was no animosity and they got along well.
“They actually do not have a political stance as they are paid to attack protesters,” said Wong, who was granted bail last week alongside fellow activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung, as he recalled his past two months behind bars in an interview with the Post on Wednesday.
Instead, Wong’s experience of social movements drew him closer to the inmates, who were all concerned about their treatment in prison, he said, adding he found it to be a place that did not care about their rights and dignity.
Unbeaten and unbowed, the 21-year-old university student felt his brief stay in prison was almost like doing field research.
“The education system of Hong Kong has often been slammed for marginalising a lot of people. But the fact is none of those who made such comments in the public sphere has ever been weeded out from the system,” Wong said.
“[I] never truly knew what the marginalised ones were thinking before as they are not in my social circle. They are, actually, in jail,” he said, referring to some 30 young inmates he lived with who were charged with drug trafficking.
At the age of 15, Wong successfully forced the government to shelve the so-called “brainwashing” national education curriculum for Hong Kong students after rallying 120,000 citizens to take to the streets. He became figuratively and literally the poster boy of the city’s democracy drive as the unprecedented civil disobedience movement unfolded in 2014 and he was featured on the cover of Time magazine.
While acknowledging that the international media’s attention has helped the city’s democracy movement, Wong admitted he has been quite uncomfortable with the “David versus Goliath” narrative the Western world has used to portray him.
“I think Hong Kong people’s struggle for democracy is similar to David versus Goliath. But this struggle is not just about me,” he said.
“I found it ironic that while I am serving the shortest sentence among all the political prisoners in Hong Kong, I am the one getting the most international media attention.”
Dozens of Hongkongers have been jailed for pursuing their political ideals in recent years, including the 13 protesters activists who stormed the Legislative Council in 2014 in protest of a controversial development plan.
“I have the responsibility to tell everybody that I am not the only political prisoner in Hong Kong and that there will be more coming,” Wong said.
The same goes for the scores of pro-democracy supporters who hope to seek reassurance or direction from the 21-year-old after the 2014 movement failed to make a decisive breakthrough.
“A lot of supporters left messages online hoping I could tell them the way out for Hong Kong … But what Hongkongers need to ask themselves is, why do you always want an answer from Joshua Wong?” he said.
The baby-faced activist said there was no need for every supporter “to be Joshua Wong and be mentally prepared for jail terms”. All he hoped was that they could overcome their inner fears and find a role in which they could contribute to the city’s democratic cause.
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“By serving our jail time, we want to send a message that we are willing to sacrifice for Hong Kong’s democracy. But everyone needs to figure out an answer while we are behind bars,” he said.
“Being locked up behind bars was not miserable. It would be miserable if my sentence did nothing to Hong Kong.”
Wong and Law might be sent back to jail on November 7 should the Court of Final Appeal refuse to grant leave for their appeals. Wong is also waiting for his sentence on another charge of contempt of court for obstructing a court-ordered clearance of the Mong Kok Occupy site.
During the 40-minute interview at Tamar Park in Admiralty, Wong was recognised by two groups of foreign tourists, who clamoured to take a picture with the protagonist featured in the recent documentary Teenager vs. Superpower.
The movie, which has been streaming on Netflix, is now seeking an Oscar nomination.
“I hope those who previously only thought of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee regarding Hong Kong would now realise that the city is also a place fighting for democracy,” he quipped, referring to the two famous martial arts stars from the city.
“I believe the documentary would allow the foreigners who still think every Hongkonger knows kung fu to understand the city in a different way.”
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung