Debunking the Mainstream: Contextualizing Hong Kong

My hometown of Hong Kong has spent
the last 10 days in the international limelight for all the wrong reasons. For
a city normally marveled for its breathtaking skyline, economic dominance and fusion of the East and West, it breaks my heart to now see Hong Kong be
subjected to so much of the world’s scorn and disgust.

For those who aren’t up to date,
Hong Kong has descended into social turmoil over the issue of universal
suffrage. On Aug. 31, the Chinese government reiterated that while
everybody in Hong Kong will be able to vote for its next Chief Executive (the
city’s political leader) in 2017, only candidates that have government approval could
be up for nomination.

Displeasure boiled over Sept. 22 when 13,000 secondary school and university students began their
one-week-long class boycott. Civil disobedience in the name of democracy ensued as
increasing numbers began surrounding the government headquarters and occupying
several of the city’s main roads. The police retaliated by firing tear gas,
which many from local and abroad angrily denounced as a serious overreaction.

The number of protesters increased
as a response. More roads were blocked, and more physical confrontations ensued,
some even among citizens themselves. In front of the watchful eye of the entire
world, the modern metropolis of Hong Kong had fallen apart into barbaric chaos.

Much of the West has taken a pro-democratic stance on the
issue. Such a position should come as no surprise, for much of Western
civilization is grounded upon granting the individual voting power. The United States,
for example, nobly stresses that universal suffrage is worth the cost of civil
wars, social unrest and amendments to its Constitution.

The majority of the Western media embody the foreign support
for Hong Kong’s democracy. Portraying China as tyrannical, they criticize it
for encroaching on Hong Kong’s rightful political freedom. They discuss,
justifiably so, that a person’s voice deserves to be influential rather than
muffled under a blanket of Chinese loyalism. They point out, justifiably so,
that China, under the British-Chinese agreement of 1997, should not have full
control of Hong Kong until 2047.

Yet much of the media has tried to attain publicity at the
expense of accuracy. They show footage of the police attacking unarmed
protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, yet never mention that many
protesters actually tried to climb over the walls of the government
headquarters. The media shows protesters occupying a four-lane-wide road for as
far as the eye can see, yet mention little of the sizable conservative side
that stands in opposition to the protests.

This conservative stance actually encompasses a sizable
portion of the local population as well as international figures such as the
Singaporean Foreign Minister.

Supporters of the Chinese Government argue that it is
unrealistic to attain complete universal suffrage now. Specifically, with China
still engaged with the likes of Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Taiwan over their
political freedom, it would never spontaneously reverse its policy and
grant one of its most international cities extensive political freedom. From China’s point of view, it wouldn’t make sense to grant seven million
people political freedom yet expect the other 1.3 billion to be content about
the decision.

Additionally, the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still fresh in the minds of the older generation, and they worry that antagonizing China
could bring a further crackdown on their pre-existing freedom. While universal
suffrage is desirable, the general consensus among supporters is that
Hong Kong simply does not have the necessary chips to bargain for it at this
time. It is instead best to accept China’s offer as a good first step rather
than hope for a home run on this march to political freedom.

Civil disobedience, then, is a futile movement as it will not
persuade China to change its mind. Instead, it paralyzes the city’s economy,
fosters social hostility, disrupts the lives of many others and damages the
international perception and confidence in Hong Kong.

While this conservative view holds equal validity to the
democratic view, it has been lost under the hysteria that the media has
depicted. Such is certainly not entirely their fault, for a story about a fight
against despotism is undoubtedly more captivating than a story about a return
to traditional roots.

On the global scale, I understand that Hong Kong’s turmoil is
not that significant. While some might have been following both sides of the
situation intently, others may have only had time to skim through an article or
video. And while this leaves them with an incomplete understanding, it is
certainly no crime considering the many other physical, biological and cultural
conflicts that are going on right now. However, it certainly is one if a casual
observer were to make remarks as if he or she was well-versed on the issue. 

In the majority of our classes, participation requirements are
in place to encourage us to express our opinions to the group. Yet the
incentive for a good grade often pushes people too far. Specifically, people
may loudly voice their opinions even if their knowledge of the situation is
hazy and spotty, just as it would be if they had relied solely on one or two news
reports on Hong Kong. In comparison to an event such as the Israel-Palestine issue, Hong Kong’s conflict is a minor one. Yet I hope it is apparent that even
a situation of such small magnitude can hold such complexity and diversity in
its perspectives.

Without a balanced understanding, one can easily develop a
skewed perception of the situation.

Now this is not a plea for silence over controversial topics,
for a good discussion will always invigorate the mind. Instead, I’m asking for
people to resist talking for the sake of talking and be mindful of the opinions
that they express.

In the case of Hong Kong, it hurts me to hear familiar
locations as the settings of inaccurate generalization. It hurts me to hear
people vulgarly criticize the very policemen that have for years maintained the
city as one of the safest in the world. It hurts me to hear people describe my
hometown as a scene of chaos rather than as the great place it really is. In
contrast to the common saying that “sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but
words will never hurt me,” skewed, and hence disrespectful, comments actually do
hit hard because they directly attack some of our most cherished values and

In a world where news is as far-reaching as it is and in a
community as diverse as ours, I remind everybody to seriously think before they
speak up, especially if one only knows half of the story.

Jason Kan CM ’17 is a history and economics double major from Hong Kong.

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