Voices from the Hong Kong Occupation: Dian Dian
by Brian Hioe
Translator: Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun
As part of our continuing Eye of the Storm: Voices from the Hong Kong Occupation series of interviews conducted by New Bloom with participants, organizers, and observers of the Hong Kong democracy movement, we interviewed Dian Dian, editor of the Queer Lala Times (酷拉時報), via e-mail on October 9th. The interview was then translated from Chinese into English.
As a result, the interview describes a situation which has changed somewhat, but we present it to give a snapshot of a specific moment in time, one whose lingering traces in the present situation are still quite visible.
Brian Hioe: Can you talk a little bit about yourself and the work that you do normally? For example, in role your role as editor of Queer Lala Times (酷拉時報) and your work at Chinese Lala Alliance (華人拉拉聯盟). What other movements have you been involved in besides the present one?
Dian Dian: My participation in social movements have mostly been in regards to feminist and the LGBTQ issues.
Regarding the feminist movement, I I more or less was a participant in these years’ feminist actions in China, such as a campaign to shave heads to protest gender inequality, and 裸體反家暴 (“裸體反家暴” was a campaign in which feminist activists posted topless images with slogans written on themselves online, in order to raise awareness for anti-domestic abuse legislation), Beautiful Feminist Walk – A Protest Against Sexual Abuse to Promote Women’s Freedom (女權徒步) and other campaigns and actions. I also translated Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.”
As for the lesbian movement, I’ve been a volunteer in Common Language (同語) since 2009 and participated in some projects of it, including the Beijing Lesbian Community Oral History Project, Common Language Orange News, Campus Sharing, etc. In 2011, I came to Hong Kong, and began working at the Chinese Lala Alliance (CLA) in 2013. Through its projects such as Lala Camps, I became acquainted with the state of the lesbian movements in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. Currently I am primarily responsible for the Queer Lala Times (酷拉時報), a Chinese publication about issues of gender/sexuality in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. This publication, apart from providing a space for reflecting on the gender/sexuality movements in the Sinosphere areas, can create and document theoretical discourses and important issues facing the movements as a whole.
I am also interested in other social issues as preservation and environmental conservation. I once took part in an action to protect dolphins organized by my friend, but I guess that isn’t full participation in the environmentalist movement.
BH: What do you think the view of Hong Kongers towards the student movements is? For example, what do people think of Joshua Wong and the Scholarism group, or Lester Shum and Alex Chow and the Hong Kong Federation of Students? What are your own views towards the student movement?
DD: I don’t think we can generalize about the “Hong Kongese”, in the sense that there are large differences between peoples’ views, which are also influenced by the course of the movement. The week the student strike began, most residents of the city did not seem to care a great deal about this event. But since the clash of students and police on the street, many residents of Hong Kong came out in support of the students and made the movement more than a student movement, while those in opposition made their positions clear.
On the site of the occupation, of course there are many supportive people; I once encountered a housewife who, seeing that I was wearing a yellow ribbon, asked me to convey my support to students. But, as another example, my landlord expressed opposition. I believe members of the public sympathetic to the students are in the majority, even those who opposite student movement showed sympathy to students, and criticized the police after their conflict.
Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students next to Joshua Wong of Scholarism. Photo credit: Bloomberg/Brent Lewin
In the same way, there are also large differences in people’s attitudes toward the student movement leaders and organizers. I am most familiar with college student and teacher’s groups, who tend admire Joshua Wong. While there are different views towards Scholarism, or the Federation, there is recognition of their participation in the present movement. As for those opposed to the student movement, there are different criticisms, such as that they are “manipulating students” or “on behalf of foreign forces”.
As for my personal views towards Joshua Wong, Scholarism, and the Student Federation, I wouldn’t criticize them for I don’t know them deeply. What has to be said is that from what I’ve seen of Joshua Wong through video or writings, I do admire his eloquence of speech and believe that he is quite a charismatic leader; from what I’ve experienced at protests, I can say that members of both organizations work very hard to protect the students and citizens on-site.
BH: By contrast, what is the general view of Hong Kongers towards Occupy Central? What do people think of the three organizers of Occupy Central, Benny Tai Yiu-Ming, Chen Kin-man, and Reverend Chu Yiu-Ming?
DD: Similarly, there are differences in views between Hong Kongers and there’s no way to make sweeping generalizations. My feeling is that people supportive of Occupy Central is less than those supportive of the student movement. Since those who oppose the students usually also oppose Occupy Central, while among those who are supportive of the student movement at large, there are quite a few who believe that Occupy Central didn’t take the lead and their strategy is too mild.
But maybe because the notion of “Occupy Central” sounds very radical, the one-year preparation of it ran into certain limits (several public workshops didn’t achieved the amount of people hoped for, and although there were differences in views between participants, it mainly leaned towards pan-Democracy, didn’t really communicate with people holding other political views), and the leaders were not very optimistic about the outcome.
But there has been a large response from people in the 622 Referendum organized by OCLP. On the night of the 28th, Occupy Central’s three leaders announced the beginning of Occupy Central ahead of schedule to massive fanfare (according to hearsay, people who don’t identify with Occupy Central but only with the student movement left, but from my perception, the energy of the movement and the number of people remained high). Out of an analysis of Twitter hashtags, of English keywords, #OccupyCentral had the highest rate of sharing. I feel that signifies identification with Occupy Central by people.
Yet in the movement thus far, from my observations, it was the surging of people that forced the “three leaders” to announce the beginning of “Occupy Central” (and it was technically “Occupy Admiralty” that the movement began with, despite that the name Occupy Central is used). The movement is probably not as what the “three leaders” imagined, and it doesn’t need their lead.
BH: What are the differences between how people view students, as in Scholarism or the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and Occupy Central? Also, what distinguishes the groups in terms of how they organize?
DD: Again, the answer will vary among Hong Kong people.
Personally, I think before the start of this movement, people in the two groups are drawn by different reasons and come from different backgrounds. Occupy Central activists have their eyes on political reform, while the student movements also include people advocating for “self-determination” and more radical issues. Within the movement, there has been tension. Like I mentioned in the previous question, there are people dissatisfied with the three leaders of Occupy Central, considering them too conservative, having co-opted the achievement of the student movement, etc. There are also people who believe it is of necessity to protect the students, to pull back the students and let other citizens to carry out “Occupy Central”. From the announcements of OCPL and students’ groups, you can see there is restraint on both sides, but Occupy Central represents a more conservative viewpoint overall.
But apart from these divides, within this movement, the student groups began from the student strike to present demands (to withdraw the changes to the constitution, for the three top government officials to step down, for government candidates to be nominated by the people, and the abolition of the 1,200 member election committee). This is close to the demands of Occupy Central, different from their more radical calls before.
For the current movement, it’s hard to distinguish between the student movement and Occupy Central. Personally, I feel the philosophy of Occupy Central inspired the students on the 26th, given that Occupy Central came before them, for example, with the demand for the realization of “true democracy.”
On another point, both Occupy Central and the student groups are unable to control all of the occupied spaces. There are more students in Admiralty, but with news that the police might come in and clear space with guns on the 28th, student groups began withdrawing and calling for students and citizens to pull back. Yet many people were willing to stay. And the rallies appeared in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay later the same day were more spontaneous in nature, no organization can totally control the situation.
BH: How do you think the views of Hong Kongers towards the Umbrella Revolution have shifted over time? I recall that in September, Benny Tai stated that Occupy Central might already be a failure on the basis of lack of popular support, but the student strike and the employment of police violence against protestors was inciting of many people. Likewise, there has been much talk of the occupation dragging on for a long time irritating people wanting to go to work and get on with their lives.
DD: First, again, emphasizing that views differ between people, part of the issue is whether we should use the name “Umbrella Revolution.” I’ve seen controversy over the demands of the movement: whether it is just to reform the government, or to overturn the present system. There are worries that the term “revolution” will be inciting of the Communist Party.
From citizen participants, judging from numbers and the atmosphere on-site, you can definitely perceive change. For example, the student strike didn’t attract too much attention, the participants mostly were students and teachers. But after clashes between the police and students on Friday night, the amount of support for students rose, a lot of citizens including many of my friends haven’t seen a weeklong strike before, but were on the streets on that Saturday.
We can say that the two days after that were the high points of the movement, the amount people occupying and the range of the occupation was very impressive, particularly in the evening to late night. After the start of October, since there’s no further actions of the police, the atmosphere was more peaceful and calm; a lot of interesting posters and organizations appeared at that time. Because people seemed too happy and free on streets, there was some posters that said, “Everyone be vigilant, don’t turn this into a carnival,” in fact.
But I thought, on the other hand, this kind of cheerful protest was very endearing. People are now occupying the streets which were only allowed cars to use before, and show their creativity and originality between the high-rise buildings of the financial district. And from casual conversation between people, the kind of free space that emerged posed an inherent challenge to institutionalization.
The opposition of “Blue Ribbons” and even triad members led to the rise of “Mong Kok occupation” drawing more attention. After seeing the violent behaviors of “Blue Ribbons”, one of my friends who were on the sidelines and sympathetic to police become sympathetic to peaceful protestors instead. After many negative comments on their violent behaviors, the opposition have also become more peaceful, I noticed people debating heatedly in Mong Kok, but not fighting, Causeway Bay has become where people have public discussions, and there usually opposition people leave after quickly saying what they have to say. Oppositional speech includes claims the movement is “colluding with foreign forces”, pan-Democracy is “manipulating students”, etc. More significantly, there were criticisms stating the movement has “disturbed the economy and people’s lives”—the kind of argument you see in a lot of mainstream media—and that the movement is “becoming entertainment” and not as serious anymore. Some people, including people I know, do disagree with the movement, believe that it has negatively influenced people’s life and business, etc.
As time passed, after the government agreed to talks, the number of people on-site dropped, and people on the Internet also were suggesting to shrink the size of the occupation (to remove some street barriers people built before). But when the dialogue on October 10th was cancelled by government, I noticed the amount of people in Admiralty surged again. The future situation is not yet clear, but I feel that if the government continues to refuse to meet with demonstrators, and mass media continues to blame the movement for blocking public transport, public support will decline.
BH: Can you tell us a bit about the views of mainland Chinese towards current events in Hong Kong and the views of Hong Kongers in the present towards the mainland within the movement? If I am not mistaken, you yourself are originally from mainland China? If so, could you talk about your personal views (if not, my mistake!)
DD: As for myself, I don’t have particularly strong identification with any particular region. Since I was young, with my family’s changes in work situation, I had to move around between different places in China’s north and south, so in a way I was always a “stranger”.
I’ve been in Hong Kong for three years now, and I’m very happy with my Hong Kong friends. Quite a few Hong Kong people have non-stereotypical views towards mainland Chinese. But you can also sense that Hong Kong society has rising hostility towards mainland Chinese, and some of the people in Hong Kong don’t understand the situation in China, and just think of mainland China as hell, and of Chinese to be hated and seen with contempt.
After I’m told by Hong Kong friends, “You’re not like a mainland Chinese”, I on the other hand, feel there’s a need for a “mainland Chinese” identity to break the stereotype of “mainland Chinese” people have because I don’t want the city I love to become narrow-minded.
Once more, Chinese have different views towards Hong Kongers, and it is difficult to generalize. But, actually, most mainlanders don’t really care about Hong Kong and it’s probably more that mainland Chinese don’t have any ideas about Hong Kongers. In my hometown of Hunan, in the eyes of some of my relatives, the image of Hong Kong people is that they have more money, have better laws, but might be defiant. But not even just speaking of average Chinese, even Chinese living in Hong Kong sometimes don’t understand or care for Hong Kong a lot.
In addition, with the “Great Firewall” of China’s censorship blockade, a lot of people have no knowledge of the current events. Even scarier is that these people who don’t understand the situation in Hong Kong, sometimes buy into the official propaganda, which, combined with nationalism (or we can say chauvinism) causes them to condemn Hong Kong people for seeking “independence,” or to cynically believe that it’s useless to fight for democracy and the conspiracy theories that “people are being used” by “outside manipulators.” But in fact, a lot of the people opposing the movement within Hong Kong itself have these same attitudes. And there’re also many mainland people who support the movement, some even showed their in high risk of China’s censorship. Some mainland people think the hope of democracy is in Hong Kong, and praise “the high quality of citizens” and “peaceful, rational, nonviolent”of Hong Kong people.
I have always been trying to push for dialogue between China and Hong Kong. From the beginning of this event, I was trying to pass along information to China through social media, when deleted by cybercops, I would change text into pictures to try and pass it along as much as possible. I also participated in the 即使隔牆，也要支持 (“Support HK across GreatFirewall”) Facebook page, in order to not only pass along information to Hong Kong, but also collect news and activities from the mainland in support of Hong Kong. Personally, I believe Hong Kong is a complex group, same with the mainland, but if I had to generalize, I would say that Hong Kongers are brave, have a naive sense of justice and better etiquette, but the etiquette part may result in problems of not being agile or open enough.
BH: What’s your observations on the involvement of women and LGBTQ in the current HK movement?
We interviewed Lucetta Kam from the Hong Kong Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (學人。性。聯盟) beforehand, she mentioned groups as Action Q (大專同志行動) and Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF). What else can you tell us about such groups, individuals, or others involved, and what they have organized?
DD: On-site I’ve seen women and lesbian in large proportion (I have less “gaydar” for men), in greater proportion than you would encounter in the regular public space. I believe their participation is an important aspect of social movements; from their personal circumstances, they may be more sensitive to social injustice. In the July 1st demonstration in previous years and other protests where people expressing dissatisfaction with the government, LGBTQ groups were always present.
During the student strike, from what I saw, Action Q was very active, they had a lot of volunteers on-site. LGBTQ and women’s organizations, such as the Hong Kong Pride Parade Organizing Committee and Association for the Advancement of Feminism, both strongly supported students, same with Hong Kong Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (學人。性。聯盟), which hosted a public lecture in the “Boycott classes, don’t boycott learning” action during the strike. Once the set of events became “Occupy Central”, these groups remained in support, more members than before were on-site, and with civic discussions held at different sites, there was more discussion of gender/sexuality.
Members of Action Q on September 22nd, during the start of the student strike. Photo credit: 大專同志行動 Action Q
After the attack of the triads, with incidents of discriminatory language and even violence towards women, AAF issued a condemnation right away, and now set up a sexual violence hotline to deal with such incidents. To my understanding, now groups were acting less as top-down “organizations”, so it’s hard to explain the participation of organizations from the standpoint of “organizations”.
BH: Can you talk about the dynamics of gender/sexuality issues that in current events? Whether raised by students, in the movement itself, or in the media. Foreign or international media hasn’t sought to cover this in any great detail, if at all, so we’re very interested in this question.
DD: The kind of reflection on gender/sexuality issues here is uncommon, unlike in Taiwan. I’ve only seen Hong Kong Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity try to push for that, and responses weren’t too good.
I’ve seen essays written on the topic, mostly describing how it is on-site, expressing how they felt, and also critical reflections and analysis, but maybe these were perceived as undermining unity, so I haven’t seen a huge amount.
In regards to questions of gender/sexuality in the movement, I believe there are quite a few problems, for example, among both supporters and opposers of the movement, there is the use of sexual stereotypes (to attack the other side etc.) And the presence of women and LGBTQ organizations is sometimes “invisible.” Likewise, the leaders of the student movement are all male, and the reporting of the media inflects gender/sexuality stereotypes, etc., yet these problems are not made into an explicit topic of discussion. Some of these problems are more reflective of the movement as a whole, for example, there is a lack of indepth discussion in general, even when it comes to the to the present situation of the movement. Self-organization has positives and negatives, which may result in the movement declining and losing strength, and individual organizations sometimes have difficulty plugging its issues into the movement.
BH: What are the similarities between and what are the difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan? Where do you think Taiwan and Hong Kong protest movements have potential to cooperate, if at all?
DD: I don’t think they’re exactly the same. Though they are both students movements (or start with student movement), and you can point out similarities, I think the the governmental situation and the problems faced and demands aren’t so similar. But, to be sure, there are things the movements can learn from each other and inspire each other. Actually Taiwan’s present social movements has always provided a lot of fuel for consideration for Hong Kong and China.
If cooperation is on the table, I think it would have to consider how to address concrete problems. From my experience in lesbian NGOs, with cooperative efforts with Taiwanese organizations, the context under which we were established, our resources are different, and the problems we consider are different, but there can be much cooperative exchanges in specific issues. For example, this year, the Chinese Lala Alliance’s Taiwan exchange project, around the concrete issue of marriage reform in Taiwan, sharing mainland China and Taiwan’s experiences.
On the side of student movements, I don’t have too much experience from participating, but I feel that regarding some concrete mutual concerns, there could be exchanges of experiences. Another issue on which there could be exchanges is regarding the “China factor,” that is, the influence of China, but sometimes I worry that we will ignore other important issues when too much emphasis is placed within the movement on this. On the other hand, while this certainly needs to be addressed, and it’s easy to draw out personal experience on both sides, but I feel like changes can also be made elsewhere as the “China factor” is an outside factor and uncontrollable.
BH: Lastly, 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?
DD: As for the question of “an end”, I think for any social movement, we can say that there isn’t a set end (or that the end is utopia?)
Concretely, in regards to the present movement, because it is decentralized and spontaneous, we can say the three goals in the question all appeared in people’s demands, from what I can see on-site. But independence for Hong Kong is a demand you encounter very rarely (maybe because of strategy deliberations): of the thousands of posters and daily newspapers you see on-site, I’ve only seen two that say that. And now Student Federation and Occupy Central’s three leaders hope to discuss demands with the government but, in fact, they hope to just discuss reform of the constitutional amendment, in using a democratic means to achieve “genuine universal suffrage”, although it seems like the government is delaying the talk and even just this demand will be hard to achieve.
But a lot of people, including me, believe that the importance of this movement isn’t to be measured in terms of “success” in some political goals, but the civic consciousness which expresses itself through the processes of the social movement. The occupation has changed the space of the city, allowing people to closer exchange with each other in the formation of self-organized public space. Although these exchanges continue to broaden and deepen, it may be a long road that needs to be walked. The government is everybody’s concern. My thinking may be more naive, but I believe that if people’s connections can continue, this can lead to community organizing and various activities to change people’s lives in different respects. It’s from small concrete things that movement begins. For example,from self-organizing to clean garbage and do classification recycling in occupation sites, people who care about recycling may build a long-term group against government’s bad policies on garbage disposal. If different people can come together, meet each other and build effective groups on different issues in the movement, it will allow for a stronger stand against the government.