Clouds of tear gas and thousands of umbrellas currently fill the streets of Hong Kong’s central financial district.
“The Umbrella Revolution” has completely stopped traffic in some areas as tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents protest for what is being called “universal suffrage.”
Carl Ho is a Hong Kong native and student in the journeyman program at the Galloup School of Guitar Building in Big Rapids.
“One word I use to describe this is ‘crazy,’”Ho said, whose family and wife are still in Hong Kong.
Ho worked as an English teacher and lived comfortably, but quit his job and left for America as tensions mounted in Hong Kong. Ho said people are “thinking if they don’t fight for a revolution this time, maybe there will not be a next time.”
A little background on the conflict. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when China resumed control.
“They promised that things would be the same. They invented a thing called ‘one country, two systems,’” Ho said. Hong Kong self-governs and sees more civil liberties while leaving defense and foreign affairs to Beijing.
Beijing promised that Hong Kong’s chief executive would be chosen by committee until 2017, when Hong Kong would be granted “universal suffrage.” As the early election process began in August, Beijing set forth a framework for the committee selection of two or three candidates; Hong Kong residents would merely choose among them.
People in Hong Kong became outraged that they wouldn’t truly be given the vote. The protest began with two main demands: that the people of Hong Kong be granted the unrestricted right to vote and that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying resign.
According to Ho, Leung is “one of the worst political fakers that we’ve ever seen.” Not necessarily corrupt, but he is acting “the way China wants.” Ho said that with candidates being vetted by a committee, things will slowly become more communist. “Maybe Leung steps down now, but because we’re under an unfair election system, the next chief executive will be the same.”
“There was going to be a clash of cultures because Hong Kong was under British control for over 100 years,” Dr. Tracy Busch, professor of history at Ferris said. “So they were used to all the British institutions; social, cultural and political. China is still officially a communist state, so I’m surprised it took this long.”
The umbrella has traditionally symbolized appeasement and the yellow umbrellas carried by protesters in Hong Kong now serve a practical application as well. They are being used as shields against tear gas as police action against protesters has become more aggressive.
Protesters are freely distributing these umbrellas and some view them as a non-violent method of resistance. “I really like the way they are conducting themselves,” Busch said. “There is not one central organizing entity behind this revolution. It’s college students doing what they feel is right.”
Busch said the passive approach to protesting is what can truly make results.
“If you look at Martin Luther King Jr. or Ghandi and all the successful social protests where there was true change, they happened through non-violent means,” Busch said.
While there is hope for change, the crowds in Hong Kong’s business district are getting smaller. Chief Executive Leung has put his foot down, saying protesters have “almost zero chance” of succeeding.
Many Hong Kong residents have been worn down and resumed their daily routines, still hoping for change, but unable to fight for it.
Carl Ho finds the protesting efforts like the Umbrella Revolution’s most vocal advocate for democracy, 17-year-old Joshua Wong, “absolutely inspiring.” Yet, Ho finds that there is a “generation gap” between the younger generation and the generation of his parents.
“People like my parents have their own houses and are nearly retired. They don’t understand what we are fighting for,” Ho said. “They think that democracy is too fancy and some still think that communism isn’t so bad.”
With the 2017 election looming, Hong Kong’s future remains uncertain. Regina Ip, former security chief in Hong Kong, admits there are “inherent contradictions” in Hong Kong’s union with China. An editorial was recently published by the China News Service calling the demands of the Hong Kong people “arrogant and ignorant.”
In 1997, China guaranteed that Hong Kong could maintain its self-governance and capitalistic market system for 50 years. This means that in 2047, Hong Kong could be completely absorbed by China.
According to Ho, a communist system could be implemented sooner if similar leaders are voted in. Ho said in regard to the protests, “My parents tell me I’m lucky to be in America so that I don’t get involved in this type stuff.”
For more information on the Umbrella Revolution, the South China Morning Post has hourly coverage at www.scmp.com.