by Martin Yip
On 1 October 2019, the People’s Republic of China celebrated its 70th anniversary. In Beijing, the largest ever military parade was staged. Fifteen thousand troops marched across Tiananmen Square with armaments that were all made in China. ‘Patriotism and pride swelled among the Chinese as they celebrated the country’s seven decades of achievement under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC),’ declared the Global Times, a party tabloid. The virtual world was as jubilant as the physical world. On the messaging app WeChat, numerous articles and videos circulated, recounting the achievements of the Republic, while all sorts of photo filters were widely adopted to add the national flag to users’ icons. Even in Oxford, the film ‘My People, My Country’ was shown in Odeon.
Hong Kong told a slightly different story on the 1st of October. It was a ‘day of mourning’, according to protesters. A planned march was banned by the police, but citizens took to the streets anyway. There were peaceful rallies, and then there was violence. Some protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs. The police used tear gas and fired several warning shots. One officer shot a protester with a live round at point-blank range, the first ever live round fired during the months of protests. The protester, an 18-year old schoolboy, was in critical condition. Even the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab voiced his concern, calling the use of live ammunition ‘disproportionate’.
Many protesters think that they have sacrificed much for the cause. Scores of protesters have been charged for rioting and now could face up to ten years in prison. Millions of Hong Kong Dollars (1 HKD is roughly 0.1 GBP) have gone into crowdfunding initiatives for purposes such as placing advertisements in newspapers worldwide. The city’s metro system, the MTR, is being boycotted for closing down in anticipation of protests and alleged cooperation with the police, as are ‘blue’ shops and restaurants (blue symbolising pro-Chinese ideologies), leading some students and workers to change their lifestyle dramatically. What used to be time for leisure, is now time for protesting, for browsing Telegram channels and social media to keep up with the news, and for pasting artwork supporting the protests on public pavements and walls. ‘Five Demands, Not One Less,’ goes the chant. Gone is the stable but ignorant way of life; comfort, safety, material possessions all have to be sacrificed – and are indeed sacrificed – for a greater goal.
Only that not everyone agrees with these sacrifices. The same issues that deeply divided society in the Umbrella Movement five years ago have resurfaced. For the first time in ten years, Hong Kong is entering a recession. Not everyone wants democracy and freedom at the price of security and prosperity, or their own economic interests. Not everyone even wants democracy and freedom. We are sacrificing our city for our idealism, they say. In using violence we are sacrificing rule of law and public order; in protesting the Hong Kong and central governments, we are sacrificing the already precarious ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement.
In June, when the protests were just beginning, I co-authored an article that said, ‘We are back, and we will not go down without a fight.’ The scale of the fight, and the creativity and endurance protesters have shown over its course, proved to be beyond my wildest imagination. I am not in a position to make sacrifices that my fellow Hongkongers are routinely making every day; but there is a place for everyone in the fight.
No sacrifice is too small. The fight goes on.