Monday 29 September 2014

My take on Occupy Central

It’s human nature to react emotionally rather than rationally whenever there’s some kind of mass disorder. The Occupy Central movement, misplaced in Admiralty, is of course no exception.

A friend has a valid point: Most if not all student movements have underlying reasons that we should not simply shrug off. So, what’s Occupy Central about, and what could be the extreme outcomes?

Underlying Frustrations

Hong Kong craves the reset button for a few reasons. Education (both at school AND home) is a key one. Having popularised the university degree in the 1990s, everyone feels entitled to a better job. Ironically, quantity has achieved the opposite. We now have many graduates aspiring to be managers, but stuck with making telephone sales calls. Today’s mainland China has many more poor kids. But they have dreams and hopes to soon become nouveau riches. Most of them are (relatively relatively) happy and self-driven. On the other hand, Hong Kong’s social permeability has dropped significantly. Poor kids feel stuck. Middle class ones growing up without having learnt to tie shoe laces feel their enormous sense of entitlement denied. They’re unhappy. 

Worse, these peculiar Entitlement Kids have to face tough
competition from two fronts. The democracies in Europe and North America are not in good shape. When time is tough, and voting is pointless, some of the most adventurous pack their bags and head east. I can hear more French on the streets here in a single day than I had in a decade in bilingual Canada. These elite refugees outclass Hong Kong’s Entitlement Kids by a big margin. Fortunately, the colonial hangover helps. It’s easy for them to accept Western superiority by habit, especially when many of these newcomers add colour and energy to the community without institutionalised advantage like before 1997.

The problem comes from the other front. Being outclassed by rapidly evolving and upwardly shooting mainlanders hurts, hence Hong Kong’s unique froth of auto-racism. Few are capable of facing up to the competition. Badmouthing is much easier, and feels good man. Demonisation of mainlanders have become senseless and disproportional. The mass media douse oil, gunpowder, and poisonous gas to the fire, complaining about lack of Freedom of Expression at the same time. Some teachers join in. (Note that nearly none of the participating professors are from Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, or Natural Science — an interesting phenomena for Social Science professors to study, when they’re done occupying Central in Admiralty.)

This is not the only social issue that Hong Kong must face and digest. But there’s no room for more examples here. I might just add that the HK Government, like typical HK parents, have been eager to please, too undecided to act, never knowing where to draw the line. Their confusion and incompetence have not been helpful.

But none of the underlying frustrations are on the agenda of Occupying Centralists 

Why? I hate to speculate. Perhaps “Freedom and Democracy” is a more user-friendly slogan, and amorphous enough to avoid concrete solutions which might invite reasonable compromise?

The empty banner of “Democracy” is where it looks weird, and fundamentally different from most student movements in history. Young blood in the past spilled for beliefs that may or may not have been “correct” with hindsight, but they targeted a substantial issue. Even Occupy Wall Street — the movement which HK has copied unimaginatively — sought to address a serious imbalance in the US.

To those who are old-fashioned enough to care about facts, there are overwhelming evidence that the illusive concept of “Democracy”, in its numerous forms, is in crisis. Citizens of the US, UK, Greece, Iraq, Thailand, Egypt, the Philippines, Afghanistan, France, India, Japan, etc. etc. might testify. Nonetheless, supporters of the ideology remain fervently passionate, pushing it like religious fanatics. This is my tireless hobby horse so I won’t repeat myself here. Read my “conspiracy theory” if you’re interested.

The Occupy Centralists are protesting behind a dated ideological banner, without a specific goal they wish to achieve through their version of “Democracy”. If there were, I’ve failed to notice. 

Let’s examine the possible outcome, pragmatically… 

Fine, one can’t argue with ideologues. No politics and religion, they say. In this case, they are two in one. Let’s indulge in a bit of sobriety, and try to imagine the possible outcomes of this “movement”. 

If the objective of Occupying Central is to divide and disrupt, it's already mission accomplished. Time to go home. If the goal is their particular brand of Democracy, as stated, something they never dared to demand from colonial masters, it is now impossible even if they also occupy Kowloon, New Territories and the Outlying Islands. Simple as that. I’d be happy to bet, even offering extremely favourable odds. 

So, what’s the “best” outcome of this current disorder? After a few days of hoohas, everyone goes home to their Facebooks and video games. Beijing becomes more firm. The “Free Press” moan and bitch, condemning China, predicting its imminent collapse, as they have been doing daily, since 1949. In other words, things as usual.

The worst outcome? Beijing declares a state of emergency, suspending One-Country-Two-System. The stock market crashes. I’d be borrowing money from you to buy like mad. The “international” outcry would be deafening. So? Isn't it always? About 1/3 of Hongkongers would be elated. Another 1/3 don’t care. The remaining 1/3 shriek. A few would emigrate. A few would return. Within three years, assuming Homo sapiens haven’t killed themselves with nuclear bombs and environmental disasters yet, it’d just be something the Economist would write about annually, reminding the world that they were right in predicting Hong Kong’s demise back in 1997, albeit prematurely. But the Hang Seng Index would have fully recovered, perhaps higher. 

Meanwhile, as of today, the traffic is bad.
 James Tam

29 09 2014


Anonymous said...

Good point. Should have bought after 1989.

Unknown said...

So true, the arrow to the heart of so called Hongkongers...

Anonymous said...

Thanks James,
Your article is well thought out and eloquently written both in English and Chinese. All your points are valid. Good on you.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, what is the way out for Hong Kong youth then? How should government respond?

Unknown said...

You hit the key points. I think Chinese government won't do anything unless there is an element calling for HK independence.

James Tam 谭炳昌 (过渡) said...

I believe the best way out for HK youths is to make connection with China, understand the unique opportunity HK has (had?), and try to make the best of it. Meanwhile, the government must be patient, and let time absorb some of the irrational energy fist.