(2017) Umbrella Movement: Three Years Later, Protracted Repression

Tuesday 5 September 2017, by Miguel Angel Martinez

All the versions of this article: [English]

Umbrella Movement: Three Years Later, Protracted Repression

From 28th September to 15th December 2014 (it is conventionally counted as 79 days, or two and a half months, of street occupations) I had the opportunity to witness the most intense pro-democracy mobilisation that ever occurred in Hong Kong (HK). It was a lucky coincidence that another Occupy-like movement affected me so deeply after my previous engagement in the 15M or Indignados movement in Spain from May 2011 until I left Madrid to HK in 2013. However, the differences between the two movements were more significant than their shared traits -the spatial nature of the protest camps, claims about true democratic political systems and an intense use of technopolitics through online communications. In my opinion, the global protest wave of Occupy-like movements has often been overstretched. Beyond the more interconnected protests in 2011-12 that may somehow have inspired each other (Arab Spring, 15M, Syntagma Square in Athens, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London, and Gezi Park in Istanbul), other following mobilisations (YoSoy132 in Mexico, Passe Livre and others in Brazil over 2013, Black Lives Matter in the USA, the uprisings in Hamburg against the eviction of the Rote Flora squat, and the Sunflower student movement in Taiwan, to name a few) differed in more substantial terms (goals, political contexts, protest repertoire and spatial manifestation). To single out a longer transnational protest wave beyond 2012 should be questioned or, at least, be viewed with more nuance than many scholars do.

While in HK I had to deal with the language barrier, although there was abundant English-speaking news coverage of the Umbrella Movement (UM) and I could talk to many activists directly every time I visited the camps (several times every week). Conversations with some of my students from the City University of HK were also very helpful. Since I was teaching various courses on politics, the case of the UM was continuously brought about and discussed in class, from various political perspectives, Marxism-political economy included. My last semester in HK, until the end of 2016, was especially intense because we could widely reflect over some postponed institutional effects of the UM and repressive measures against its most visible heads. These observations verified my claim that a certain historical perspective is always needed when trying to understand the social and political process in which a movement is meaningful. By the end of 2014 the main narrative about the UM was that it had failed to meet the ambitious demands of genuine universal suffrage for both the executive and the legislative powers. The most activists won, many argued, was clean air in some of the busiest streets of HK, a deep and fast process of political education for and by young people (in other words, raising awareness about the meaning of liberal democracy), and some healthy radicalisation of the fragmented pan-democratic camp. On the less promising account, many media commentators noted that the UM made explicit or even exacerbated deep political polarisations between the supporters of the pro-Beijing and pan-democrat camps.

During the sixth elections for the legislative body, LegCo, of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) in September 2016 some so-called “localist” candidates, those who claim a greater autonomy or even independence for HK, were screened out by administrative officers, probably subject to instructions from above. As a consequence, some localists were banned from standing as candidates, while others could participate in the race. They represented an emerging nationalist or pro-independence movement that gained many sympathisers during the UM and in the years that followed. The recreation of a HK identity in opposition to a Mainland-Chinese “other” had been increasingly encouraged by different local groups since the establishment of the HKSAR in 1997. The UM was the ideal breeding ground to turn this into specific political parties. After various incidents in the weeks leading up to the elections, such as the threats to life of a candidate from the Liberal Party who withdrew his candidacy, the pan-democratic camp obtained quite good results that enabled them to veto some bills in LegCo, despite the strong Executive-led dynamics of government in HK. The most remarkable outcomes of the parliamentary elections were the 8 new seats won by candidates who were very well known UM supporters, core activists or leaders. One of them, Eddie Chu, also a prominent environmental activist, was called the “king of votes”. Just days after the elections he had to ask for police protection and move out to a secret location because he had disclosed a real estate operation involving the Chief Executive of HKSAR, C.Y. Leung. Public housing is a hot issue in HK due to large demand for affordable dwellings, and the previous governments had merely implemented soft policies in this matter while keeping a very neoliberal approach to the housing market with very low taxation of corporate profits in general. After weeks of media attention, C.Y. Leung was forced to admit that he had scaled down a public housing development (Wang Chau, in Yuen Long) in a compromise with influential owners, politicians and even criminal triads of the area.

Interestingly, immediately after the elections, the conservative political forces that back the interests of Beijing (the Chinese Communist Party) and oppose any change within the limited democratic arrangements of the HKSAR until its eventual dissolution by 2047, started a fierce campaign to undermine the “UM legislators”. By November 2016, two young localists (Baggio Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching) were disqualified from their seats because both the Chinese (in particular, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee) and the HKSAR governments urged the courts to nullify the way they took their oath in the parliamentary chamber. Ad-hoc regulations about the solemnity and content of the oath were ruled out after the localists used the oath-taking ritual to stir their independentist aspirations, a “Hong Kong is not China” banner and aggressive words targeting China. Their party, Youngspiration, was one of the various localist parties created in the months after the tents were cleared off the streets in December 2014. The aftermath of this battle was quite predictable. Persecution of other pan-democrats and UM legislators followed suit. By mid-July 2017, four more legislators were disqualified for similar supposed transgressions in their oath-taking. Eddie Chu, for example, added "fight for genuine universal suffrage" to his oath. Lau Siu-lai read her oath in slow motion. Leung Kwow-hung (also known as “Long Hair”, probably the only true socialist legislator, who was continuously re-elected since 2004) brought to the stage a yellow umbrella, the main symbol of the UM. And Nathan Law, the youngest legislator ever (23 years-old), quoted "you can never imprison my mind" from Mahatma Gandhi. Nathan Law was one of the university student leaders during the UM and a key figure of the political party Demosisto, also set up after the street protests (curiously, some members told me that Podemos –from Spain- was one of their main models to imitate). This present month (September 2017) the Court of Final Appeal rejected Yau and Leung’s application for appeal, so many expect the same fate for the others’ moves to appeal their expulsion from the LegCo.

Another significant event occurred this past August 2017. Nathan Law and two other former student leaders during the UM, Alex Chow (27 years-old) and Joshua Wong (20 years-old), were sentenced prison terms of 6 to 8 months for “unlawful assembly”. In particular, the three leaders were convicted based on the evidence that they occupied and incited hundreds to trespass a fenced public space (ironically named Civic Square) next to the HKSAR government headquarters compound on the day before the UM was ignited (27 September, 2014). Two of them (Law and Wong) had previously been sentenced to community services and one (Chow) to a suspended three-week custodial term, but the HK government appealed and successfully sought for harsher penalties. Due to this criminal record, none of them will be eligible to stand for public office for a five-year period. Joshua Wong, also a founding member of Demosisto, was an even more rising star of young political activism in Hong Kong since 2012 (at the stunning age of 16 years-old) when he led Scholarism, a secondary-school movement that forced the government to postpone an educational reform including a more “patriotic” curriculum. My first visit to Hong Kong in 2012 coincided with those mobilisations and I was deeply impressed by the age, conviction and organisational capacity of those youngsters. Two years later, the UM was also made up of thousands of young people, from adolescents to university students, although the masses were crowded by people from all walks of life and different ages too. Coming from the Spanish political environment where police brutality is quite frequent, I usually noticed a lot of restraint exercised by the HK police in those mobilisations, with some exceptions (see below) and also increasingly repressive behaviour over the last years. Likewise, the extremely peaceful attitudes of most UM participants over more than two months contrasted with more contentious and violent episodes afterwards (the Fishball riots, for example, by February 2016). What is worth noting is that the HKSAR government strategically postponed repression of the UM core activists for around two years, once its institutional continuations were seen as a more threatening issue for their overwhelming powers.

This year, two other relevant news stories made headlines. On the one side, by March 2017 nine UM leaders, according to the authorities, were charged with “public nuisance” during the street occupations. Two of them are lawmakers from the pan-democratic camp. Three were the most visible faces of Occupy Central. Although not many people paid attention to the details, Occupy Central was a distinct campaign planned more than one year before the UM but launched on the night after Law, Wong, Chow and dozens more jumped the fences around Civic Square on 27th September. This action was, in turn, an escalation of the student strike held over the week before, but not related to Occupy Central at all. Students, in particular, had risen up against the interference of the Chinese government in the process of political reform discussing the implementation of universal suffrage in HK. Occupy Central leaders were not that young –two university professors and one religious figure. In addition, following their ‘civil disobedience’ beliefs, they voluntarily reported to the police some days after the occupied sites were removed, and they were released unconditionally. On another note, a member of the Civic Party, Ken Tsang told the court he was thrown to the ground and brutally kicked by seven police officers for several minutes, during the UM protests. The attack was captured on film and rapidly disseminated. Tsang was first sentenced to five weeks in prison for splashing liquid to the agents on the same night he was beaten. Later on, by February 2017, all the seven police officers were found guilty and punished with two years prison, which was considered lenient by many UM activists, but still a “small victory for civil society” according to Tsang. In total, following the estimates of various outlets, around 1,000 people were arrested in relation to the UM protests.

I want to recall a final incident with a heavy political weight during my last stage in Hong Kong. It refers to the film “Ten Years”. The film was released by November 2015 and soon became a must-watch for discontented hongkongers. It was screened at only two commercial venues until January 2016 when it was suddenly cancelled in the midst of a high demand. Only over those months, it became the most successful HK film ever in terms of the profit made and the total audience size. It also won the race in the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards, although, for the first time, Chinese authorities censored the broadcast of the event in Mainland China in order to prevent the spread of that “virus of the mind”. Afterwards, the film was screened for free in universities, venues of different social organisations and also in the street, as a political reaction to overcome both film houses and governmental censorship. One not so anecdotical observation I made when it was shown in CityU is that more than one hundred tickets were collected in advance but the seats were empty on the day of the screening (when they realised, organisers delayed the starting time and let people in to fill the available seats). This means that pro-Beijing students were even trying to disrupt these self-organised screenings. The reason? Well, Ten Years is a collection of five short pieces with very different narrative styles. They all imagine where Hong Kong will be ten years later, around 2025, even much before the expiry date of the mini-Constitution (the Basic Law) that threatens HK’s autonomy. The stories displayed in the movie warn about a dystopian full integration of HK into China with the suppression of Cantonese language, much more authoritarian control of the press and dissidents, and even the final extinction of local food, which, to be honest, is not very significant nowadays in a territory where almost all agricultural produce is already imported. The scary predictions of the film did shake the political concerns of the democratic camp and help public deliberation about the increasing repression that is ongoing. Almost at the same time it was screened, five booksellers were illegally abducted by Chinese secret agents into Mainland China. Ten Years’ director declared that he conceived the film some time before the UM, but the enthusiasm about this fictional story might be linked directly to the general politicisation produced by the UM. A final personal consequence for the film-makers who participated in Ten Years is that their professional careers suffered political persecution. Without mentioning explicitly who was behind it, jobs never went back to them as before and cooperation with the booming Chinese film industry became impossible.

Even freedom of expression in academia is at risk in HK. But about this issue I cannot elaborate more right now since I left that environment early this year (2017). Despite all what I have argued, during my stay in HK I enjoyed the opportunities I had to freely express my sociological and political views, no matter how critical they were. Notwithstanding, this experience left me committed to following-up what is going on there, and to offer my support to any initiative that can reverse the authoritarian signs I have identified above.


[Just for the record, I reproduce below the translation (not my own) of two of the articles I wrote about the UM in October 2014 for Spanish newspapers. They were posted on another blog I wrote at that time, in order to explore and understand the complexities of life, politics and urban development of HK.]

(2014) Forms of Violence in the ‘Umbrella Movement’ of Hong Kong

Let’s talk about violence. Political violence, to be exact. The most noteworthy episode of violence in the history of Hong Kong dates back to 1967. Between May and December there were strikes, armed clashes, domestic bombings and a Chinese military incursion leaving 45 people dead and resulting in hundreds of arrests. Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841-2 and was ruled with an iron fist. However, the city’s industrialization attracted a wave of labour immigrants from China, some of whom also rejected the model of triumphant communism after 1949. The revolt of 1967 was inspired by the Cultural Revolution and was explicitly supported by the Chinese authorities. In that context it could be interpreted as anti-capitalist and anti-colonial.

The next trauma was decades later: Tiananmen, 1989. The protests of students occupying the main square in Beijing lasted for about seven weeks. This time, the Chinese authorities decided to dissolve it with heavy artillery. There are no official figures about the number of young people killed and arrested, but estimates speak of several thousands. Hong Kong and Taiwan were the preferred destinations of those who could escape the crackdown. Since then, every June 4 a massive memorial vigil is held in Hong Kong. Today, China still bans the mention of the Tiananmen massacre. The “June 4th movement” merely intended to open up a window of democracy and human rights parallel to state socialism which had embraced capitalist reforms (privatization and openness to foreign capital), initiated in 1978 by the “one-party” (the Chinese Communist Party, CCP).

The agreement between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and United Kingdom (UK) to transfer sovereignty of Hong Kong was signed in 1984. It included the confirmation that the Chinese military would have a base in Hong Kong. The colonial government was already busy trying to purge its police forces of endemic corruption. With shady manoeuvres a certain social peace was negotiated with the local mafias (“triads”). Everything was ready for the start of the new regime on July 1, 1997, under the model “one country, two systems”, based on a mini-constitution (Basic Law) in effect for 50 years. This way Hong Kong became a “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” -more capitalism and limited democracy where the “economic sector” fills half the seats of Parliament. Still, for now Hong Kong can count on more press freedom and judicial independence than the rest of China. Add to these two anomalies: crime rates among the lowest in the world, and economic inequality rates among the highest.

September 2014. Globalized world media display the occupations of public spaces featured by the “umbrella movement”. Their first demand is to achieve universal suffrage with “civic nomination” of candidates for president and not the pre-selection of candidates from Beijing by a nominating committee composed of 1,200 members. The idea was to create the possibility to have a government that doesn’t take orders from Beijing. For this, people are prepared to risk their lives in the streets. It’s now or never, the deepest political crisis since 1997. In my opinion, the pro-democracy movement seeks greater autonomy for Hong Kong and to defend the local “system” from being overrun by the Chinese regime. The Tiananmen memorials, the demonstrations in 2003 against a law of “national security” and in 2012 against an education reform to include the “patriotic” subject of “brainwashing” are solid precedents. Then spontaneity came only to some extent.

Like the previous movement, it was once again the students who took the initiative. In fact they will be most affected by what can happen after 2047. They also face the most economic uncertainties in a precarious labour market with real estate speculation also unparalleled in the rest of the world. They are not only irritated by China’s social control (“where Facebook and Twitter don’t work”) or its rampant corruption and impunity, but also by its continued attempts to colonize Hong Kong both on a political level, a media level, and economically, with business elites always supporting the “one-party”. Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), launched by a group of academic and other organizations (among which also the students), had been preparing for more than a year to take the streets peacefully for several days and assuming the penal consequences. After a week of student strikes, which began on September 22, they joined the civil disobedience.

It has been three weeks of occupation of three areas in the city. All through town major traffic arteries have been blocked. In recent days, police have dismantled several roadblocks, and charged protesters with batons and pepper spray. It was a return to scenes from the first night which triggered the outrage in a society that isn’t used to this kind of police violence. Dozens of young people have been arrested. Many journalists have been subject to police aggression. Some areas have been reoccupied, also as a result of online organization by groups who don’t feel represented, neither by the student organizations, nor by OCLP. Many barricades were reinforced with more materials than ever. Hand to hand combat (with all kinds of objects exhibited by the two parties) and mutual insults have increased, with the result that tension is skyrocketing. The blunders of the government in each official statement did not contribute to a cooling down of tensions.

On Wednesday October 15th a local television station showed footage of seven policemen kicking a young man lying on the ground after having been arrested. The tortured boy is a member of a party from the “pan-democratic” camp. He said the beatings continued in the police van. Although authorities have announced that they will investigate the case and have already suspended the police officers, the episode has been a severe blow to the social trust in institutions that until recently were widely respected. The prestige of the police had already suffered the week before when hundreds of anti-occupy militants verbally and physically attacked protesters, destroying everything in their path. They brought trucks and cranes for this purpose and dozens of taxis, summoned by a professional organisation that supported them from the rear. Other groups, almost entirely made up of women, blocked the distribution of the Apple Daily newspaper for several days because of its support for the student rebellion. The police were accused of collusion with these groups because they left them untouched and didn’t make any arrests. These outbreaks of “counter-movement” continued to repeat themselves in recent days and have been linked to the secret agents of the CCP and local mafias -dirty war and shadow politics as symptoms of what is most abhorred in China.

After the first night of police charges it seemed like the government had given instructions to tolerate several kilometres of occupations and blocked streets. To restore their damaged image in the eyes of the world, authorities decided to play the card of threatening immediate eviction without effectively sending in the police. In those days and nights thousands of people of all ages came together, everywhere social and political messages proliferated on the walls, there were lectures and speeches followed with patience and attention, and you could feel an unusual festive atmosphere of enthusiasm, creativity and efficient self-organization. The pacifist strategy gained followers and positive media coverage. Although some nearby shops and taxi drivers claimed to have suffered losses, overall life continued normally in the rest of the city.

It was the emergence of anti-occupy that paved the way for stronger police intervention, two types of violence that have gone hand in hand with the editorial guidelines of the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the CCP. This paper hasn’t ceased to accuse the protesters of being subversive, disobedient, infiltrated by foreign interests and destructive of economic prosperity. The official version forgot to mention that the Chinese authorities have cancelled organized tours to Hong Kong, censored the diffusion of news about the protests and arrested dozens of people for its dissemination. Neither did it mention that US organizations like NDI (National Democratic Institute) have funded the Hong Kong Federation of Women of which the wife of the current “chief executive” C.Y. Leung is the honorary chairman and which has expressly opposed OCLP in a recent newspaper ad. The cyber-attacks on critical news media in Hong Kong have continued and intensified in recent weeks.

Because of all these forms of violence, is likely that unarmed struggle in the face of the storm has its time running out. But there is no doubt that political life has taken a ‘big leap forward’ by extending public debate and rescuing it from the stranglehold of professional politics and a regime of very limited and threatened democracy.


(2014) Occupy Hong Kong and the Contradictions of Neoliberalism in China

It’s 10 a.m. in Hong Kong, 6 hours later than Madrid. When I woke up this morning, the occupation was still there. I can almost see it clearly from my window. It’s the one in the district of Mong Kok (on the mainland, Kowloon), because there are two more occupations active on the “island”, which is Hong Kong proper. One is in Admiralty, near the government offices. Another is in Cause Way Bay, one of the congested commercial districts. The barricades cutting traffic there are still standing. They are simple barricades, made of fences and some street furniture. Some of them have been erected by police themselves about 500 meters from the zones where people use to gather. I also see the dozens of buses that have been stranded in the area since Sunday. By now they have become walls of democracy, on which people have attached all kinds of messages. The banners and signs on Nathan Road Avenue and the people sitting on the driveway for the last five days are a unique scene in the city. This is one of the busiest arteries. They are unbearable unless the masses of people and the urban ant nest generate an addictive curiosity in you, as is my case. The pollution there is usually around level 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, these days it’s down to 4 or 5. I can finally walk or cycle without having to fight with heavy traffic. The streets are ours, for now, and me, I also feel part of local issues, no matter that I’m an immigrant.

How did it all start? According to the official accounts of the tabloids, we are now on day 5 of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, because the tear gas canisters that were launched last Sunday supposedly mark the official beginning. Actually, college students have declared a “boycott” of classes on Monday September 22 when they began to manifest in Admiralty. On Friday 26 middle school students joined. On Saturday there were the first police charges that included the use of pepper spray. Hence the use of umbrellas as protection, which were subsequently elevated to symbol of the protests. That first melee conflict triggered a wave of solidarity which filled the streets on Sunday. The police charges and the use of tear gas exacerbated the protest and since then occupations have been consolidated day and night in the three aforementioned areas.

Almost no-one expected police violence of this type, let alone against students aged 15 to 25 for the most part. Only some remember a similar confrontation with the South-Korean trade-unionists who attended the 2005 anti-globalization protests. But earlier this year, at a pro-democracy rally on July 1, attended by an estimated half a million people, there had hardly been any friction with authorities. The only complaints I remember were due to us having to wait for hours without leaving the site because the police had cordoned off the protest and occasionally opened aisles for vehicles and pedestrian traffic that was unrelated to the protest. On June 4 there was another pro-democracy rally, coinciding with the annual wake in commemoration of those who died on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Furthermore, the pro-democracy protests have a long history in Hong Kong, but this time to understand recent events it’s important to highlight the organization of Occupy Central (OC) which has had a strong presence in the media and on the political agenda for over a year now. They have threatened to paralyze the financial centre (Central district) if full universal suffrage “in accordance with international standards” was not guaranteed. This past summer they called a successful online referendum, which kept their hopes alive to influence government policy on the subject, the so-called “political reform”. But these hopes vanished when the central government in Beijing declared in August that the only universal suffrage will be the choice between 2 or 3 candidates selected by a special committee of 1,200 members, who have so far always been veered towards the interests of Beijing. OC leaders had all but conceded defeat even though they declared their steadfast intention to carry out a sit-in protest. While their plans were being overtaken by the students, OC declared the night from Saturday to Sunday to be the start of their actions and joined its voice to the call for a mobilization that was already underway and being led by the younger generation. Still it should be noted that one of the most prominent student organizations, Scholarism, is also part of the coalition that forms OC.

What are the demands of the “Umbrella Revolution”? The most obvious is the right to direct universal suffrage. The transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was performed in accordance with a mini-constitution, or Basic Law, in which a special status was guaranteed to the region together with numerous freedoms and powers that do not exist in other parts of China. But in the political organization of the region there are many holes left to be filled. One of them is the promise to move towards universal suffrage. As the central government has the power of veto in the election of the president of Hong Kong, it has decided that it also has the authority to interpret the Basic Law in accordance with their own interests and therefore seeks to impose its model of universal suffrage among candidates sympathetic to Beijing. This masquerade is the eye of the current storm. But it is also a symptom of more profound grievances. Since the Basic Law is valid for 50 years, many people suspect that the central government is preparing the ground for a general convergence of the Hong Kong regime with the rest of China. In other words, every time more freedoms, rights and democratic institutions could be suppressed. And some recent policies seem to point in this direction, like the attacks on press freedom, academic freedom, and the manipulation of the history curriculum in schools for example.

On the other hand, as we are observing a large and complex social movement, we have to wonder how many underlying motives are actually playing their part in this. This is a tricky question because it requires us to take into account the entire discourse (and in my case I only have access to what is said in or translated into English) and understand the overall context. According to everything I read in the streets, in the press and on social networks, I think people want to bring about a Western-style liberal democracy to serve as a containing wall against the authoritarianism of mainland China. Hardly anyone speaks about changing the dominant capitalist economic system and even less its logistic, commercial and financial base that has been giving such good returns to this global city even since its deindustrialization. It is a paradoxical situation because under colonial rule the city did not enjoy full democracy either. But the brutal repression in Tiananmen reinforced the overwhelming opposition to capitalist authoritarianism by the Communist Party and helped forge the unique ‘identity’ of Hong Kong which embraces colonial legacies such as ‘the rule of law’ and administrative efficiency. Corruption, censorship and repression in mainland China are considered some of the ills which Hong Kong seems to be able to keep at bay.

Finally, it is no coincidence that it’s mostly young people out on the streets. Not only do they have more resources and opportunities to do so, but they will also live more years of their existence under the post-2047 regime than other generations. And they are not only concerned about their freedoms, but also about their welfare. Although the unemployment rate is around 3%, the prospects do not look very promising, because over a third of society is living below the official poverty line. It’s an extreme neoliberal regime based on “workfare” where there are lots of jobs available, but many are so poorly paid and have so few rights that you need to be very optimistic and do a lot of somersaults in order to stay afloat. Getting into college is a privilege for less than a quarter of those who aspire to go to university, and the tuition fees are not cheap (about 4,000 euros per year in the eight publicly funded universities). The housing prices are the second most expensive in the world, behind New York, and waiting lists for access to social housing are saturated for decades, which makes for numerous cases of overcrowding and substandard housing. Some of the principal grievances are concerned with property speculation by foreign capital, especially from China, which invests in local real estate as if it were a casino, causing prices to rise through the roof. Money laundering of proceeds from corruption, among other sources of illegal income, like is also happening in nearby Macau, often in collusion with the big banks, has repeatedly proven to be at the root of this fast-paced economic activity. In the absence of unemployment benefits or public pensions the system forces anyone to in-debt themselves or to invest. In fact, the uncontrollable private pension funds that every employed worker needs to subscribe to, have been nurtured by legislation that is increasingly questioned. And if that were not enough, the city-state of Hong Kong enjoys an extraordinary financial surplus even though its successive governments continue to recommend austerity and prudence, together with cuts in social benefits. We might add that the city hosts many of the greatest fortunes of the world, which makes the gap and the social polarization even more unbearable, even though everyday life seems oddly sunk in motley peaceful coexistence. There are also 300,000 domestic workers (mostly Indonesians and Filipinos) subject to draconian conditions of exploitation, abuse and legal hindrance.

Under the carpet of luxury, consumerism, waste and growth without limits, there is a divided society that struggles for dignity and self-determination of their future. In line with a rich experience of struggle and previous actions, including two surprising victories (in 2003 when people opposed the “national security” legislation, and in 2012 when students and the entire education sector, managed to paralyze a plan to implement the “patriotic education”) we can say that there’s a long road ahead. Not only on the streets but also in the institutions, despite the oppressive model that currently prevails.

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