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I was on journalist assignment in Hong Kong early last week covering Occupy Central. After witnessing the Sunflower movement in Taiwan, I was excited to observe the Hong Kong equivalent, and bear witness to young people bravely putting their lives in danger for democracy–thus breaking every stereotype about being Chinese and deferential and hierarchy-loving.
Civic Square, the site of the student movement last week, did not disappoint. The mood was festive, despite a tense confrontation at the governor’s mansion the night before after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying ignored the students’ ultimatum. Students gathered in groups scattered across the site enraptured in discussion. A lecture series–the idea for which, according to organizers, was taken from the Sunflower movement–went throughout the afternoon, covering topics of social and political importance. Some students even lugged their personal libraries to share with others. The spirit of civic enrichment and engagement was in the air.
As I now watch scenes of police firing on these same students in the streets of Hong Kong tonight, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness. I know that the Hong Kong government is attacking the best citizens Hong Kong will ever have. This, of course, is hardly a mistake: the feckless anomie of its residents is what will shore up Hong Kong’s new authoritarianism. There is no place for these model citizens in Beijing’s Hong Kong.
And yet by firing tear gas at students, some of which are of high school age, the Hong Kong government have drenched a sensitive issue in petroleum and created a conflagration. Hong Kong will not be the same. One astute protester I interviewed last week told me he worried that Occupy Central wasn’t making enough of an impact. He was right. Across from the protest, on the other side of a busy intersection in Admiralty, businessmen scurried about, and rich Hong Kongers gathered for shopping dates. Their daily routine was unimpeded. The protest were but a sidenote for lunch conversation–but not anymore. Tonight the streets are in flames.
Lorand Laskai (雷洛然) is a writer living in Beijing and recent graduate of Swarthmore College. He previously lived in Tainan, Taiwan.