A Coming of Age in Hong Kong

Martin Alexander
Oct 3rd, 2014

The events of Sunday June 4 1989 brought several hundred thousand citizens onto the streets of Hong Kong the next day. Schools closed to allow students and teachers to express their horror at what had happened in Tiananmen Square, and to show their support for the human rights of people who, in less than ten years, would become their fellow-citizens.

That first outpouring exhibited the same qualities that have characterised the current demonstrations in the city: concern for others, orderly behaviour and a quiet determination to behave considerately. There was no pushing, no shoving, no aggression. Teachers kept an eye on their students though there was no need to do so. In the bottlenecks along the route from Central to Causeway Bay, demonstrators waited patiently in the heat, carried each other’s children, shared water. From flats and offices above, families and workers waved their support. The police guided but did not obstruct the marchers.

At the end of the day, this writer and his children set out to find a taxi. When they found one, the driver was moved that foreigners had joined Chinese to protest against the violence of Tiananmen. He refused the fare, saying, 'I couldn't afford to give up a day's work to march for my people. But you, a foreigner, marched for me. Keep your money.'

This week, people around the world have shown the same solidarity, this time for the people of Hong Kong. And since the violence of that June day, Hong Kongers have marked the anniversary with the same peaceful passion; they successfully resisted the imposition of anti-sedition legislation through Article 23 and demonstrated a political maturity that belies the mainland authorities’ insistence that protests are the work of a disruptive minority, brainwashed by foreign influence. Parents everywhere struggle to accept the adulthood of their children and find excuses like this to deny that they’ve grown up. But like it or not, Hong Kong has come of age.

'One country, two systems' has worked until now, after a fashion. Hong Kong hoped for and trusted in the promised high level of autonomy, and gave Beijing the benefit of the doubt. But promises that were made have now been broken and this is seen as a turning point.

There were fears that the handover in 1997 would put PLA soldiers on every street corner. These proved groundless: the iron fist of Chinese power has been all but invisible in Hong Kong in the intervening years, and restraint has been the watchword for protestors, government and police alike.

That changed with the firing of tear gas and pepper spray and seems to be further threatened by the stockpiling of baton rounds and riot gear later in the week. Freedom of expression in Hong Kong is a cherished right and a widespread expectation. It is a right and expectation that the people of Hong Kong, like free people elsewhere, should be allowed to retain.

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Martin Alexander
Hong Kong
Last blog date: Oct 3rd, 2014

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