Fallout from umbrella movement's democracy protests shows Hong Kong needs a new heart

Fallout from umbrella movement's democracy protests shows Hong Kong needs a new heart

Stephanie Cheung says the bad feelings in Hong Kong today come from the top, so it is now up to our leaders to make sure peace is restored

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Scholarism leader Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, enters the third day of hunger strike to call for an open dialogue with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam over political reform outside the Central Government Offices in Tamar.
Scholarism leader Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, enters the third day of hunger strike to call for an open dialogue with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam over political reform outside the Central Government Offices in Tamar.
Photo: Dickson Lee

Whether one likes it or not, the umbrella movement has given Hong Kong a new spirit. Unlike the old spirit, whose raison d'être [reason for existence] is economic development founded on political and social stability, this new spirit is based on non-financial values.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is correct in saying Occupy as a social movement like we have never seen before. No one in Hong Kong has been untouched by it, be they taxi or bus drivers, shopkeepers, students, politicians, or my vegetable seller. Each has a personal theory on the whys and wherefores of [reasons behind] the movement, whichever side they support.

City awakened

In short, the umbrella movement has awakened in the city an interest for something deeper than just desperately trying to make living, and using the money for shopping, entertainment and social gossip - that is, if one still has energy left after coping with the education worries of one's children.

This new spirit is daring and out of the box [unusual]. Possibilities abound. Who, before the movement, would have dreamt of sleeping under the stars [in the open, not in a building, outside] in the middle of Harcourt Road? Or sung to the strains of  [to the music of] Beyond with tens of thousands in a sea of waving iPhone torch lights? Or imagined they would be living in a village-like community in a spirit of brotherly fellowship? Or, see students sit across the table [hold a meeting] in a televised debate with government officials?

The positive

From a positive viewpoint, this new spirit is filled with ideals and new ambition. It is free from being tied down [restrained] by what we think of as normal. It has new ideas and is bursting with energy. This spirit sparks a yearning [wanting] in the souls of men for something deeper, and bigger than themselves. It moves people from beyond the humdrum [boring] of their daily existence and offers imagination and adventure.

Yet from a negative viewpoint, this new spirit, if unbridled, [uncontrolled] will break through all legitimate boundaries and become an undisciplined destructive force.

As the movement drags out, stress, fatigue, criticism and the dark side of human nature have begun to percolate through [slowly pass through] this new spirit.

If we are not careful, Hong Kong will be suffocated by a negative spirit - one of intolerance, which regards people with different views as opponents across a courtroom, or downright enemies to be clamped down on without remorse.[feeling bad or guilty]

Tear gas, pepper spray, molestation and threats of rape

In the past two months, we have seen tear gas, pepper spray and batons [sticks] used by police on civilians with a degree of violence to which Hong Kong is not accustomed. Mistakes and momentary lapses [small mistakes] could be forgiven in repeated high-stress situations, but what is troubling is that certain incidents, if reports are true, would appear to be calculated evil with malice aforethought [some sort of planning]. Incidents include the alleged molesting [abusing] student leader Joshua Wong's private parts when he was taken into police custody, and a group of off-duty policemen reportedly leering at [looking at in a nasty way] female students at Admiralty and threatening to take them to the police station to be raped.

One hopes there is a rational explanation for such uncharacteristic police behaviour and not just the blind venting of frustration, in a spirit of retribution [payback].

Yet it is not only the police. This unloving attitude comes from the top, seemingly a strategy [plan] to provoke [cause someone to act badly] division in the community. From words of contempt for the poor, to accusing sportsmen and religious personnel of making no contribution to society, such speech is socially divisive and discriminatory [making unfair judgements based on sex, race, age, etc], with the opposite intent of forging [to make something with a lot of work] a spirit of unity and harmony.

Officials are pressed into taking sides to sign their support for the blue ribbon camp of anti-occupiers, instead of fulfilling their roles as public servants no matter what the political views of those they serve. On the streets, blue ribbon protesters have blared out personal insults and vicious curses through megaphones, in heated displays of anger and animosity [hatered].

No rational discussion

Rumour [claims not proven to be true] and slander [saying nasty things about someone] abounds, not rational discussion. Where is the evidence of foreign instigation [pushing people to do something, usually bad] we were promised? What prompts [starts] untrue reports that student leaders have been paid and granted scholarships in overseas universities? And, of course, it was a false report on "cyber Article 23" that prompted the violent attack on the Legislative Council.

Protestors have also strayed off their original path [not kept to their plan] of peace and love in an attempt to force a breakthrough. With such large numbers involved, without a single acknowledged leadership, the movement is vulnerable [not safe from] to hijack by those more likely to commit violence.

This line of intolerance, slander and hatred is like poison contaminating Hong Kong society. On Facebook, at dinner tables and family outings, a division of opinions over the movement has led to strained, sometimes broken, relationships.

Hong Kong needs a new heart. It is the antidote [medicine taken to cure poisoning] to counteract the poisonous spirit. It is a heart of loving care for the community, which treats all as part of the same family - not as enemies to be humiliated and annihilated [wiped out, as in war].

It is a heart of liberal tolerance, in listening carefully with patience to one another with a willingness to distil [filter] what is common ground, and agreeing to disagree on what cannot be agreed. It is a heart of peace and compassion, with goodwill towards fellow men. Such a heart is willing to reach out without being defensive or proud.

What we need now

It is a heart that can say, "Even though I don't condone [agree with] your unlawful conduct in pushing for your unreasonable demands, I do not wish to see your health damaged. Let us meet", or "We both love Hong Kong and its people. Hong Kong's future matters to both of us. Let's try and work something out that is feasible [able to be done] and benefits us all."

Leaders of the Occupy movement have turned themselves in to the police, to take responsibility for their role, and leaders of the Federation of Students have confessed to their wrong decision to storm police lines. Irrespective of [without thinking about] whether one agrees with their views, they have at least shown courage and retrospective ability over their own actions and attitudes.

It behoves [is necessary for] our government leaders - the only group of players in this saga [long story] who are actually paid for their roles - to show similar, if not a higher degree of retrospection [thinking about their past actions] and courage.

Political dissent should be solved through discussion and understanding, not by clamping down through superior power, as the latter will bring only resentment and a lack of co-operation.

In the final analysis, it is kindness that brings about persuasion [changing someone's mind] and peace. Having passed the buck [moved a responsibility on to someone else] of solving the problem from the police to the courts, our leaders now have a duty to carry out discussions so a social consensus [agreement] can be forged to bring about peace, harmony and progress in society.

Stephanie Cheung participated in the student movements in the 1970s, and is currently a solicitor and mediator, and volunteer in youth work and education

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full, online version here.

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