Hong Kong, a former British colony, defines itself by its world-class economy: it stands as one of the world’s most prestigious financial centres and ranks first in the Globalisation Index. Making profits is a way of life in Hong Kong. However, the Umbrella Revolution shattered the reputation of Hong Kong as a financial leader and stunned the world, even Hong Kong itself. Did the protesters risk too much? Can people in Hong Kong afford the loss?

The demonstration unfolded when thousands of college students began boycotting classes in protest against the restricted election of Hong Kong’s top leader. Receiving no reply for days, the Hong Kong Federation of Students declared that ‘the time has come for our action to escalate’ and rallied crowds to gather in Admiralty. The government responded by arresting the 17-year-old student leader, Joshua Wong, on Friday, 26th September, 2014. The arrest outraged protesters and waves of furious demonstrators crammed into the protest zone. To disperse protesters, the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on frontline activists on Sunday. The tactics backfired. The excessive violence against weaponless students riled residents who previously showed no support for demonstrators.Protesters stated that: ‘this was the first time so many people joined civil disobedience, and the first time there was so much violence against the protesters’,  and also that, ‘they should have let people in’.[1]

The protest has been coined the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ since protesters only had umbrellas to shield off violence. The Umbrella Revolution went from a student-led movement into a mass demonstration dominated by ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, encompassing people from all walks of life. Therefore it is sometimes referenced as the Occupy Central movement. Larger crowds streamed in and spilled over to adjacent districts beyond the reach of the police. Protesters are now encamped in Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok, the major thoroughfares in Hong Kong.

Experts claim that Hong Kong has suffered colossal financial losses from the recent Occupy movement. Francis Lui, an economics professor at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong, put forward a ‘conservative estimate’ of a $350 billion loss. Worse, the Umbrella Revolution meshed with the Chinese Golden Week, a week-long National Holidays when Chinese tourists typically flood Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades reported an estimate loss of $50 million per day.[2] The protests bring inestimable losses too. ‘As the traffic was seriously disturbed by “Occupy Central” movement’, the Education Bureau announced, ‘classes of all kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and special schools in the Wan Chai and Central and Western districts would be suspended’ for three days in the first week of October.[3] Protesters themselves have paid a huge opportunity cost. Hard-core protesters forgo decent accommodation in return for sleepless nights under the rain and violent threats from anti-occupying camps. The sit-in campaign seems to have caused Hong Kong an indefinable loss.

The protest appears to promise little political returns. In fact, many speculate that protesters will gain no concession from the Beijing government. ‘I don’t think President Xi Jinping will allow [negotiations]’, Larry Diamond, a senior at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University told the New York Times. ‘If he yields, he will look weak, something he clearly detests. Even die-hard protesters find it hard to push for genuine universal suffrage. Belief is the only reason to be here, even if it’s not realistic belief’, a middle-age protester commented.[4]

At the time of this writing, the government offered to open talks with the students on 10th October, 2014, the 103rd Anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution in China. At that time, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of Modern China, successfully orchestrated the eleventh and final revolution to topple the last imperial dynasty. However, the hope of gaining any political progress was splintered when the government called off the talks the day before the meeting. Everything seems to be for naught. Is the Umbrella Revolution absolutely worthless? Kevin Lau, the former editor-in-chief for a leading newspaper in Hong Kong, disagrees. ‘On the local perspective, the movement releases unmeasurable political power, awakens the civil awareness of the future generations. . . . On the international perspective, the movement attracts media attention and gathers support across the world.'[5]

At a glance, the Umbrella Revolution could simply appear as a mere liability, promising no future profits. However, though its future outcome is uncertain, every cloud has a silver lining. It is said that ‘an optimist is someone who thinks the future is uncertain’. I believe we all are optimists, hoping that the Umbrella Revolution will bear fruits, no matter how long we have to wait.

 

Sources:

[1] Chris Buckley and Alan Wong, ‘Crackdown on Protests by Hong Kong Police Draws More to the Streets’, the New York Times, September 28, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/29/world/asia/clashes-in-hong-kong.html.

[2] Vivienne Chow, Amy Nip and Shirley Zhao, ‘Business Groups, John Tsang Urge End to Protests, Citing Harm to Economy’, South China Morning Post, October 4, 2014. http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1609109/business-groups-john-tsang-urge-end-protests-citing-harm-economy.

[3] The HKSAR Government Information Centre, September 29, 2014. http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201409/29/P201409290100.htm.

[4] Michael Forsythe and Alan Wong, ‘Protest Organizers Claim Progress for Hong Kong’, the New York Times, October 6, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/world/asia/hong-kong-protests.html.

[5] Kevin Lau, ‘A Letter to Students Protesting outside the Government Office’, Kevin Lau Incident Concern Group, October 4, 2014. http://www.kevinlauconcerngroup.com/wp/?p=494.