As the Hong Kong government and Chief Executive Carrie Lam pledged to delay the controversial extradition bill after mass protests and confrontations with the police, a new force appeared and caught the imagination of both Hongkongers and the international press. A group of mothers calling themselves “Hong Kong Ma Ma” quickly organised in response to the violence they saw meted out by the police in recent weeks. By last Friday, 6,000 of had organised and marched together, holding emotional signs such as “don’t shoot our kids.”
In a speech during the evening’s gathering, an organiser urged the attending mothers to “pay attention and take action” to prevent themselves from becoming “the next generation of Tiananmen mothers” who only came together after their children had been murdered.
The galvanising moment for the women was when Lam likened Hong Kong protesters to her two sons in a TV interview, saying that – as a mother – she couldn’t give into her wayward children.
[People say,] if the young people have walked, and acted, and you still don’t give them what they want. Then what? The metaphor that I use is that I’m a mother who has two sons. If every time my son tells me he wants something and I acquiesce to his wishes, for a short time our relationship between mother and son will be very good, but once this child is grown, he will have regrets. He will ask ‘Mother, why didn’t you remind me then?’
Remind them of what, Lam failed to state.
In response to the slight, a few women, who would become the core group of Hong Kong Ma Mas, issued a heartfelt and angry open letter that was signed by at least 44,000 women (full disclosure: this writer also signed it). It collectively reprimanded Lam for her apathy towards police brutality, and chastised her for likening the protesters to her children.
Ms. Lam, the children of Hong Kong do not need you to be their mother. Instead, they need you to be a responsible and accountable leader who proactively responds to the overwhelming public dissent that has been expressed over the Extradition Bill, and makes the right decision to shelve or withdraw the bill… How egoistic one must be to say that the voices of 1.03 million people [are] ‘wayward’?
Although the answer to that question could only be “very,” Lam isn’t speaking just from a place of hubris. Political leaders calling the people they rule “children” taps into a long and oft used tactic to disenfranchise people. Women were denied the vote because men said they did not have the logic to interact with the wider world and should thus be relegated to the home along with the children. Black men in the US and South Africa were called “boys” by whites to remind them of their subservient status. Europeans justified colonising other parts of the world because the inhabitants were “primitive” and “childlike.” Philosopher Herbert Spencer, who coined the term “survival of the fittest,” wrote “the intellectual traits of the uncivilised… are traits recurring in the children of the civilised.”
Stating that the disenfranchised do not have the faculties with which to make decisions legitimises the rule of the oppressors. Claiming parental guidance softens the violent and insidious motives behind oppression. Lam, feeling it unnecessary to take the time and effort to listen to the arguments and concerns of the people, wanted to lull viewers into accepting that she is a mother who will save us from ourselves. She is not our mother. She is a woman handpicked by Beijing, winning a rigged election with just 777 people voting her into office in a city of seven million. This flew in the face of The Basic Law, signed by both Britain and China pre-handover, promising Hong Kong free and open elections.
As people continue to gather demanding that the extradition bill be fully withdrawn, we must remember that the people in power are not legitimate. They were not voted in by the people. In fact, no leaders in Hong Kong’s history before or after the handover—no matter how beloved—have ever had the legitimacy of being chosen by the people in an open election. For now and maybe forever, protest and public pressure is all we have. Although Hong Kong may continue to embarrass, implore, or pressure the leaders into changing their points of view, it should not be forgotten that true power remains within a different system, one that makes the leaders directly accountable to the people.
There will be many more days defending and fighting for Hongkongers’ rights, to achieve as much self-determination as can be found under such difficult circumstances. There will be more battles with the police. More people will be hurt. The violence will escalate – as it has already – and people must choose how far their resolve will stand, opposed to the need of self-preservation.
Each individual must find these answers on their own using their logic, their reason, and their beliefs to make them. And Hong Kong people are capable. As much as Lam, other leaders, and the Chinese government may feel otherwise, these decisions are being made by adults in their fullest, educated capacity, and should not be denigrated by calling them swayed or led.
The police should stop beating protesters with batons not because they are children nor because they are young. The police should not pepper spray protesters because they are fully formed people with opinions that should be heard; the police should not tear gas peaceful protesters because their basic human rights should be respected. And that respect should extend to all people of Hong Kong regardless of where they stand, be it on the front lines against the riot police, at the edge of the protest, or even simply at home.
No matter what we do that may upset the government or the pro-Beijing factions of the population, Hongkongers are not children. We are people using protest and civil disobedience to change the course our leaders have put us on. If the Hong Kong government and Beijing want to end these public displays of dissatisfaction and save face, they could always put universal suffrage in place.
Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.