By THOMAS SACCENTE – STAFF WRITER
Pro-democracy movements are nothing new to China. Although the country has succeeded in becoming one of the top economic and political powers in the world, many of its citizens have taken to the streets over the years to protest the government’s harsh, and often inhumane, regulations. Starting in late September, a new series of protests arose in China, not on the mainland, but in Hong Kong, a tiny “Special Administrative Region” on China’s eastern coast.
These protests came about as a result of the Chinese government’s new proposal to limit Hong Kong’s voting practices for their leaders.
Starting in 2017, China will make them choose from a group of candidates chosen by a special pro-Beijing committee instead of their own candidates. Word of these protests, collectively called the Umbrella Rebellion, has taken the world by storm, and awareness of the movement has continued to grow since its inception.
When talking about the ongoing protests, it is important to understand that many of their underlying issues came about as a result of Hong Kong only being a part of China since near the end of the twentieth century.
From 1842 to 1997, Hong Kong was a colony of the British Empire as a trade port. This allowed Hong Kong and China to exist as two separate entities, with Hong Kong modeling its government and economy after that of Britain, and China developing a Communist regime.
However, this all came to an end when Britain handed Hong Kong back over to the Chinese as a Special Administrative Region in 1997.
This deal was made under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems,” meaning that the economic and political systems established in Hong Kong would carry on after the changeover and that China would not fundamentally change them once they got the country.
This is where the recent protests come into play. Hong Kong has elected its own government since the transition in 1997, and had no intention of surrendering that freedom prior to the Chinese government’s proposal for reform.
Chinese government saying that they would start choosing what candidates the Hong Kong citizen could vote for has struck many as a clear violation of both the terms of their inclusion into China and their democratic right to hold their own elections.
Some even fear that the government will use this as a stepping-stone to take away more of their rights in the future.
According to Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies Dr. Dina Badie, much of the tension between the two sides stems from a complete contrast in political ideologies.
“A free and fair election means something completely different to individuals in Hong Kong than to individuals in mainland China, especially the Communist Party,” Dr. Badie said.
“There’s this gap in terms of how political culture is conceptualized in each of these places and so that relationship is very tense on that front.”
Because of the Chinese government’s strict adherence to the complete domination of the populace, thousands of Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets to protest the violation of their rights.
College students make up most of the protests, and are taking it upon themselves to spread civil disobedience in any way it can in order to show their disapproval. This includes blocking busy streets and causing chaos among local businesses.
Eventually, the protests came to include the Occupy Central movement, which is very similar to Umbrella Rebellion in both its ideology and methods of operation.
In total, according to the BBC News, this is the biggest large-scale protest in Hong Kong in years, with at least nine thousand protesters involved since the beginning of September.
However, while the number of protesters is still growing, there is still much doubt on whether their efforts will produce palpable results.
Assistant Professor of Chinese Dr. Kyle Anderson is skeptical that the Chinese government will see to it that there will not be any lasting outcome to the rebellion despite the work the protestors have done so far,
“If I know the Chinese government at all, it’s going to get its way one way or another, Dr. Anderson said.
“What I expect are very small concessions given to the occupiers. There will be some changes, there will be some movement a little bit that looks like China is negotiating on the issue, but I see, a few years down the road, them stalling and not doing anything. It’ll be just another way for the Chinese government to save face while not allowing for any substantive change to occur because they don’t want a self-governing city.”
Although the rebellion has found support among the general population, particularly with young people, there are still large numbers of people who do not support the rebellion. Sometimes this has escalated to fighting between protestors and non-protestors.
According to Assistant Professor of History Dr. John Harney, the swarm of propaganda that the Chinese government has released into both the Chinese and Hong Kong media to disrupt the protests, as well as discouraging people in the mainland from starting their own rebellions is at fault.
“The Chinese government has been using words like ‘chaos’ to describe it [the rebellion], that they [the protestors] are responsible, that they are opponents of morality, that they are disruptive. All of that is exaggerated at best, but what the Chinese government is trying to do is depict the protestors as irresponsible and being harmful to society,” Dr. Harney said.
While this kind of propaganda may seem ridiculous to some, it is actually working to a degree. Many of the people in Hong Kong have bought in to this kind of portrayal, namely the elderly, more conservative citizens, but also large business owners and business types.
As a result, Hong Kong society has remained divided on the issue of the Umbrella Rebellion and whether their work will actually benefit Hong Kong as a whole. Chinese government’s has implementation of their more traditional methods of silencing dissent via the use of police brutality and Internet censorship has not helped matters.
It is uncertain at this point if the revolution will lead to any kind of lasting change but the people of Hong Kong have succeeded in making their voices heard, and their cries have reached the ears of people all over the world.
Perhaps not now, but eventually, this will inspire some demonstrable change in the area that will allow the Chinese and Hong Kong populations to come to an agreement.