The Power of the Powerless: Hong Kong’s Last Stand

Kong Tsung-gan | 14 August 2014 | Hong Wrong

As astro-turfing groups plan a pro-government rally this weekend, pro-democracy activist Kong Tsung-gan examines why some form of nonviolent direct action will be necessary for Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

In any freedom struggle, much of the struggle is between not only the oppressed and their oppressor but between the oppressed themselves, some of whom side with the oppressor, and within each of the oppressed, who in struggling against their oppressor also struggle against the voices within themselves that tell them to unconditionally obey authority or that there must be something wrong with them if they have such a grievance against ‘the way things are’, or that even if there is something wrong, it is utterly futile to fight it.  The fault lines are many.  Such is the case in the Hong Kong freedom struggle.  This is the result of Hong Kong’s history as a colony and an immigrant society.

In the entirety of its modern history, from the start of British colonial rule in 1842 up to today (when Hong Kong is essentially under a new colonial rule of the Chinese Communist Party), Hong Kong has always been a colony and never been a democracy.  Like the rest of China, it has no democratic tradition.  Much of the current freedom struggle involves building the democratic culture Hong Kong has never had from the ground up.  Creating culture, changing culture is by no means an overnight process.  It takes time.  The question is, Does Hong Kong have the time it takes? (More about that question in a moment.)

The process of democratic cultural change involves people transforming themselves from subjects ruled by others—which Hong Kong people have always been—to citizens who rule themselves.  This means changing the way we see ourselves.  It does not mean, in the first instance, the subjects ask the ruler for citizenship rights, for the ruler will not freely grant them.  It means the subjects refuse to any longer act as subjects and instead act as citizens, demanding their full rights as citizens, demanding ownership of the society that is rightfully ours, taking our fate into our own hands.  In the midst of the struggle for genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong, this is what is occurring.  (But again, does Hong Kong have the time it takes?)

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