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April 28 Symposium - From 1989 to 2019: Hong Kong's Resistance, Trauma, and Memory

Alex Chow Yong Kang details breakdown as a result of Hong Kong’s massive search and arrest

Umbrella generation helps understand pro-democracy camp’s wishes to commemorate June 4th

(Reporting from Vancouver) Following the anti-extradition movement, Alex, Chow Yong Kang, student leader from 2014’s Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, visited Vancouver and took part in the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement’s (VSSDM) “From 1989 to 2019, Hong Konger’s resistance and struggle, trauma and remembrance” forum, and shared memories of his persecution by authorities following the anti-extradition movement, as well as his breakdown and the hurt he feels, living in the United States, having lost his hometown. He was joined by Billy Fung and Ernie Chow , former presidents of the University of Hong Kong Student Union, each exploring in depth Hong Konger’s identification with the 1989 democracy movement, as well as the relationship between the Umbrella Movement and the pro-democracy camp.

Alex Chow, who was the secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students at the time of the Umbrella Movement, indicated that after 2019, he had, for a long time, resisted thinking back to the brutal suppression following the anti-extradition movement, until 2021, when he was on the verge of a breakdown. This was especially true in the first half of 2021, around the time of the legal case of the 47, when many of his friends or acquaintances were one-by-one incarcerated without bail; at the same time, news from the trials about the pleas from some of the arrested, including the pledge never to take part in politics, never to play any role as a political commentator, actions that were tantamount to leading to death of a society.

Losing One’s Homeland – Like Having a Hole in the Body

He added that his shock upon hearing such news. As he was living in New York at the time, relating to these incidences were limited, and it was unfathomable to him how Hong Kongers would stoop as low as pleading for mercy, and that Hong Kong had become such a society imbued with fear.

Alex Chow said, that faced with the reality of so many being incarcerated, his mental state became very irrational, and wanted to purchase a plane ticket to return to Hong Kong, to accompany all those in jail.

Naturally, he mentioned that following this impulsive reaction, he questioned himself: what would be the use of going back to Hong Kong? Possibly he would be arrested the moment he landed, and would end up accomplishing nothing.

Alex continued that he was not the only one, but that following the struggle and resistance of 2019, many Hong Kongers were traumatized, and felt a sense of loss, or a sense of separation, be it a physical or emotional separation, resulting in a feeling of great sorrow. Losing one’s hometown was, to many people, like having a hole in one’s body, or in one’s psyche, like a black hole that sucks you in. Indeed, before he even explored his own feelings, he posed the question to the audience, about the subtle difference between grieve or grieving.

He said that how one understands grieve or grieving is, to today’s Hong Kongers, a very apt and personal question. This would be true not only to Hong Kongers after 2019, but also to all those who, following 2019, took part in the candlelight vigil at Victoria Park, as well as those who, each in their own way, commemorate the victims of 1989.

For exiled Hong Kongers, Alex gave his own views on how to understand grieve and grieving, as well as how he himself emerged from this valley of darkness, and shared ways on how people could deal with such feelings.

2015 University of Hong Kong Student Union president Billy Fun Jing-En chiefly introduced the question of the identity of Hong Kongers, or identification as Hong Kongers. He started by saying that between 2013 to 2018, there was a disagreement between mainstream and pro-democracy Hong Kong youths in commemorating June 4th. Why? He put forth a viewpoint that what we know now as nationalism, is something that can be conceptualize or created. He pointed out that, in the case of Hong Kong, one should first put such a view within the context of the environment of Mainland China, and the concept of the Chinese nation was something invented by Liang Qichao some hundred years ago.

The Conflict between Concept of Chinese Nationhood and Nativism

When mentioning Hong Kong nativism, he took us back to the situation with upper class Chinese of the late 19th century, figures like Sir Ho Kai, who donated large sums of money toward the Chinese revolution, and was conscious of the fact of his own identity. Until the 1980’s and 1990’s, around the time of June 4th, 1989 (“8964”), many Hong Kongers would identify with being “Chinese”, but the youth of the 2013 to 2018 generations would feel vastly different. As early as 2012, there was the problem of the doubly non-permanent resident babies, as well as the legal interpretation following, the idea of being a Hong Konger became clearer, a clear local identity among the myriad of complex identities, creating a conflict with Chinese nationalism, as well as the problem arising, and creating the so-called native resistance. When there was a rise in the level of resistance, young people would consolidate their idea of nativism, creating a conflict with those who identified themselves as “Chinese”.

Following Billy, Ernie Chow, who had also assumed the role of University of Hong Kong Student Union president, also posed two questions: How did the generation of the Umbrella Movement understand June 4th? How to understand the controversy of how the 2010 generation commemorate June 4th? He felt that the umbrella generation was borne out of the time of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, combined with Hong Kong’s economic downturn as a result of the conflict with the Mainland, a result of how Hong Kongers saw themselves, as well as a rise in nativism. The umbrella generation differs with the pro-democracy camp, and he expressed the view, that “the main focus of the movements from 1980’s and 1990’s to the 2000’s has been to maintain, maintaining Hong Kong, maintaining the one country, two systems promise, and maintaining an unchanging society for fifty years.”

Pro-Democracy Camp Aims at Democracy, Umbrella Generation Aims at Change

The umbrella generation clamours for change. Ernie Chow cited the example of the Victoria Park candlelight vigil in 2015, four representatives from various universities mounted the stage to burn a copy of “Hong Kong Basic Law”, resulting in great dispute. The umbrella generation insisted that the Basic Law contains no voice of Hong Kongers, and they therefore do not support it. In addition, the idea of “building a democratic China” within the “five demands” did not resonate with young people, and public opinion also pointed to the decline of public support or interest for this particular demand. Therefore, the umbrella generation would stress nativism, stress the standpoint of the local, becoming more and more distant from the pro-democracy’s view of being “polite and courteous”.

However, Ernie Chow admitted that public support for “Rehabilitating June 4th” remained constant for about thirty years, and the insight gleaned by Hong Kongers from June 4th was that the Chinese Communist Party was and is not to be trusted. So, even though there is disagreement between the umbrella generation and the pro-democracy camp, they could still collaborate under the banner of commemorating June 4th. We are all Hong Kongers with the call to struggle and resist; even though one shouts the slogan of rehabilitating June 4th, and the other to “Recover Hong Kong”, we could each do our part toward our goal.

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 10th anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, and the 5th Anniversary of the anti-extradition movement,” Mabel Tung, president of VSSDM pointed out; May is a month of solemnity, events that took place before appears before our eyes, and these historical events must be passed on to subsequent generations, as well as, through public information campaigns, be made known to all Canadians.

VSSDM Asks for Support for Upcoming Activities

VSSDM will have a series of events commemorating June 4th, including a forum on May 11th with former 89 Student Movement leader, current executive director of Chinese Human Rights Organization Zhou Fengsuo, and former June 4th prisoner, ten-year municipal councillor Joseph Shi; on May 18th, a talk with Dr. Rowena He, who was a university professor in Hong Kong at the time of the anti-extradition movement. All are welcome.


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