Protester waving a 'Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times' flag, 12 December 2019. Photo: Alex Yun for Lausan.

Revolutionizing our times

If our home is so wonderful, then what are we revolting for?

Original: 革時代的命

Translators: yehua, P, Promise Li, LWH, JMK

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Translators’ note: This article was first shared on Hong Kong internet forum LIHKG and then in the General Strike Coalition Telegram channel (二百萬三罷聯合陣線). The author asks the movement to reflect on what the subject of our revolution—”our times”—really is.

Author’s self-introduction: I am a netizen on LIHKG who stepped resolutely into the real world to open up the labour front. In my spare time, I write to ring the death knells of our times.

The movement has now lasted half a year and has cooled down [in recent weeks]. Lots of people are worried that—like Umbrella—the movement will die a natural death. In order to stave off this possibility, people have come up with many tactics for resistance and exhorted others to participate in order to help the movement “hang on” and maintain its momentum. To be honest, the reasons behind the de-escalation of the movement are too numerous. After half a year of resistance, everyone is jaded and in a vulnerable emotional state. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way out, and while our position in global politics is being consolidated, it isn’t taking form as quickly as we’d like. Peaceful rallies seem to be ineffectual and frontliners have fought their way to a standstill. The cost of resistance has risen exponentially; we have entered an era where anyone who looks young and is clothed in black may be arbitrarily arrested.

The key lies in what motivates us to continue our struggle, rather than what actions we have planned. When we exclaim “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” what is the Hong Kong we are facing? What defines “our times”? What are we revolting for? If after half a year, we still haven’t moved beyond approaching our five demands like a checklist, then I’m sorry to say: this is hardly a “revolution of our times.”

The bottleneck that the movement finds itself in today is due to two reasons. First, we’ve limited our supposedly transformative vision to only the five demands, and have been experimenting with all sorts of methods to realize them. However, our characteristic pragmatism and utilitarian calculations tell us these methods have all been “useless.” As a result, we’re now grasping for a resolution in the dark. Second, people are driven by emotions. When we see tear gas–filled skies and bullets firing, protesters brutalized and bloodied, and the passage of the draconian anti-mask law, we react with an indignation so fierce that we can organize disruptive actions all across the city. But absent these stirring scenes, we lose our anger, and our movement loses steam. We start chastising one another for letting up so easily: “People are cruel,” we say, as we urge ourselves to stay indignant, to never forget or give up. At this point, we are angry at each other as well as ourselves.

Hong Kong’s biggest problem is that many people think Hong Kong has no problems. But if Hong Kong is really so wonderful, then what are we revolting for—shits and giggles?

Let’s go back to basics. I want to walk us through my view of Hong Kong to see clearly through the times we live in and think clearly about what kind of revolution we want. When Edward Leung first called for a “revolution of our times” in 2016, Hong Kong had not yet come to the point it has today. So what revolution did he want? If we are only standing up because of anger, or police brutality, or Carrie Lam, then this is just an ordinary revolution, one that is applicable to every anti-government movement in the world. In it, we find no “Hong Kong” nor anything of “our times,” because corrupt governments and bloodthirsty militarized police are, simply put, everywhere.

Hong Kong’s biggest problem is that many people think Hong Kong has no problems. Perhaps we have been indoctrinated with “Central Values” since we were kids and have learned to accept so many things as normal, buying into the myth that “Hong Kong is Asia’s World City.” If Hong Kong is really so wonderful in everyone’s eyes, then what are we revolting for—shits and giggles? Or maybe we think Hong Kong only fell from grace in 2019, and we’re suddenly at a loss. In reality, Hong Kong has never been “normal” or enjoyed prosperity. It’s time for us to wake up!

Blue ribbons” often use this strawman critique: “You didn’t make a fuss under undemocratic British colonial rule, so why now?” This is an extremely inane argument to make, but its content is absolutely correct. Hong Kong has never had democracy, never had autonomy, never been the master of our own house. Hongkongers in Hong Kong have not been able to exercise their political agency since the start of colonial rule: Our social institutions, economy, political structures, and welfare policies are all part of other countries’ political calculus. On the chessboard lies the British empire, the US, the Chinese Communist Party, Kuomintang—but not a glimpse of Hongkongers. The so-called economic miracle in the 80s, when more Hongkongers were allowed to take up positions in government, was a product of the UK’s machinations. In the end, even negotiations about the future of Hong Kong’s sovereignty excluded the voices of Hongkongers. The reality is that Hong Kong has been a colony since the opening of its port: faced with British colonialism in the past, and Chinese colonialism now.

A vigil for Alex Chow Tsz-Lok, who died under dubious circumstances during a police operation in Chueng Kwan O, 8 November 2019. Photo: Alex Yun for Lausan.

We think that our legal system is flawless and world-renowned. But the legal system has always been open for exploitation: The power of prosecution lies in the hands of the Department of Justice, which is overseen by the Chief Executive, who is in turn appointed by the central government in Beijing. Since 1997, Hong Kong has not had genuine rule of law. On the surface, the Department of Justice is independent: you can appeal, you can file for judicial review. But once the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issues an interpretation, it can overturn all of the decisions of the local courts. The most that the legal sector has done is to issue a statement or organize a silent march, but it is ultimately frighteningly powerless.

The nature of the Legislative Council is even more absurd, as it cannot “legislate.” The Council has no power to initiate bills, while members’ motions are not binding—it’s absolutely rubbish. As for private bills, apart from the notorious split voting system where one must secure both a majority in the geographical and functional constituencies, there is the requirement that they must not involve “public expenditure or political structure or the operation of the Government.” Only the government has the right to initiate legislation; councillors only have the right to vote on whether to accept or reject it, and have no power to write legislation. And I’m not finished: The chief executive can refuse to sign into law a motion passed in the legislature, and even disband the legislature. These are all things the textbooks don’t tell you: The “separation of powers, independence of the courts” is a complete sham. The only truth is that “our government is executive-led, and Beijing calls the shots.”

How our textbooks describe Hong Kong—as an “international finance center, international metropolis and shoppers’ paradise”—is terrifyingly removed from our reality. 1.4 million Hongkongers live below the poverty line. 1.4 million! A fifth of our population can barely afford two meals a day, survive on government benefits, and live in subdivided flats; some aimlessly going through life unable to find a job. There are over a million of these people, can you imagine? Hong Kong has the highest Gini coefficient of all cities in the world, the most severe wage gap, the most expensive housing market, one of the highest paid heads of government in the world, the longest working hours in the world, the starkest inequalities in income and standard of living … What big businesses turn over in just a second is easily more than what ordinary people earn over nine lifetimes. This is Hong Kong: an international and financial hub, heaven for the rich, hell for the others. Hong Kong is a money-making tool for a few gargantuan corporations: MTR, Link REIT, Henderson Land Development, Jardine Matheson, HSBC, Cheung Kong Holdings … Not only did we not have the power to fight them, we never even thought about resisting, because we have long accepted the real estate monopoly and wealth disparity as the status quo, as common sense.

How much of the harbour have we reclaimed, how many skyscrapers have we erected, without giving people so much as a piece of sky to chase their own dreams?

Hong Kong has always prioritized economic growth above all; it is utilitarian to a fault. Since learning your first words, every step you take has been driven by the goal of enhancing your competitive edge, getting ahead, and establishing your personal reputation and legacy. How much of the harbour have we reclaimed, how many skyscrapers have we erected, without giving people so much as a piece of sky to chase their own dreams? How many people have given up on creating beautiful works of art, becoming hollow shells of human beings, soulless cogs in the grinding machinery of the city—slaves who will brave a typhoon in order to go to work? The monopoly on land and mercantilism has even eaten away at the remaining connections between people. Small stores, neighbourly relationships, passing words between passersby—all these have become relics of history. Some say we are poor because we have nothing but money. Actually, some of us have no money at all. Our lives have become barren.

When it comes to the environment, medical care, treatment of workers, transportation, entertainment, the media industry, housing, arts, culture … Hong Kong is rife with problems. And I haven’t even mentioned the CCP’s strategy of cultural assimilation: eliminate Cantonese, eliminate local culture, eliminate Hong Kong people, eliminate traditional characters, eliminate our will to resist. I don’t need to continue listing. Everyone, think about exactly what times we’re living in, what kind of Hong Kong we’re living in. 

This so-called “revolution of our times” is our recognition of Hong Kong’s sinking, the evils of our times, and so we must stand up to rescue ourselves. We do not only need a revolution of our government, a revolution of our institutions, a revolution of our society, a revolution of our relationships, a revolution of our culture: our first step must be a revolution of ourselves. We must ruthlessly tell ourselves: you have been lied to all your life, and the radio, the television, and textbooks are lies given to you by our times. Please tear away the canvas and confront the darkness of our times.

Now then:

Let us come together to

Liberate Hong Kong, with a revolution of our times.