Last week, The New York Times relaunched its magazine, with a focus on global issues and voices. It looks promising, and the first long-form article it published was by Lauren Hilgers on Hong Kong's 'Umbrella Revolution'.
At the time The Interpreter followed the protests closely, and debated the economic and social causes of the mass sit-ins, the possible reaction of the Chinese Central Government and its prospects for success. There a few lines from Hilgers' piece that are worth pointing out. The first is on the well known, but still staggering, wealth disparity in Hong Kong:
Twenty percent of Hong Kong’s population is living under the official poverty line, but the city’s 50 richest people, according to the annual list compiled by Forbes, are worth a total of $236 billion (Hong Kong’s entire G.D.P. in 2013, by comparison, was $274 billion).
And this anecdote about President Xi Jingping:
The only way to measure Beijing’s response has been through crackdowns. In mainland China, those thought to be supporters of the protest — even those who just expressed support online — have been thrown in jail. Late in the protest, when China’s president, Xi Jinping, made a trip to Macau on a rainy day, journalists were not allowed to carry umbrellas.
The article, and some of the commentary, have hinted at a clear generational divide that crystalized during the protest. HIlgers says:
Nearly all the students started lying to their parents about where they were. “I would tell my boss I needed sick leave, and I would tell my parents that I need to go to work,” Wing recalled. Jodi told her parents she needed the time to work on a school art project. She would spend evenings in Admiralty, writing essays on her phone...
...“It matters,” Lau said, “although the movement is not successful because the government didn’t yield to any of our requests.” The importance of the movement, he explained, was to show that Hong Kong could do more. “All these protests that you guys find normal in the States or Europe or France, Hong Kong people detested it. They thought, We cannot have this kind of chaos in Hong Kong, we are an economic city.”...
...“You can’t treat the young people in Hong Kong as if their minds are a blank sheet of paper on which you can write at will,” she said. “The young people through this Umbrella Revolution have demonstrated that they have a mind of their own. Furthermore, they are no longer politically apathetic,” she said. “They’re prepared to stand up and be counted.”
These words are encouraging, but as we have seen throughout the last four years, momentum is critical to any mass protest movement that wishes to enact change. The Chinese Government's strategy of waiting the protesters out worked. Some of the student leaders of the Umbrella Revolution are already moving on. It remains to been see if the momentum carries over to the next generation.
Photo by Flickr user Leung Ching Yau Alex.