Written by Cynthia Paola Bautista
Armed with goggles, masks and umbrellas thousands of student-led protestors flooded the streets of Hong Kong’s Central District on Sept. 26, 2014. The pro-democracy protest brought the business area to a standstill. Two days later the riot police hurled tear gas containers and pepper sprayed them for refusing the demand to disperse.
Images of the Hong Kong protestors shielding themselves from the pepper spray with umbrellas have exploded across the Internet. Goggled demonstrators, with their faces plastic wrapped for protection, still refused to leave the area as tear gas containers were hurled by the police. Occupy Central with Love and Peace, one of the main protest-organizing groups, emphasized total non-violence within the “civil disobedience” movement. And stock piles of umbrellas for the protestors were provided by them as well.
The protest was triggered when China reneged on its promise of free elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. Instead of Hong Kong being allowed to choose its candidates for Chief Executive, the Chinese government stated that a panel in Beijing would choose the nominees for 2017 election, meaning that only Pro-Beijing politicians would be on the ballot.
The 1997 Agreement arranged for Britain to return Hong Kong to China with the promise of “One country, two systems, including free elections, freedom of speech along with other democratic liberties. Unlike communist China, Hong Kong had been a British colony for over 150 years and had greater civil liberties than the people of Mainland China. Today the people of Hong Kong are deeply concerned about the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on how Hong Kong is ruled.
It’s no surprise that the Chinese government has blocked all social media, which include Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, so that similar protests don’t ignite in Mainland China.
With social media blocked, Hong Kong’s protestors are staying in contact with each other through the app FireChat: their lifeline. The app doesn’t require a data connection or WiFi. It’s a public chatroom that connects the devices via Bluetooth.
Giant signs with the numbers 926 and 689 are appearing on Hong Kong’s buildings and on posters in the demonstration. The numbers: 926 – day protest began, and 689 – number of votes it took to elect C.Y. Leung, Chief Executive over Hong Kong’s 7 million residents.
There are growing concerns by both the Chinese government and residents of Hong Kong as they reflect on the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing in1989. It also was a student-led protest that had grown to tens of thousands over a six week period. It too was about freedom of speech, lack of transparency and government corruption. The 1989 protest was one of non-violent resistance that ended badly when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army brutally gunned down hundreds of protestors while rows of tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. While protestors were frantically fleeing the army, a brave young man walked into a tank’s path, faced the tank and stood alone as he demanded the end to violence. Only known as “The Tank Man” his image became a powerful symbol of those bloody events and of a non-violent resistance protest.
The Chinese government of today is aiming to avoid another Tiananmen-style crackdown on protestors. It’s using the “wait-and-see” strategy, hoping the chaos will die down on its own or that public support for the protestors will fade away due to the interruptions in business operations and in the residents’ lives.
The 1997 Agreement was executed with the belief and full expectation that China would honor its promises to the people Hong Kong. However the Chinese Communist Party agreement of “One country, two systems” just may have the credibility of a fortune cookie.