Students taking to the streets in Hong Kong have been widely described as ‘too idealistic,’ ‘too radical’ or ‘wanting things too quickly.’ A lot of adjectives and, unfortunately, they are mostly wrong.
Among those who have claimed that students should pay closer attention to the real world are some notable figures. In a video interview with Bloomberg, Regina Ip, the city’s former security chief, contended that people should “engage the government in a rational and pragmatic manner.” Protesters, by not doing so, are obviously not being ‘realistic.’ (Speaking of which, Ms Ip stated in the same interview that the protest would go on for a couple of days, and that was on Sept. 29.)
Movie star Jackie Chan weighed in too when he called on people to “return to rationality.” “Hong Kong’s bright tomorrow requires everyone’s support and hard work,” he said, arguing,“I am willing to work hard with everyone and return to rationality, to face the future, love our country, love our Hong Kong.”
Students might not attach too much importance to Mr. Chan’s words, since he has recently gained quite a bit of fame for being a supporter of Beijing’s policies. But even less notable figures sometimes see the protesters as detached from real politics. Mr. Fong, an old businessman we happened to meet over lunch, said he did not support the movement because, while not wrong in principle, it was too radical: “You have to take Xi Jinping into account, what will he say of this?” He also told us that “the students want their goals realized right now, but that’s not politics.”
All of this hardly reconciles with what people tell you at sit-ins and rallies. “No, I don’t think the government will accept talks,” a student told us a couple of days ago. “Maybe in front of the media they say they want to, but it is not true. They do not want to talk to anybody.” Why, then, was he protesting? “Because we want to tell everyone what we want. I think our focus is to increase awareness in the world.”
Last Friday, during the rally, Jason Lam – the media artist who uses a projector to screen messages of support for the movement on Hong Kong’s streets – took a very minimal approach: he thought that if the government were to agree to a meaningful dialogue it would be a ‘true success,’ but he said he did not too much hope for that to happen.
Ms. Map Tang was even blunter: “It’s a lost battle, we all know that.” Yet, she did not have any intention of leaving her plastic mattress and her yellow ribbon – the protesters’ badge these days. Ms. Tang also showed realism when it came to the students’ decisions. She argued that she believes the movement would make mistakes. “There is no true freedom without errors,” she pointed out, quoting Gandhi.
At the end of the day, what most people told Asian Correspondent is that their main goal is to let the world know that Hong Kongers do have an issue with their political system and that they care for, well, more than just money, as the stereotype goes. From that perspective, it would be hard to look down on them as dreamers. They have already won the battle, conquering the front pages of international newspapers and forcing themselves into pundits’ discussions.
Sure enough, some do believe that the government will cave at some point and that Beijing will somehow close both its eyes on the city’s flagrant defiance. Experts and pretty much everybody else think they are wrong. But most also believed that a communist party could not maintain its rule and have a capitalist economy – and look at what has happened in the People’s Republic. And, in any case, isn’t hope supposed to never die?