Mary Mee-Yin Yuen
Tens of thousands people took to the streets of Hong Kong to participate in the annual protest march on July 1st. This is the 19th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule and the establishment of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. For some, it is an opportunity to celebrate the day of “handover” of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China. However, for many others it has become associated with voicing discontent at the governance of Hong Kong and Beijing’s increasing intervention to the city.
This year, the march’s main theme was to speak out against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s re-election and support an overruling of the decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in 2014 for Beijing to screen out Chief Executive candidates. Leung is generally regarded as a person who favors division than unity; he treats all those who disagree with his policy platform as enemies rather than employs negotiation or persuasion to reach agreement. Another main reasonfor joining the rally cited by protesters is the missing bookseller controversy.
Lam Wing-kee was one of the five booksellers of the Causeway Bay Books to disappear last year.The booksellers were accused of selling books on mainland China that were banned there. Eight months after his disappearance, Lam returns to Hong Kong and reveals what really happened after he was intercepted in Shenzhen and detained for eight months.
Lam said in a press conference, “I couldn’t believe this could happen to me. It was very surreal. I thought I was in another world and even hoped my situation was a dream and not reality. As a Hongkonger, I am a free man. I did not commit any crimes but I was locked up for no reason for five months.” He added, “If I don’t speak up, being the least of the five, then there is no hope for Hong Kong. I had to pluck up a lot of courage, thought about it for two nights, before I decided tell you all what happened, as originally and completely as I could.”
In the July 1 rally, Lam was supposed to lead the march, but withdrew at the last minute due to a “serious threat” to his safety. This urged more Hong Kong people to join the protest as they do not want Hong Kong to become just another city of China, where dissidents may be detained or just disappear without any legal base.
Looking from another perspective, less people joined the July 1 rally since the Occupy protests or Umbrella Movement in 2014. Many young people became impatient for the slow progress in democracy. In light of the growth of local sentiment, a growing number of young people query the effectiveness of conventional protest methods. Some developed the mindset that they have nothing to do with mainland China and questioned the urgency of joining the July 1 march as they are indifferent to the handover. Some chose to employ radical and even violent means of protests, while others are so frustrated that they consider all protest methods are useless.
In face of this situation, I think it is imperative to develop a sense of unity in diversity and keep the hope at a time of slow progress. One can employ various means to strive for democracy and should respect various strategies in putting pressure on the government. We need wisdom to discern which strategy is appropriate at different times, but not to lose hope and be divided by the government.
We also need to strengthen the civic virtue of courage like Lam the bookseller who dared to speak up and unveil the illegal practice of the Chinese government. When he is in danger, we should stand up and show support to him. We should also maintain our conscience like the student leaders who have been convicted guilty recently because of unlawful assembly at the government headquarters almost two years ago just before the Occupy Movement in order to arouse the consciousness of people on the unjust laws and policies. What they did was for the goal of the common good, though they employ the means of civil disobedience.
Finally, there is a slogan during the Occupy Movement that is always a good reminder to us: We act not because we see hope; we see hope when we act.