The Hong Kong (Xiānggǎng) unrest spilled over to the central streets of the city on September 28-29 to immediately hit Western media radar screen. The movement was dubbed «the umbrella revolution» in turgid political style. No wonder: police used tear gas (sprays) to push protesters from blocked government buildings. The umbrellas that the protesters took to protect themselves from bad weather were used against the pepper spray and tear gas. Clashes, injuries…
At first school upperclassmen and students made up the bulk of the throng. The protesters immediately gained the sympathy of media. The painted image of fighters for democracy against the totalitarian regime in Beijing (the event was compared to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989) stood out for theatrical effectiveness.
The protests were soon joined by supporters; the rumors of police brutality went circulating around the city. Now there was a huge crowd with demonstrators waving their cell phones in the air. The crown got excited, the heat was on and the demands put forward were becoming more and more radical. There were calls for resignation of Leung Chun-ying, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who was democratically elected by Hong Kong voters to take office in 2012.
Some time later it became known that many people were instigated to join the protests by artificially spreading rumors and outright lies disseminated by social networks.
That’s how a provocative picture appeared and went around showing a Chinese army tank in the tunnel connecting New Territories with mainland China. The news about police using rubber bullets poured more fuel to the fire. When protesters clashed with anti-protesters someone posted a picture with one of them looking very much like a policeman in civilian. It became known afterwards that two different people looked alike.
Gradually it started to cool off. On October 3, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) authorities agreed to hold talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), but somehow its leaders toughened their demands and decided to continue the blockade of government quarters as negotiations proceeded. On October 6, the majority of Hong Kong people made things clear and called for termination of protests, but the fact had little influence on the protesters’ behavior.
There may be different reasons to spur mass protests in Hong Kong, the city of 7 million people; it’s not such a rare thing. Half a million people staged a demonstration in 2003. A quarter of a million protested in 2005. Protests with lesser participation have been taking place routinely, that’s why actor Jackie Chun, the master of comedy, called it the «city of protests». But this time the manifestation endured much longer. Any explanation for that?
There is another question also popping up: why late September was chosen for «mass» protests? The decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) of the People's Republic of China on the 2017 Chief Executive election in Hong Kong was taken on August 31, one month earlier.
To my mind, the explanation is obvious: first, a «revolutionary» performance is to be well-prepared. Second, it’s important to choose the right date for the opening night. For Beijing, the National Day is very important – Oct. 1 marked the 65th anniversary of the creation of the modern Chinese state and the start of a week-long holiday known as a "Golden Week." On this very day the Chinese Foreign Minister was visiting the United States – so the choice was evidently propitious.
Someone who controls the situation from behind the curtain is really dry behind the ears as a director of the show. But it strikes an eye that the scenario is tried-and-true. An unknown script writer makes the Hong Kong youth look like martyrs fighting for democracy. Now there is a reason for diplomatic demarches. The writer is not interested in the fact that the very development of democratic progress in society is a continuous compromise between different walks of life.
As a result, the political culture of Hong Kong is subject to radicalization. Hot tempered young people are incited by the anarchic Occupy Central movement founded in 2013 by Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, and supported by Hong Kong democrats. Anarchists and democrats joining together may damage the former colony’s image as a respectable and tranquil place with people prone to tolerance.
The energy of protests is becoming nationalist-tainted: threats are voiced against the Chinese who came from mainland, they are asked to «leave home». The problem of Hong Kong’s cultural uniqueness, highlighted recently by Anson Chan, the «iron lady» of Hong Kong democrats, is becoming associated with isolationist and overtly anti-Chinese sentiments. And it all is taking place in Hong Kong! The very well-being of the city is hinged on international trade and financial intermediation and the irreversible role of «window» into China! There is another factor negatively affecting the situation – overtly nationalist movements such as Civic Passion and the Proletariat Political Institute find refuge under democratic movement cover. Their activists compare the mainland tourists with locust (mainland Chinese account for 75% of all tourists visiting SAR) and openly attack Beijing using strong language…
Louisa Greve, Vice President for Asia, Middle East & North Africa, and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy, studied the complaints well and spoke in defense of protesters. She was rebuffed in a dutiful way in a commentary published on the front page of the Communist Party-run People's Daily China's Jemin Jibao’s overseas edition on October 11. Beijing made it clear it won’t stand for interference into its internal affairs, including the support for anti-nationalist sentiments and organizers of protests. In the period of late September – early October Hong Kong became a testing ground for committing the nefarious deed of mixing notions: pro-American is painted as democratic while whatever is democratic is painted as anti-Chinese. Local democrats predicted that Hong Kong would be an example for the rest of China. Now the city starts to look like an ill-bred child insistently demanding to be given a bright-colored toy. In practice the «umbrella revolution» happened to be a long-lasting whim of an immature self-willed child.