The topic for the September 21st show of Sekai e Hasshin! SNS Eigojutsu on NHK E-Tele was #HongKongProtests. We talked about the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been going on in Hong Kong since June. Resident commentator and journalist Furuta Daisuke-san had visited Hong Kong in August to cover the protests on the ground, and he talked about the sights that he saw and the general feeling among Hongkongers. Our MC Ryoga Haruhi-san and co-host Gori-san had many questions about what was going on, and Furuta-san helped clear up any confusion or misconceptions that we had.
#香港デモ を現地で取材してわかるのは、「過激化」と言われるのは本当にごく一部に限るということ。土砂降りの中で数十万人の人たちが山手線のようにぎゅうぎゅうになりながらも、文句一つ言わずに歩いてる。「香港頑張れ」「今こそ民主主義を」と声を揃えながら。2時にスタートしてまだ歩いてる。 pic.twitter.com/otUBPFXXFE— 古田大輔 / Daisuke Furuta (@masurakusuo) August 18, 2019
The string of large-scale protests were ignited by the introduction of a new bill that would potentially allow activists and dissidents in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The people of Hong Kong greatly value their autonomy, as well as their identity as Hongkongers, and many feared that the implementation of such a bill would allow China to further encroach upon their democratic freedoms—such as freedom of speech and expression and the rule of law.
Since the protests began in June, demonstrators have taken to the streets every Saturday and Sunday, calling for the government to withdraw the bill. Clashes with the police have become increasingly frequent, with peaceful marches being overshadowed by the acts of radical protestors; the police have responded with tear gas and water cannons. In response to the demonstrations, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition bill on September 4th. However, for many protestors, it was too little, too late, and they have made clear their intention to continue protests until the movement’s five demands are met—which include an independent investigation into police conduct and universal suffrage.
A quick overview of the modern history of Hong Kong: following the victory of the British Empire against the Qing dynasty of China in the First Opium War, the Treaty of Nanking (1842) ceded Hong Kong Island to the British. For more than 150 years, it remained under British rule (excluding a period of Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945). In 1997, Hong Kong—which at that point had effectively become the last remaining colony of the British Empire—was handed back to China in a one-country, two-systems agreement that made Hong Kong a special administrative region that was allowed a high level of autonomy. It also guaranteed that the socialist system of the People’s Republic of China would not be practiced in the international financial hub for 50 years. Hong Kong would have control over most of its affairs—excluding foreign affairs and the legal interpretation of its constitution—until 2047. From Hong Kong’s perspective, it seemed highly likely at the time that China would democratize by then.
The People’s Republic of China celebrates its 70th anniversary on October 1st. As demonstrations in Hong Kong continue, the Chinese government is preparing to put on a grand celebration, including a military parade. With no end to the conflict in sight, tensions are higher than ever between Hongkongers and mainland Chinese.
2.The Role of Social Media
On our episode we featured many tweets from protestors on the ground in Hong Kong. It’s clear that social media has played a central role in bringing this movement together and making it an international story.
In order to get around internet censorship imposed by Beijing, protestors in Hong Kong are using new message apps that work via bluetooth rather than the internet. At the same time, many continue to use Twitter and other social media platforms to encourage participation in the demonstrations, document events, and appeal to the international community for support. In many ways, the movement has been driven by social media.
What’s more, social media has been a large factor in why China has not tried to put down the movement in a second Tiananmen Square incident. The entire world is watching how China addresses the situation.
However, social media seems to be holding back the movement as much as it is fueling it. With no clear leadership among the protestors, constructive dialogue does not seem possible.
For better or worse, social media is a tool that gives everyone a voice and makes everyone a leader. Each individual’s opinions are amplified to the point where finding common ground becomes increasingly contentious and compromise essentially impossible. The Hong Kong protestors’ slogan “Five demands, not one less" represents resolve but it also speaks to an inability to negotiate. Unless the movement is able to produce a leader who can bring together opinions and move the dialogue forward in a constructive way, it is hard to see where it goes from here.
Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook announced on August 19th that they had cracked down on accounts linked to a “state-backed information operation" on the part of China. And it’s easy to see how China could infiltrate the aforementioned bluetooth messaging app with false information and cause confusion among protestors.
The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement is a clear demonstration of the power of social media—as well as its limitations.
3.English Words Related to Demonstrations
A demonstration is the public exhibition of the attitude and/or opinions of a group of people toward a controversial issue. For example, the #HongKongProtests are pro-democracy demonstrations. Side note, in American English demo refers to software demos and sample music recordings, while in British English demo refers to protests, marches, and the like.
A protest is an expression of objection or disapproval, often against an action that a person is powerless to prevent. It can also be used as an adjective, as in protest demonstration or protest march. Side note, Protestants are Christians who separated from the Church of Rome during the Reformation.
A riot is violent public disorder caused by a crowd taking to the streets and protesting against another group or government. Riot also refers to noisy confusion and something or someone hilariously funny.
A rally is a mass meeting, a coming together of people for common action, as in election rally, anti-war rally, or peace rally. As a verb it can mean to bring together or organize; it is from that sense that long-distance automobile races held over public roads came to be known as rallies.
A picket is a post, stake, or peg used in a fence or to fasten down a tent. In picketing, workers are stationed by a union outside a factory or store during a strike in order to keep workers or customers from entering. Workers who refuse to participate or choose to cross the picket line in order to work are called scabs. During my time as a student at UCLA there were a number of student-led demonstrations that involved picket lines stretching across the main quad that students crossed to get to class.
A sit-in is an organized protest where a group of people peacefully occupy a place in order to instigate political, social, or economic change. Often they take the form of a sit-down strike, where workers occupy their place of employment and refuse to work until the strike is settled. The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in September 17th, 2011 in New York, involved protestors marching around the Wall Street area and conducting sit-ins in front of places like the New York Stock Exchange in protest of income inequality.