Hong Kong – The Televised Revolution Nobody is Watching

In February 2016, Hong Kong made the headlines again. The words “fish ball revolution” flooded the internet and news media for a few days and disappeared into the news cycle.  The Western community  scoffed at the thought that this bunch of kids are up in arms again, this time for the sake of food. Skeptics roll their eyes and dismisses the notion that fish balls are worth fighting over. Yet, a couple thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, the Hong Kong people are up in arms and on the street, facing down the police in their riot gear to protect one of their cultural heritage: street food.

 

Street food is a key part of culture for many South East Asian country. They are a cheap way to grab a meal for workers as they head to work or home. Merchants, also known as hawkers, peddle their products in small carts, filled with treats like skewers of meat balls, deep fried tofu, rice noodle, and one of the most famous, curried fish balls. While they might not be the most hygienic source of food, Hong Kongers take pride in it as an integral part of their history. They are not willing to stand aside and watch as government policies try to take down these street hawkers.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

The fish ball revolution was not just about food: it was another episode of the cultural wars waged between China and Hong Kong. Following the Opium War in the 19th century, Great Britain ruled Hong Kong for 99 years. Instead of facing the problems that the rest of China faced due to the Cultural Revolution and Chinese reformation in the 20th century, Hong Kong became one of the most profitable trading port in South East Asia and had  a vibrant economy and became one of the most culturally diverse place by blending Eastern and Western thoughts, ideals, and cuisine.

Hong Kong’s Cinderella Story ended at midnight, July 1, 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over back to China.  The Chinese government made the Hong Kongers a promise: while they will reunify and become one country, there will be two different governing systems. In other words, Hong Kong can keep the governmental system they had grown accustomed to. While the optimists in Hong Kong believed that they can hold onto the social and cultural fabrics that makes Hong Kong unique, pessimists fear that China will try to renege on their words and swallow Hong Kong, assimilating the port city into another part of the Chinese political machine.

The pessimists fears are not without cause. In 1984, students led a peaceful protest against the Chinese political leaders at Tienanmen Square, a historic site in Beijing. Their voices were quickly drowned out by the sound of marching boots and thundering tanks and forcefully evicted from the square. Those who did not heed the warning stared down death instead. An uncomfortable silence filled China after this incident – everybody knew about the massacre in Tienanmen Square but few dared to report it. For the brave few who did, the Chinese government quickly censored these articles. Fearful Hong Kongers looked at the mainland and wondered, will that become our political reality in thirteen years?

Are we next?

Dissent against the Chinese government was subtle but controversial. During the early 2000s, a Hong Kong rap group named “Lazy Mutha Fucka,” or LMF, published rap songs that are highly critical of the state of Hong Kong. Their criticisms include distrusting their political leaders, the lack of financial opportunities for the younger generations, and the Hong Konger’s desire to be white-washed and become “bananas”:  white on the inside, yellow on the outside. 

LMF’s scope of impact might have been limited to the younger generation who consumed this music but the message was heard loud and clear onthe mainland. As a response, China banned LMF music and tried to isolate it within Hong Kong. This band, however, reveals the fundamental tension that the people have with their new government and wonder if the two system one country model can hold.

The Hong Kongers also took to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction. Since 1997, there have been annual marches on July 1st to for Hong Kongers to express their pride in their freedom of speech, assembly, universal suffrage, and cultural identity. These riots targeted more specific issues in recent years.  In 2013 and 2014, laws from China threatened to instate mandatory civic education and a Mandarin language requirement in the educational system. These two components were especially problematic for Hong Kongers since most of them speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin and many Hong Kongers fear that the civic education would be used to indoctrinate Hong Kong’s youth to the Chinese narrative of respect and worshiping the Communist party.

The 2014 protest became one of most recognizable moments in Hong Kong’s cultural and political resistance against China. Beijing proposed a new method to elect the Chief Executive, or the Hong Kong’s equivalent to presidency. Instead of voting for the most popular candidate, a series of election reforms reduce the Chief Executive choices to a short list approved by Beijing.

Hong Kongers did not like this proposal much if at all. They feared that if this change goes through, all of their future Chief Executives will be in the pocket of Beijing, effectively creating a puppet government that ignores the concerns of the people. The pessimists saw this as the final straw: China has officially reneged on their promise of two government, one country.

The people took to the streets to protest this decision non-violently, sparking the moniker “Umbrella Movement,” where the protesters used the umbrella defensively to shield themselves from the gas canisters launched by the riot police. The color yellow became the symbol of resistance as allies of the movement wore a yellow ribbon or held a yellow umbrella for solidarity.

Not all of the Hong Kongers supported this Yellow Ribbon Coalition. Many members of the older population opposed the protesters, who were mainly students, and condemned them for speaking against the government and for threatening their economic prosperity by flooding the street. They formed a counter-group and bore blue ribbons instead, leading to both non-violent and violent clashes with the Yellow Ribbon protesters. There were also claims that the triad were paid by government officials to terrorize the protesters so they would desist. 

The protest continued for almost three months, from September 26th to December 15th. While the protest failed to reverse the electoral changes, the Hong Kong people are unwilling to stop resisting.  In January 2016, a series of film makers worked together to create a project titled Ten Years. It was a series of four short films that imagines a Hong Kong in 2026 that is under Chinese control, both politically and culturally. One of the story lines, Dialect, follows a taxi-driver in a pro-China Hong Kong. His livelihood is threatened by policies that makes Mandarin the official language since he only speaks Cantonese. Eventually, he fails the Mandarin fluency test and is put out of work, spurring his wife and children to leave him.

Unsurprisingly, these film makers are now banned from official film-making guilds for their critical view of China.

It is difficult to imagine the future of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s history makes it a culturally and socially unique place, with a fiercely independent and proud population. As Chinese policies try to remove some of this uniqueness, the people of Hong Kong will respond and take to the streets. The latest episode of this resistance is visibly shown in the Fish Ball Revolution. It may seem silly to the rest of the world to see a city  protest against the police for the sake of street food but for the people of Hong Kong, street food is as crucial to their identity as Cantonese and freedom of speech. It is a fight to preserve a built culture and this fight may never truly end.

Yet, in the back of their mind, they have not forgotten the sound of the marching boots and tanks, thundering through Tienanmen Square, and wonder if they might be next; whether they might have to defend themselves against bullets and tanks with nothing more than a yellow umbrella.

Disclaimer – The author of this article is a Hong Kong-born Chinese American from a family that lived through parts of the Cultural Revolution. No, they did not enjoy leaving their town and losing their education for the sake of farming. Yes, they left as soon as they could. No wonder their son would be critical and fearful of China.

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