10 December, 2019

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Hong Kong Citizens Take Back Their City

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Rioters repulsed by public sentiment without PLA intervention; Hong Kong citizens take back their city

It started in an unlikely way. About 50 soldiers from the Kowloon Tong garrison of the PLA, unarmed and clad in T-shirts and shorts, walked out of their barracks on Saturday (16) afternoon on Renfrew Rd and started clearing debris and wreckage left by rioting freedom-loving, democratic students. The effect was electric! In minutes local residents, fed up with being held hostage by student mobs, joined in; by five in the afternoon all roads in the vicinity were clear, people were walking to shops, stations, doctor’s appointments and traffic flow was smooth. The story spread, by nightfall Pokfulam Road, an important artery passing HK University was cleared by citizens. The concept of people taking their public spaces back into their own hands – hang rioting student-fascists, thank you PLA for the kick-start but now we can do it ourselves – has restored confidence, resilience and the pragmatism for which HK is well reputed. The soldiers were the catalyst that sparked it off.

There were outbreaks of sporadic rioting on subsequent days and there will be some violence from time to time. Student and other rioters deserted campuses and congregated in one – PolyU where I was a prof for many years. They formed a veritable Masada. (A bastion which 1000 Jews fortified from Roman siege in 73-74 AD in a hopeless trap which ended very badly for them). It is not easy to estimate the number of students and outsiders – mysterious outsiders – inside PolyU campus. At peak in was about 1300 including a goodly number of females and surprisingly, 300 school kids strong-armed by older youth. They rioted, set fires and hurled petrol bombs and projectiles. They held an arsenal of Molotov cocktails, fire tipped arrows, professional bows, and projectiles. They were armed with incendiary devices made from stolen university chemicals or supplies fed by outside ‘democrat politicians’ or the anti-China elite There was a full kitchen; the ‘fortress’ had ample stocks of food, vegetables, and water, supplied by the same sources. Imagine if some philistine decided to burn down the priceless collection in the university library – the best library in Hong Kong! 

Most who barricaded themselves into PolyU have fled and 1000 arrested as they made a run for it or shamefacedly surrendered. About 100 are still holed up – about 20 students and the rest shady outsiders whose identity HK Democratic Party politicians are desperate to conceal. In a military sense a single platoon could have cleared the campus, but the police were reluctant to use force since many, apart from shadowy infiltrators, are hopelessly naïve and ignorant students. Diehards who said “give me freedom or give me death” and vowed never to retreat till they pulled down the government are on the run. I am here witnessing the dying hours of the drama but I cannot be sure how long the death-rattle will last. Outbreaks of sporadic mob riots may occur occasionally in other parts of the city

The way forward is for HK citizens to take the city back into their hands and banish the rioters. But this may not be smooth since the hardcore is determined and innovative. Though this outbreak of urban terrorism – one must call a spade a spade – seems to be over and HK will be back to its bustling self soon, deep problems remain. They have to be addressed. Concerns can be separated into three categories; the rising aspirations of a relatively well-off lower middleclass, political reform, and third and most complex, a not well understood mass youth psychosis. 

HK is not poor, in certain ways it is rich; it has colossal foreign reserves (US$ 430 billion), AAA credit rating on all counts, GDP growth 3%, budget surplus 5.2%, human development index “Very High”, per capita GDP US$ 48,000 (2019), ease of doing business consistently within the first three in the world, and an FDI stock of US$2.5 trillion. It enjoys de facto political freedom including the freedom to criticise Beijing and the CCP, this writer is a case in point. The so-called HK miracle is not a con, it is true in all these respects. 

The economic snag of inequality is explosive all over the world in this age of global hegemony of finance capital. A huge crisis of expectations arises within an economically rising and relatively free to demonstrate and riot middleclass. This phenomenon is volatile elsewhere too – Chile, Argentina, France, Iraq, South Africa, Italy. Finance capital intrinsically is ‘unequal capitalism’; the opposite of social-democracy. The captains of finance capital do not, knowingly, design and execute a policy of inequity; it’s just that the ‘laws of operation’ of modern finance capital pan out to promote the concentration of wealth in banks, financial institutions and high-end property and hence focuses wealth in the grip of the top 14%, if not 1%.  

This is happening at the same time as the spread of mass freedom of expression, protest and opposition. Hong Kong is the prime example but Chile and Iraq also fit the bill. Unrest on this scale at the time of Pinochet or Saddam would have been mowed down in machine gun fire. The freedom to protest and riot, enjoyed by HK youth, ignites limited hopes for swift advancement, aspirations to own a flat and hankering for an American life style. To put it cynically, one could say too much freedom on the streets has set fire to middle and lower middle-class aspirations. (Yong people and students in HK enjoy privileges and material facilities that Sri Lankan students cannot dream of).

My second point is political reform. China will permit freedom in Hong Kong so long as it does not undermine the one-party system in the People’s Republic. That is, the PRC will be wary of anything in HK or any part of China that endangers the CCP’s hold on power. The risk of granting universal suffrage is the fear that a future elected Chief Executive may come into conflict with China. The PRC Constitution does not mention the Communist Party but the Party Constitution declares: “The CCP is the vanguard of the working class, the people and the nation. It is the core leadership for socialism and development of advanced productive forces in the interests of the majority of the people”. (Abbreviated). In truth the Party and its leadership are all powerful. Hong Kong, if it is wise, will negotiate a deal that maximises its own democratic spaces avoiding head on confrontation with Beijing. It can never win that way. Urban terrorism, vandalising public property and gross lawlessness will achieve nothing.

Finally, I turn to a complex and little understood phenomenon. People here throw their hands up in exasperation and exclaim: “I don’t understand. Why are all these young fellows so irrational and doing crazy, violent things?”. It is not unknown to me having lived through 1989-90 in Sri Lanka. Of course, there were problems, huge ones but the JVP was crazy and took 60,000 young lives away. 

What drives people to take leave of their senses and into logic defying activities is called ‘mob hysteria’, ‘madness of crowds’, ‘mass psychogenic illness’ and ‘collective obsessional behaviour’.  It is a phenomenon were collective illusions spread through a group in response to both real irritants and imaginary stimuli. It’s a psychological pandemic where the afflicted desert their own consciousness and become robotic portions, identical bits of a collective mind. A much-reported case was the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692 when young girls in Massachusetts claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused local women of witchcraft. Hundreds were accused and 20 executed as witches. By 1692 the hysteria abated and public opinion turned against the accusers. There are much older reports of mass hysteria from pharaonic times and the Middle Ages.

A study by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay’s (1814-1889) ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ was published in 1841. Mackay ridiculed economic bubbles and debunked the crusades, duels, fortune-telling and haunted houses. In modern times he would be called a rationalist. Freud (1856-1939) was the first clinician to use the term “conversion hysteria” and propose a mechanism of psychological trauma evolving into somatic symptoms. A new (2019) book ‘The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity’ is by British journalist Douglas Murray. He is said to have distinguished between “malingering conscious” and “conversion hysteria” but not having read the book I cannot comment further.

Let me not leave you with the impression that all is irrational hysteria. Not at all, in Hong Kong it is my observation that it is a mix of the illogical with the practical-real. I will list the real-world aspects before signing off.

  • The overlap of unfair capitalism with political freedom
  • The conflict between expectations and opportunities of a rising lower middleclass
  • An identity crisis where many HK people don’t want to be identified as Chinese citizens, and with which goes a sense of Hong Kongers feeling superior to Mainlanders
  • The denial of universal suffrage in the election of the Chief Executive
  • Incitement and funding from foreign sources and from anti-communist business and political classes in Hong Kong

I will conclude by what I said at the beginning. Th city seems to be returning to normal and HK people are taking control of their lives and their city. The madness seems to be subsidising; so from me a cautious Hurrah!

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    Mr. David, I do not agree with mob violence and youth psychosis.But it is not entirely true picture you are trying to paint here. A few thousands of students, with no support from public can bring a country to stand still , that too FOR MONTHS. There is always two sides to any story. You never took the time to explain Why Now ????. People in Hong Kong are fairly well to do, educated and political minded (not racial minded as in Lanka) and for them to protest that too against China,s monopoly, is clear sign there is valid reasons in their mind to do so. And STOP ridiculing a public rise as mere Youth Psychosis. You of all , having first hand knowledge in your shit hole country is now trying to ridicule another communities, struggles. You must be one of those elite , who is more interested in political theories and spins , than understanding the problems, people face in daily life. Why dont you write your masterly predictions for the coming five years , in Sorry Lanka. I dare even if you know the outcome you will not come out with it. You quoting a 1800 study it self shows it is a “generation Gap”, you are too old to understand the youth of 2000. So keep to your library, and friends with whom you share your outgrown theories, over a glass of scotch. Also beware when you visit HK next time , I hear some of the protesters are pretty psychotic towards people like you.

    • 1
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      Chiv
      Is your warning to KD about psychotic protesters awaiting for him on his next visit to HK got anything to do with the contents of the bullet points he has mentioned towards the end of his article?

  • 3
    7

    Google says a canadian Chinese youth is heading the Protest. The arises many questions saying he wants to go back to Hong Kong and starts a destructive protest. He is not supporting those youth in HK. It is like LTTE diaspora promoting war in Sri Lanka and many youth living in Sri Lanka getting killed. Similar things happened in Equador and Verezuela and is happening in Bolivia.

    • 6
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      JD
      What is happening in Venezuela Equador and Chile is what is happening in HongKong.
      But Tamil diaspora is a creation of Sinhala Buddhism and LTTE is it’s proxy.

      • 2
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        U
        But with some important differences.
        In Chile and Ecuador the state is most repressive (as it is in Bolivia after the coup) against the protesters.
        In Venezuela and HK, the state has shown maximum restraint, but the global media talk about ‘repression’ in these two places but not Chile, Ecuador or Bolivia.
        In Venezuela and HK foreign interests are at play in a big way in the protests, but in Chile, Ecuador or Bolivia, they side with the state.
        There was a recent reversal in Argentina and there is hope in Brazil, but that will take a few years.

  • 4
    6

    Kumar
    I hope that your assessment is correct.
    There is difference between rioting and revolution, and those who know how US imperialism works know how it makes a weapon of every little dissent against those whom it dislikes.
    The US has its way at times, but often things turn upside down sooner or later, as in South America today.
    It is too early to be gleeful, and to premature to predict the failure of US conspiracies. The US leaves little choice for countries but to resist.
    I am glad that its Project Hong Kong is falling apart, but that is not the end of the story.
    Wounds caused by the violence, irrespective of who is responsible, will take long to heal.
    I hope that China will conduct itself as soberly as it has done so far.

  • 6
    8

    These “protests” were begun by students who got carried away by Netflix. They formed a group on FB and things escalated rather quickly. But never too seriously, as people went to work in the morning and “protested” in the evening. China did very well to use minimal force and restraint until emotions cooled down. Now they sent 50 soldiers and the fake protesters are terrified. The PLA has 2 million soldiers, the protesters are well aware of what happens next. There is no substance to these protests, some of the protesters were waving American flags asking Trump to come and help. Hong Kong is part of China, the people are all (ethnically) Han Chinese. China is the world’s largest manufacturer. With its global investments and the increasing leverage of the yuan – combined with the decline of the USA – it may well be a superpower in the distant future. So, these Hong Kong people should be proud of what China has accomplished since 1970. The future for China looks brighter than the future for the West.

  • 8
    4

    Mr. David not even 24 hours has passed since I wrote my comment. HK people have answered. The Democrats won more than 300 seats out of 450. And the pro China incumbents (Govt) , with unlimited resources to spend, ended up getting 40 seats. So your title seems correct but not the substance is misleading. HK people (including psychotic youth ) are for democracy. I reiterate, this in anyway should not promote any violence or psychosis (in your words). Mr. David it will be better to gracefully , make way to the current generation and provide advise when asked for.

    • 9
      4

      Thank you, Chiv. Indeed you were correct. Outdated and self-opinionated armchair “leftists” like Kumar fail to realize that the Hong Kong public is firmly behind its youth and that the youth protests had broad citizen support. The Weekend elections results prove that. Beijing’s nefarious intrusions are gresented.

  • 8
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    As usual the Professor fails to understand what is going on.
    *
    The elections speak for themselves – given a choice voters will reject Communism and chose freedom.
    *
    Why anyone would defend such a brutal, oppressive regime as the Chinese Communists is beyond me.
    *
    -Tiananmen Square
    – Social Credit System
    – Treatment of Uighurs
    *
    For those of you not familiar with the above please do some research. You will see the true face of Chinese Communism. Hardly a surprise that people reject these things.
    *
    The Professor quite obviously doesn’t believe in Democracy. He’s just another out of touch “Elite” talking down to you. Make sure people like this never get elected.

  • 5
    2

    Sorry Lankans seems to have difficulty understanding the struggle taking place in HK. Reason is even after 75 years of denial and giving excuses they still ended up voting on racial lines and ended picking family dynasty. Then they go around trying to give all kind of excuses and explanation , which is to convince them selves. Here is a country with so much of apprehension and uncertainty , still accepted and helped with a smooth transition. But when China tried imposing its authoritarian measured they vehemently opposed because they cherish and understand the values of independence and freedom. People who really had enjoyed these privileges will know the values of it. The agreement at the time of handing over HK, was to maintain the autonomous status . People who accuse of USA are blind not to see what China is up to. It is more than 6 months the HK people have been holding on , and Sorry Lankans see that has mere youth unrest. But when Rathna went on fast to death for 6 hours , hundreds were there to join him. Why bother about South America and HK when you are living in a Shit Hole.

  • 3
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    The fact is every country our Sorry Lankans are concerned today are actually in a much better situation compared to us. And the ones which are not (Venezuela) still has some hope left. Where as for Sorry Lankans after 70 years , “The tunnel is too long to see any light”. HK after 6 months of struggle, still voted for what they thought best for their country and them. Where as Sorry Lankans after 30 years of civil war ended voting what they thought will be the worst for theothers(community). You get the difference ???????

  • 3
    1

    Title of this article:- Hong Kong Citizens Take Back Their City
    *
    Indeed they did – from the Communists! Not quite what the Professor meant but his title is surprisingly accurate! The Will of the People is called Democracy!
    *
    Sri Lankans need to realise Chinese only care about China – everything they do is for the benefit of China and nobody else.
    *
    The correct option is to kick them out – unfortunately under the new Government you will probably see Chinese Military forces based on the island.

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