Voices from the Hong Kong Occupation: Lucetta Kam

by Brian Hioe and Wen Liu

Photo Credit: Sirlanz/WikiCommons/CC

This is the first of an upcoming series of interviews conducted by New Bloom with participants, organizers, and observers of the Hong Kong democracy movement. Through these interviews, we hope to give observers from afar a sense of what people are thinking and feeling on the ground in Hong Kong and in regards to the current situation with what has now been variously termed the “Umbrella Revolution”.

Dr. Lucetta Kam is an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University and an organizer of Hong Kong Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

The present interview was conducted on September 29th via e-mail by New Bloom editors Brian Hioe and Wen Liu, as a result of which the situation has changed since. Nevertheless, it provides a look into the inner dynamics of the movement which remains salient in the present.

Public Opinion Towards the Movement

Brian Hioe:  What is the view of Hong Kongers towards the student strike in your opinion? Has the outbreak of police violence has changed Hong Kongers view of the student strike in, for example, becoming more sympathetic towards students? What are your own views towards the student movement?

Lucetta Kam:  The views of Hong Kong people are quite divided. According to a recent survey done by the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the more educated and the young tend to support Occupy Central (as the strike is more or less a prelude of Occupy Central).  By contrast, the less educated and older generations are more oppositional. For the student strike by itself, universities are mostly supportive but the views among secondary schools are very divided. Reasons include worries from parents that school kids will be misled, and etc. But over time, more and more secondary school presidents have shown public support and student concern groups have been set up in secondary schools. As last Friday, September 26th, was the day of the secondary school strike, thousands of students gathered at Tamar government headquarter to show support in person.

The outbreak of police violence, or the numerous actions taken by the pro-communist/pro-government groups in Hong Kong to demonise the strike and Occupy Central movement have proved to be one factor make more previously silent or neutral Hong Kong people become more sympathetic of the movements. For example, parents show more public support when there are organized efforts to stigmatize students who joined the strike.

My view, of course, is that I’m fully supportive of the democratic movement of students and all Hong Kong citizens. I’m not alone. Scholars/teachers are a major force in this movement. I just joined 100+ scholars in HK to give public lectures at Tamar to the students on strike last week.

BH:  By contrast, what is the view of Hong Kongers towards Occupy Central? The organizers themselves have acknowledged strong opposition towards Occupy Central, after all, with Benny Tai’s previous statement that Occupy Central would not be as large as expected due to the opposition of Hong Kongers. Likewise, what view would you take of Occupy Central?

LK:  Last night, September 28th, when I was at the government headquarter with 50,000 people, as estimated by the organizers, at around 1:30am, Benny Tai and others came and announced the activation of Occupy Central movement. What I observed on site as a participant was that people were overwhelmed and thousands of people were saying “Cheers” (飲杯 in Cantonese) together. It was really a scene. But later I also learnt student leaders’ views were splitting. Some were unhappy because they think the platform or the action was “hijacked” by the Occupy Central people all of a sudden. And it changed the nature of the occupation from a student-led one to Occupy Central. I later also learnt some participants left last night because of this. And today the dominant voice is that we should work together for the common goal and we cannot afford to split up.

It’s the first day of Occupy Central, though in truth, actually we’re just occupying Admiralty, and have not yet extended the occupation to Central one subway stop away. Police violence has indeed disgusted many people and I estimate more people will join when they realise how violent the Hong Kong police or how arrogant the Hong Kong government is.

My view, as many people joined together, we might not fully agree with the three leaders of the Occupy Central movement’s propositions or actions, but we cannot afford to be split from the inside. It is the only mass movement we can participate in at the moment to exert some influence on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

Fiction and Convergence within the Movement

BH:  Can you discuss the student movement and its structure? For example, the Scholarism group plays a prominent role within the student movement, as does its convenor, Joshua Wong. By contrast, how does Occupy Central organize itself under the leadership of Benny Tai, Chen Kin-man, and Chu Yiu-ming? Are there significant differences to be pointed to?

LK:  Since 2011, the secondary school students-led Scholarism started to emerge as a young radical and progressive force in the local social movement. They first formed as a group to oppose the national education curriculum proposed by the Hong Kong in 2012. They were resourceless at the beginning and used traditional grassroots activism methods such as setting booths on streets to gather people’s signature for their anti-national education campaign.

But not before very long, more and more people were aware of the issue and the charismatic leadership of Joshua Wong was definitely a factor of its success. As a 15-year-old student at that time, his maturity and leadership caught the attention of Hong Kong people. With the Occupy Civic Square (the government headquarter) campaign in the summer of 2012, they worked with the newly formed national education parents’ concern group and it was the first ever occupation-style movement in Hong Kong. So many students and teachers joined and took turns in occupying the supposedly public space. Scholarism up to now is still a secondary school students political group. Its university counterpart is the Hong Kong Federation of Students. The one week long student strike last week was organised by the HKFS and the Friday occupation was organised by Scholarism.

Secondary students (since 2012) and university students have played a dominant role in recent years’ political movement in Hong Kong. For example, to a large extent, the early announcement of Occupy Central movement last night was triggered by the successful student strike in the last week and it actually is taking advantage of the success and popularity of the student strike and the public support gathered by students. To me, I would say, the commencement of the Occupy Central movement is a direct outcome of the successful student strike and movement. Credit should be given to the students and all of the Hong Kong people who participate in support of the students.

The major difference of the Scholarism and Occupy Central leadership, apart from the age/generation gap, is the form of organising. Scholarism is more of a grassroots style street activism group and they adopt a very confrontational strategy/style in front of the authority. Occupy Central leadership emphasizes peace and a mild non-confrontational approach as shown from its slogan, love and peace. They worked hard to spread their ideas and gather support by holding seminars, public debates and writing articles in newspapers. Their organising style has been criticized by the more radical generations, usually the younger ones, as being too “slow”, too “peaceful”, and ineffective. In terms of popular support, Scholarism is definitely the more popular group and Hong Kong people in general trust them more. Yet at the moment, as I said in my response to question #1, since Occupy Central is the only possible mass movement we can gather force and exert some influence, many Hong Kong people tend to follow the leaders of Occupy Central and adopt a tolerant and wait-and-see attitude. Disagreements and discontent of the Occupy movement are present in the activist community as well as in the general public.

BH:  What do you think of Chinese and their relationship towards Hong Kongers? Do you think the history of China and Hong Kong makes Hong Kong different from Hong Kongers? And what of the numerous incidents of mainland Chinese refusing to abide by Hong Kong social customs or flagrantly breaking laws?

LK:  These are big questions. I don’t know if I have time to fully explain it. The relationship between mainland Chinese and Hong Kongers was different at different times. It’s hard to generalize or to give an overriding statement to define the relationship. Hong Kong people are composed of people from different ethnicities, classes and social backgrounds, and so are mainland Chinese. So it’s never possible to see each group as ONE monolithic group. For example, the ties between Hong Kong people who are immigrants from mainland or their parents/grandparents were immigrants from China are often, though not always, more sympathetic to people from china. Non-Chinese ethnic minority people in Hong Kong might be more indifferent to or ignorant of people from China.

But in general, in the past 10 years, there has been an emergence of hostile sentiment of Hong Kong people towards mainlanders.For example, those mainland tourists or mothers who only come to Hong Kong to give birth so their children can enjoy Hong Kong’s social benefits, is growing rapidly. Namely, there are too many tourists from China visiting Hong Kong than the city can handle. The influx of tourists (one source says there are over 40,000,000 visitors from china coming every year) has dramatically transformed many neighbourhoods in Hong Kong. Effects can be seen in the closing down of independent shops and its replacement by chain stores selling products for tourists, the rising rents, and the explosion of street-level users in many areas in Hong Kong.

Adding to that, the unpopular remarks and policies by the Hong Kong and the Chinese government in recent years, all contribute to the growing discontent of Hong Kong people towards the government and contributed to a negative view towards the Chinese government and China as a country.

Gender and Sexual Politics within the Movement

Wen Liu:  What is your observation on the involvement of women and LGBTs in the current Hong Kong movement? What are the general dynamics? We want to ask this question because there have been critiques of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan that while many women and LGBTs participated and took on important roles, they were rarely mentioned by media or at the visible leadership positions. We were wondering what might be the dynamics you observed in Hong Kong.

LK:  So good that you ask this question.

LGBTQ groups and people and women’s groups (progressive ones) are always participating in Hong Kong social and political movements. For example, the newly formed LGBT rights student group in Hong Kong, Action Q (大專同志行動), it’s a key part in the student strike assembly last week and they participated in collective actions of all kind such as the march to CY Leung’s home. A newly formed group organised by scholars/teachers who concern about sexuality and gender diversity issues in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (學人。性。聯盟) has participated in the student strike by giving public lectures at the Tamar assembly last week. Core organisers, including myself, have been with the students at government headquarters during the past week. Women’s groups such as the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF) also took part in the strike and now the Occupy Central movement. They’re in the backup team and has long been in touch with the Occupy Central organisers to work out plans to participate.

Apart from the physical presence of LGBT people and concern groups, gender and sexuality is a marginal issue in the current movement. A critical discussion or even consciousness of the current political movement from a gender/sexuality perspective has yet to appear. In the anti-national education campaign in 2012, the sexist nature of the social movement in Hong Kong has already emerged to the surface.

There’s incident of young female participant/student activist having photos taken of her and uploaded to the internet, as a result of which, people talked about her body and made sexist jokes and attacks. AAF organised talks to address this issue. But I can say in general the local social movement community is rather gender insensitive, not to mention, they lack care about sexual diversity. Individual activists might be supportive of LGBT rights but when people are participating in a mass social movement such as occupy central, gender and sexuality issues or voices criticizing the sexist and heterosexist nature of the movement are always marginalized, dismissed or even condemned.

One recent example is the criticism of the publicity of the Occupy Central movement offered by a local gender studies scholar and LGBTQ activist Siu Cho (Joseph Cho). He wrote an article on InMedia to point out the heterosexist assumption of the Occupy Central movement when it uses the analogy of a heterosexual wedding to refer to the movement (去飲 in Cantonese) and one publicity is a wedding invitation card that personify the movement as a heterosexual wedding, as the wedding of “the elder son Hong Kong” and “the elder daughter Democracy”. Siu Cho criticized this analogy as heterosexist and excluding of a more diverse imagination of love, family, and what is democracy. The article on InMedia attracted many extremely negative comments. This incident shows that sexual democracy and gender equality or autonomy are yet to enter the lexicon or agenda of the dominant activists community and its supporters in Hong Kong, even though the movement is for the “democracy” and “autonomy” of this city.

WL:  As someone who has studied and involved in the LGBTQ movement in China and Hong Kong, do you think that this current movement can influence the global LGBTQ movement as well? Any gender/sexuality issues that students may have raised during the current events?

LK:  I think it’s actually the other way round. I hope the current participation and visibility of LGBTQ people and groups and students in the movement can introduce sexual and gender justice into the agenda of the local democratic movement and extend people’s imagination and understanding of what is democracy. And to draw people’s attention to the long held sexism, heterosexism in the local political movement and activist community. At least, when we’re fighting for a more democratic future and a more inclusive society, local activists and some scholars, should stop and think, are they too ready to use sexist jokes and anti-gay remarks to talk about political issues? Of course, this is what we LGBTQ activists and scholars need to voice out and educate our partners in the movement to be more sensitive and enlightened.

An Ongoing Movement

BH:  What would you see as an end goal for the democracy movement in Hong Kong? The fulfillment of the promise of democracy offered by the British in the Patten administration? The realization of a workable form of “One country, two systems”? Independence for Hong Kong?

LK:  All of them and more than that I think. Because people participating in the current movement have diverse or even contradictory goals. We now have a common “enemy”, the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government, but people’s goals are quite diverse. I think the current movement is largely motivated by our general discontent of what’s happening in Hong Kong in recent years, and an accumulated discontent, especially towards the failure of Hong Kong government and the intervention of the Chinese government.

We do have a common goal of more democracy, more specifically the fight for a real direct election, but it’s only a short term goal. What is the long term goal and vision of the city? I think searching for our long term goals and what kind of life we want are also in some sense the “goals” of this ongoing movement. In other words, there are some visible short term goals or some vague ideas of what can be our future that we work towards, yet to me, the most important goal of this movement is the political empowerment of every Hong Kong person to be a real participating citizen.

Brian Hioe (丘琦欣) is an M.A. student at Columbia University, a freelance writer on politics and social activism, and an occasional translator. He is formerly a resident of Taipei, Taiwan.

Wen Liu (劉文) is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the City University of New York and a freelance writer on issues of sexuality and politics. She is currently based in New York City.

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