Notes on the 'Umbrella Revolution'
The ongoing 'Umbrella Revolution' in Hong Kong can catalyze China’s journey to becoming a true democracy, or it can wither under the pressure from the Chinese government. The world has seen similar revolutions recently in Kiev and Moscow with thousands of citizens attempting to insert some sort of democracy into the workings of the state. However, the Moscow protests, begun in 2011, have all but died at the hands of the Russian government, while the revolution is Kiev became violent and has turned into an international political scandal. The new Hong Kong revolution may not produce immediate rights for the citizens of Hong Kong or China, but will slowly push the mindset of these citizens toward demanding democracy and a constitutional process.
The recent 'Umbrella Revolution' is at its core a revolution for democracy: students in Hong Kong are demanding the right to choose anyone they please as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, instead of only Beijing-approved candidates. The protests are widely peaceful, with protesters carrying umbrellas to shield them from rain and mace. They are even cleaning up after themselves as not to dirty the streets. The revolution itself if being led by 17-year-old Joshua Wong, an articulate speaker and coauthor of the “Scholarism” movement, which led the fight against national education.
However, these straightforward facts are being twisted both by the Russian and Chinese media outlets. Russia has been manipulating the story to make it appear as a US-funded stunt to promote Western ideals in the region and has urged Chinese officials to snuff out those behind the ordeal. For its part, Chinese officials are refraining from using any type of force to ensure that this protest does not evolve into a countrywide demand for more constitutional liberties. However, a recent message sent from Beijing warned that the government was strict in its policies and that further protests would be harmful to Hong Kong. The editorial piece went on that if the protests continued “the consequences will be unimaginable.”
This protest, despite its outcome, can shed a lot of light onto China’s future government and whether it will continue down a road of either authoritarianism or democracy. Many scholars of Chinese democracy have argued that China will not move toward democracy, despite its increasing bourgeois class, due to the number of “red capitalists” who tend to profit off the authoritarian regime in place. Others claim China won’t make the move toward democracy because of its lack of connectivity to the rest of the world, given the government's stringent restrictions on foreign media and press. This allows China to control and ultimately limit the discourse on democracy in the country.
This demonstration has showcased that, at the very least, Chinese youth are refusing to accept the current Chinese government. I think the protestors have demonstrated that they can see through the mist of Chinese ideology and into another viable option for the state. This new generation might turn away from the “red capitalist” behavior and transform into a middle class that demands more constitutional rights and democracy. We can see this in the eyes of the young, idealistic protestor Joshua Wong and many others who follow him. These young protestors can perhaps do even more than their older counterparts, as they lack familial, and in some cases, financial, responsibility. The protesters so far haven’t let up in the vigor of the protest—they are not backing down under a Chinese government that claims such pro-democracy talk will destabilize Hong Kong. The young generation is moving forward in a way that captures the essence of civil disobedience. They may not change Beijing’s mind with this one protest, but they are on the cusp of something greater. They are breaking free of the ideological prison the Chinese government has built, and they are proudly voicing their demand for change.