The Great Wall around the Middle Kingdom Mentality
For all the talk of a younger generation of Chinese that are advocating for a more Westernised perspective on key topics; such as human rights; censorship; economic issues; environmental practices; what have you– you have to realise that any victories in these areas that are being reported back in Western media are table scraps.
The “Umbrella Revolution” going on in Hong Kong is not a matter of winning or losing for Hong Kong democracy– Hong Kong has already lost. It lost as soon as control went back to China as far as I’m concerned. The only way to reverse this is to take it back, and there is no compromise about this– the two cultures are significantly different. To use a Breaking Bad analogy, protesting against a loss of liberty in the choosing of electoral candidates is a half measure. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here.
It’s not a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.” Hong Kong has been grafted back into China, and everything about the Mainland System is Borg. Its cells only know how to do things the same way the they have always done things. And that is, essentially, practices like blocking Instagram photos of the Revolution, and supressing the news generally. Did anyone really not see this coming?
Democracy does not win against these sorts of status-quo encroachments with rallies, especially not when the group in the position of power is a world superpower driving turnover for wordwide economies– for all its importance as a financial and serviecs hub, Hong Kong simply doesn’t matter as to the world as Mainland China does.
And even if anyone decided to sternly scold China about it’s anti-democratic practice– why would China care? At the same time, everyone is lining up to do business with China because of the buying power and manufacturing expertise which has all been enabled thanks to those same anti-democratic processes.
If you want China to be more democratic? Maybe first you should consider never buying anything made in China at sweatshop rates ever again. That’s your vote, and what you want to say in petitions doesn’t change the fact that your economic vote through your purchases is of more relevance than cheap words.
The sentiment on the ground in 2013, when I was last in Hong Kong, was with relation to the high speed railway plans from the Mainland to Hong Kong. If you read up on this, most of the ill sentiment were with regards to environmental impacts and the destruction of several villages along the proposed route. Do you think that people in Hong Kong cared about that stuff? Sure, maybe. But considering that HK regularly finishes its financial years with a surplus (to the point where it redistributes money back to some citizens, like, free money), my feeling is that most people don’t care about the environmental impacts.
What they did care about was how the high speed railway meant more mainland Chinese coming into Hong Kong.
It might be a bit tricky to define “they” but I suppose “they” would be middle class Hong Kong Cantonese speakers.
I’m not just imagining this either– the public “One People” campaign in the preceeding years was designed by Mainland to try and culturally shift HK Chinese into accepting increasing numbers of Mainland visitors.
The Umbrella Revolution is nothing new– and like so many others, it will just become part of history. Or actually, come to think of it, in Mainland, that won’t even happen.
Am I saying that we should just give up on it? No.
What I am saying is that the stage we’re at, intellectual discourse and small scale violence, is only a half-measure. Umbrella Revolutions are necessary, but their importance is only as stepping stones, and too often we step back down from even these once we feel we’ve had our moment on the soapbox. There will have to be a whole lot more grit teeth, blood and tears before anything will actually change.
And us being in Western democracies? Knowing this and discussing this stuff doesn’t change anything– none of that hurts a country that doesn’t care about your opinion. Even an Umbrella Revolution– it’s the cost of China doing business as usual, same way once in a while you need to fork out for a taxi once in a while: yes it’s going to cost you, but ultimately, the cost of these infrequent little things is trivial compared to gained opportunity costs of keeping the longer term game on foot. Business as usual, because China knows this is how the game must be played– they pay some lip service every now and then when it’s convenient, but China’s eyes rightly remain on the message your money is telling them, completely independently from what you say and where you wag your finger.
Start thinking about how you can vote with your consumer practices, your cultural tolerance, and your environmental practices. How do your lifestyle and social practices make a statement of your endorsement of Chinese success, in spite of cheap, intellectually sugarcoated words?