There has been a recent explosion of localist activist within Hong Kong in the last few months, likely due to a rapidly decreasing level of patience with antagonistic and abrasive pro-Beijing government actors as well as a lack of faith in “old-fashioned” and traditional democratic parties.
The Fishball Revolution, in Mong Kok, is the first eruption of a previously dormant volcano. Rising political tension and a frustration with heavy-handed police tactics portray an underlying cause of violence, whilst the night itself was set off by a protectionist movement seeking to safeguard local Hong Kong culture and traditions from the government. The Street Hawkers of Mong Kok certainly were unlicenced, and therefore technically illegal, however the selling of these local foods at Chinese New Year has been practised for years and is widely supported by the population. Attempts to stamp out the tradition likely has more to do with a mainland assimilation than it does with ensuring standards of hygiene across the city. The protection of this cultural cornerstone, symbolic of a holiday famed for its family unification, was the fundamental objective of the “call-for-arms” issued by groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous; and evokes fond memories of the initial stages of Occupy, when large numbers of Hong Kongers set off to protect the students from potential violent, “mainland-style” police tactics.
What is even more telling is the level of understanding many had for the protestors, even whilst considering the violence to have been unfortunate. It is very rare that wider support for a riot can be found, but there has been a large response of sympathy and support for the objectives sought. Hong Kong was largely united in fending off the FEHD and police, with a certain level of pride emanating from those who stood with traditional Hong Kong culture when the food stalls reopened unmolested the next day. It should be considered extremely notable that the first time protestors have not simply accepted the beatings handed out by the police and fought back was in defence of their own. Unmistakeably, certain sections of Hong Kong are no longer content with quietly whispering to themselves that it is not China.
Looking at who are considered to be the main proprietors of the demonstration, Hong Kong Indigenous, we see a rapidly increased support base in the run up to, and after the Fishball Revolution. This week alone the group garnered an increase of “Facebook likers” by approximately 10%, whilst the week before by nearly 10,000 people. Even despite the media and police attempts to condemn the organisation as “radical separatists”, unafraid to use the conveniently found “explosives, guns and Viagra” with Ray Wong upon his arrest. It would appear that many Hong Kongers are more convinced by the desire to maintain their unique identity and culture rather than just become another city in China. Hong Kong Indigenous have in fact embraced the term “Radical Separatist” and it is easy to see why. Whilst they should certainly be congratulated for their role in systematic methods of political protection, such as the filibuster of Internet Article 23, the disillusioned of Hong Kong no longer feel supported by the traditional democratic parties in Hong Kong, who are seemingly insistent on winning a moral battle whilst losing the one they are actually supposed to be fighting for, rendering HK Indigenous supports happy to seek more drastic solutions in order to ensure their future as Hong Kongers. Calling someone a “Separatist” is no longer the slur it was once thought to be, something state media appears not to have realised yet.
Part of the increased localism could be down to the astonishingly brilliant but terrifying, dystopian film “Ten Years” which has smashed box office records across Hong Kong. Embracing itself as a localist film, having taken the comments of “Ridiculous” as prescribed by Global Times and put them on its promotional posters, Ten Years has seemingly instigated a rampant awakening across the city. Backed up by news reports of an increased pushed for the teaching of simplified characters and Putonghua, whilst the government try to shut down local meat and poultry sellers, the timing of the films’ release could not be more apt. Statements from the University Student Unions condemned the actions of the police whilst expressing sympathy for the protestors. The newly elected body of the Chinese University even refused to rule out using violence if that is what the people wanted. Before condemning such statements, remember Ghandi himself wrote that “I do believe when there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence”.
Althea Suen, the President of HKUSU, told RTHK that the younger generation do not trust the Chinese Communist Party and are tired of being oppressed, whilst Ernie Chow, of the Chinese University, emphasized the importance of localism to protect the future of Hong Kong before adding “Our stance is with the students, so if the studnts think that this [violent] way of protest is necessary and effective, we don’t think we should be against it”.
Perhaps it is true that a localist uprising in Hong Kong will draw dire consequences from an aggressive Beijing, who ultimately are unlikely to tolerate the idea of relinquishing their grip over Hong Kong. However, we should not fear a possible good for a certain evil, conscientious disobedience in the protection of a local culture and people against an unjust government, is not the same as simple lawlessness.