By Kumar David –
One Country Two Systems miscarries as HK fails to discipline itself: Mass Hysteria and the Riots in Hong Kong
For 36 years I knew a free, open and liberal Hong Kong; no white-vans or death threats, no mafia, NYPD, LAPD or deep-state to dread. I could and did write and say what I liked about Xi Jinping, Tiananmen 1989 or the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. Relative to that other place with which it is often compered, Singapore, the old adage is “You have democracy, we have freedom”. I never lived in dread of a fearsome communist dragon in Beijing. But things are changing. Now one fears student and youth mobs if one speaks against them in the open, one dare not say the police were right is this or that instance for fear of a beating, if you are a Mainlander perish the thought opening a shop, and university professors who speak their mind are taunted for hours.
It’s a paradox. The initially peaceful and self-disciplined protest movement in Hong Kong (HK) against the central government’s intrusions into democracy has twisted itself into ugly rioting and mob violence that is antithetical to democracy! For five months HK has had an ironic surfeit of democracy but has shown itself incapable of coping with that degree of freedom. Every few days the streets are taken over by mobs (videos 1 & 2) and the police kept away until the violence becomes unbearable. The government has disappeared into the shadows. Beijing is not willing to intervene even if entreated; maybe to expose HK people as incapable of self-government. Right now, there’s more “freedom” in HK than anywhere else in the world, but it has degenerated into chaos. If Beijing evaporates away tomorrow, is it these mobs that will rule Hong Kong?
Pre-planned mob violence is unleashed simultaneously in many parts of the city. Those who don’t agree are beaten up; public facilities and HK’s pride its Mass Transit Railway the best urban railway in the world have been trashed (video 3), stations vandalised, operations disrupted by technical damage and workers intimidated; shops are vandalised; Chinese bank branches burnt and employees assaulted. University authorities have surrendered to student mobs. At a Poly University outreach Community College, a lecturer was suspended for the misconduct of being encircled and shouted down for five hours (report 7 & video 8). When a police squad arrived, college authorities denied it access – Vice-Chancellors and Heads tremble when students growl; they would rather be humiliated than resign good jobs.
A recent innovation are Flash Mobs of about 20 masked young men and women dressed in black carrying stout poles who rapidly pass down a street or mall smashing shops thought to belong to Mainlanders and government premises such as post offices. When the police come the Flash Mob melts away into the night. It is reminiscent of the treatment of Jews in Nazi-incipient Germany,when Mainlanders are accosted and punched on the street. Don’t underestimate trends; where they start and where they may end. Ceylon made that mistake with racial mobs in the late 1950s.
But the biggest culprits are the people themselves, the people of Hong Kong. If given absolute freedom people cannot manage their streets and discipline their youth, if the public surrenders to the mob, who else is to blame? People I meet socially or casually dislike mobs but will not speak up; everyone is afraid – hush, hush. When they see someone manhandled Hong Kong people prefer to pass by on the other side. They are timid; even on crowded streets no one will intervene to protect an assaulted man or women. Nowhere do I see the outburst of public anger so normal in say the USA, Europe or Sri Lanka when ugly hands batter someone in public. In HK people are shamefully afraid. Strangely, it’s not Beijing that one need fear anymore, it is the mobs (video 2).
Or am I underestimating the degree of support for the crusade despite violence and mob rule? Let me tell you frankly what I see. Rich and small businessmen and the informal sector (vendors, shop keepers, restaurant owners, taxi drivers etc.) detest the mobs – disruption is eating into their livelihood. It is the educated middle-class that is most polarised. If I use my university types as a sample, some have stopped talking to each other, enmity has become intense. Most avoid the elephant in the room. I cannot judge whether there are more on one side or the that in the middle-class; maybe an even split. Part of this class, fired by China-hate and revulsion of Mainland people, inspires violence.Viscerally it despises Mainland Chinese who it thinks intrinsically inferior to itself. Now these people suffer the indignity of HK’s light going a dim as Shenzhen and Shanghai shine bright.
The roots are deep. Anti-communist middle-class folks, whether you like it or not, whether you think it is farting against thunder or not, live in dread of 2047. The date is not far away if you are young. It is complex, multifaceted with subterranean roots and engenders what psychologists call “mass hysteria” and the “madness of crowds”. I am taken aback by the chronically irrational views of some with ‘PhDs and MScs’: “Rioters are policemen in disguise”! What has happened to the rational balance of once sane minds? And ditto for some retired Sri Lankan dons of HK universities.
The working-class is numerically dominant and has no love for the mobsters. But the leadership of the large pro-China political parties and trade unions is frozen. It is immobile, the class leaderless. The so-called left oriented Democratic Action Party (DAB) is paralysed; it is no more than a pro-Beijing talk-shop with no experience in mass mobilisation and mass action. After the 24 November Regional Council elections, we will have a clearer picture of public and class responses. I think the mob-sympathetic middle-class “Democratic” parties will not do well, but then why should one vote for the toothless DAB either? If I am proved wrong and mob-sympathetic “Democratic” parties do well, it will spell the rise of city-state fascism in miniature.
‘Groupthink’ is a fancy term for a psychological condition when individual minds become enslaved and tail group dictates; individual consciousness is suspended; each becomes a zombie slice of a horde. This has been studied for over two centuries under the names mass hysteria and madness of the crowd. Most infamous is the frenzy of millions in devotion to dictators, prophets and at the rallies at Nuremburg. In the genocide of 1994, mobs of frenzied Hutus massacred hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis. Of course, what’s happening in HK is not by any stretch comparable to these atrocities; there has not been a single fatality in HK. In this paragraph I am only asking about the inner emotional parallel between different cases, big and small, of mass psychological disturbance.
This mass aberration defies psycho-structural analysis. I doubt if we can do better analytically about HK; better try to minimise its evil impact. HK is famed for being peaceful, its people passive. This aberration is so out of kilter that it defies comprehension. Yes, there are economic problems, of course there is a democracy deficit in that universal suffrage is truncated, indeed there is fear of 2047, but this outburst is extraordinary and irrational. The violence is out of sync with what I have known for 36 years. Mobs have even beaten a policeman (video 6) and a taxi driver (video 4) within an inch of their lives. Unbelievable, this can’t be Hong Kong!
The economy is taking a big hit. Crowds in Mong Kok and Sham Shi Po, in shopping and computer malls, supermarkets and wet markets have thinned. Retail business is down 25%, tourist arrivals down 40% and visitors from China have declined even more. Though HK’s reserves are huge the outflow of bank reserves is not insignificant; US$4 billion has departed HK’s shores in the last few months, mostly into Singaporean banks. The “HK Human Right & Democracy Bill” (sic!), adopted by the House and now before the US Senate, if passed, will further damage HK’s economy. It is possible that erosion of the economy may jolt people to act. Rumours are afloat that the agitators have decided to scale back, fearful that violence may be counterproductive for their political allies in the November elections. This implies that rational sense will overpower hysteria; fingers crossed.
On peaceful days, traversing the city I feel inspired that eventually mobs cannot bring this place down, they will be vanquished without “help” from Beijing. Pragmatism, order and good sense is too ingrained for a few thousand mobsters to extinguish. Talk of a foreign black-hand is rife and it is hard to understand how anarchy can persist so long without big money and foreign coordination. There is circumstantial evidence but I have no hard proof. If you live in HK and see the reality on the ground the pro-mob reporting bias of international media giants (CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Fox etc) is stark. They seem part of a anti-China strategy. China surely knows that the aim of foreign powers in inciting riots in Hong Kong is not to stir up a little a storm in a mini teacup but to get at the PRC itself, just as US strategy in Berlin from the early 1960s was to bring down the USSR.
The sites below, most redirected via Facebook but sourced from a big range of content providers give still and video coverage of conditions in HK; thousands are available on the web.
1 Widespread mob violence and vandalism (video)
|2 Ordinary Hong Kong citizens being beaten on the street by “democrats” (video|
|3 Crippling damage to Mass Transit Railway (video)|
4 Mob attack on taxi driver who drove into a crowd (video)
(Still photo of driver shown separately)
5 Small scale attack on policeman (video)
6 Policeman beaten nearly to death before non-lethal shooting of a youth (video)
7 Hong Kong Community College lecturer replaced (report)
8 Hong Kong Community College lecturer mobbed and attacked (video)