The Black Hands Behind The January 1st Demonstration in Hong Kong

On January 1st, 2005, a number of people marched in Hong Kong under the name of "The Great March To Oppose Politicians Creating Chaos In Hong Kong."  The Hong Kong police estimated that there were 10,000 marchers (see previous post).

On a radio program several days earlier, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen said that he would not encourage Catholics to march on New Year's Day. Why not? He said that there were no clear purposes to these marches and that the organizers have unclear backgrounds.  So it is important to know just who those people were.

Who were these people?  Are they agents of the Chinese Communist Party?  Are they employees of corrupt business owners?  Are they pro-government political party hacks?

The following information is translated loosely from the February 2005 issue of Bauhinia magazine.

The Great March To Oppose Politicians Creating Chaos in Hong Kong had two organizing bodies.

The first one is the Hong Kong Free Economic Stability Concern Group.  Where did this previously unknown group come from?

On or about December 15/16, the original complainants against the public offering of the Link REIT lost their case in court.  But with the support of politicians like Albert Cheng, the complainants did not relinquish their right to appeal.  This was sufficient to stop the Link REIT public offering at that time due to the uncertainty that it created.

Among those who were concerned about this case were two individuals.  One of them works in property management and the other is a human resources recruiter.  They both went to the Yahoo! news forum to join in the discussion about the problem of politicians affecting society.  In their opinions, the so-called democratic politicians abused legal procedural rules to kill the Link REIT public offering.

As the discussions proceeded and they were condemning Albert Cheng, in came the supporters of Albert Cheng who began to repeat their own posts continuously to interrupt the discussion.  Technically, this is known as "cleansing the board."  This dirty trick ignited outrage and everybody kept posting and posting.  This battle went on for more than half a day, and then suddenly one frustrated netizen suggested that they ought to organize a spontaneous demonstration to protest against the evil politicians.  Once they are out on the street in numbers, what would the politicians do then?  They could not be doing bulletin board cleansing anymore.  This suggestion soon drew several thousand affirmative responses.  At this point, the human resources recruiter proposed that people show up at the police station on December 18th to file an application for a January 1st march.

On December 18th, 12 people showed up at the police station, and most of them did not know each other.  Usually, a couple of people would be enough to file an application, but more than that showed up.  One housewife had read the news item in Sing Tao daily and came down because she thought that many signers would be needed for the application.  These became known as the Twelve Angry Persons who initiated the demonstration.

The police officer in charge told them that an assembly is required to have a name.  So they thought about an appropriate name.  They knew that there were all types of Concern Groups in Hong Kong these days.  So they made up the name of Hong Kong Free Economic Stability Concern Group.

Among the twelve, the property management worker, the human resources recruiter, together with an interior decorator and two housewives would eventually form the core people who did most of the work.

The other group that sponsored the march was the Hong Kong Stocks and Futures Workers Union.  The union had received multiple complaints from their workers as well as customers who urged them to take some kind of action.  At a meeting of 14 board members, the decision was taken unanimously to organize a street demonstration.

When the union called to apply for a permit, they found out another organization had already picked their preferred location on the same day.  When the union people got to the police station, they encountered the members of this other group.  The police officer told them that they seem to have similar goals, and perhaps they ought to discuss among themselves.  Upon exchanging their objectives and plans, they decided to consolidate their groups into the "Grand Alliance To Protect The Stability of Hong Kong."

The division of labor was that the Concern Group was responsible for inviting citizens to speak on the dais, while the union would be responsible for maintaining order.  In the interest of maintaining the appearance of neutrality, there would be no speakers with any obvious political party affiliation.  About 100 volunteers wore red ribbons and acted as marshals to maintain order.

What will happen to the Concern Group?  Will they be a political powerhouse of the future?  No.  This Concern Group was automatically dissolved by prior agreement as soon as the march was over.  However, they will have left a legacy for spontaneous self-organization among citizens.

This is a simple story about the exercise of freedom of speech and expression which is facilitated by the political system and tradition.  The net impact, though, is not known as yet.  But this certainly created more impact for the particular issue than a bunch of people flaming each other on some bulletin board without the rest of the world being aware.  More generally, this shows that large demonstrations can be spontaneously organized without the aid or instigation of professional demonstrators.