How The Hong Kong Police Created The Conditions For The People To Criticize The Government
(Yang Hengjun's blog) March 14, 2010.
At the afternoon meeting with media workers and students in Hong Kong, I said frankly that I don't know whether the Hong Kong media are retrogressing or the mainland media are progressing. Anyway, a decade ago when I was in Hong Kong, I eagerly learned the facts and knowledge from the local media. Today, I feel that some of the Hong Kong media are even more "self-disciplined" than mainland bloggers. To my recollection, this is the first time that I have criticized Hong Kong, because Hong Kong is the teacher who showed me the direction ...
Last evening, I returned to the hotel on Queens Central West. I remembered that a friend left a message about a candlelight assembly at the China Liaison Office. So I asked the hotel service worker for directions. He told me that it was just four blocks down the street. So I walked four blocks and found myself looking at a bunch of tall buildings. I asked a Hong Kong pedestrian again and he pointed to a tall, powerful-looking building: "It is that one. The one with the globe on top!"
So I proceeded to the building. From afar, I could see a crowd of people up there. I thought I was late, so I hurried up. Then I saw that this crowd consisted only of armed police officers. The demonstrators had not arrived yet. I studied these police officers in front of me, and counted up to more than one hundred in numbers. I was glad because this set-up meant that this evening will be exciting.
In 1992, my work assignment brought me to Hong Kong. I was therefore fortunate to have witnessed how Hong Kong contributed to China. At a time when people were trying to let the Hong Kong people feel part of China, I was impressed by the freedom and rule of law in Hong Kong. During those years, I often trailed the long demonstration parades by myself, or silently observed the Hong Kong demonstrators while thinking about the fate of Hong Kong as well as my own future.
In 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to the motherland, I was unable to return to my former self. Hong Kong let me realized what "freedom" and "rule of law" meant, and it made me decide to go overseas to continue the search for democracy ... not matter how far I travel, I will always remember this place, Hong Kong, my teacher, my buoy in the road to life. Therefore I will always have a psychological impediment each time I criticize Hong Kong.
On this day, I clearly came too early. So I stood patiently with the police to wait for the "troublemakers" to arrive. After ten minutes or so, more police officers came across the street. Police vehicles came and went, as the vehicular traffic slowed down and the parking spaces were sealed off for police use only. A television station vehicle came along and completely ignored the police line. Several young men got out and began to move out the camera equipment ... Good, I thought, here comes freedom of press. Then I saw more camera-toting reporters coming in from various directions. I felt warm inside, because the demonstrators will not have to face the police alone.
There were about twenty to thirty reporters at the scene ... when I see the police officers standing like trees and the reporters roaming around, I seemed to have traveled back the the time of buring passion more than a decade ago ... I was full of expectations. After all, I had not been to a Hong Kong demonstration in person for more than ten years now. Will it be the same?
At this time, the walkie-talkie on a spectator standing next to me came on. I realized that he was a plainclothesman. I stepped back a couple of paces and I began to scrutinze the dozen or so spectators. I quickly realized that at least six or seven of them were plainclothes policemen (which was quickly verified because some of them took out their police shields and began to talk to the uniformed police officers). The only real spectators were myself and one or two foreigners ...
At this moment, everybody's attention was turned to the end of the road. About six or seven people were walking over, led by a post-80s girl who was not particularly tall. When they attempted to approach the front gate of the China Liaison Office, they were stopped by the police. I had a loud female voice: "Please tell me why we can't go over there! Is this Hong Kong?"
So this was the main force of tonight's demonstration. Together with the several others who had arrived earlier as well as those who came later, this demonstration involved not more than 20 persons ...
I was stunned, even disappointed. There were more than one hundred armed police officers, seven or eight plainclothes police officers, twenty to thirty news reporters and the sole spectator Yang Hengjun. But they came here for the sake of only so very few demonstrators? Has Hong Kong been harmonized? Alternately, is Hong Kong so powerful that it has an inexhaustible supply of police officers? The events that occurred afterwards showed that these dozen or so demonstrators were not easy to deal with. They made the more than one hundred police officers and dozens of reporters zheteng (note: the Chinese term for "jerk around," "screw around," "much ado about nothing") for several hours ...
Since this is Hong Kong, the demonstrators have made sure that they ate dinner before they came. They were orderly in raising up the banner, lighting the candles, reading the declaration, giving media interviews, chanting the slogans ... the police did not dare to take them too lightly. According to information, at the previous demonstration, some demonstrators charged inside the China Liaison Office when a vehicle was exiting the building and created chaos.
A police officer used the megaphone to ask the organizer of the demonstrators to communicate with them to assist in the investigation. All the demonstrators yelled simultaneously, "We are all organizers." One of them said, "Can't you see that we are all busy? We don't have time to assist in your invesigation." The police officer was clearly following procedure. After calling out a few times with no response, he put away his megaphone ...
Suddenly, there was a commotion. Some demosntrators wanted to charge at the China Liaison Office and the police surrounded them ... for the next half hour, violent clashes occured. A female charged at the police line in order to throw flags and leaflets at the China Liaison Office. The police used a megaphone to warn the demonstrators to use peaceful and calm methods. They also used numerical superiority to control the excited demonstrators. The megaphone alternated between threats and pleas ("you must demonstrate peacefully -- we the police are working with you and we ask you to obeserve the regulations of peaceful demonstration") ... at the same time, a police officer with a camera filmed the disturbance ...
Frankly, I did not know what the issue of the demonstration was beforehand (that is, what were they protesting about?). I did not want to know, and it would be inconvenient for me to tell you (don't forget "one country, two systems"). I only want to use the opportunity of a "stroll" to observe and see if I can revoke some past memories. In my memory, I have never been so close to a scene of demonstration as now. Most of the time, I stood among the reporters or the police. Several times, I was in the way of the police who were running around. They did not push me aside or ordered me to leave. They just went around me. One police officer bumped into me accidentally and he said "Sorry." I was perplexed.
Over the next two hours, it did not matter whether I went among the demonstrators or stood to take photographs, the police treated me as if I was transparent. So I got bold enough to stand among the police to "observe" the classes. Standing among the plainclothes police, I must look like a senior official "sent from Beijing" in my western suit ...
The violent clash was instigated by the more volatile members among the demonstrators. They wanted to charge over. The police used the megaphone to announce: "You are not allowed to charge the barriers" and "if you charge again, we will arrest you." They used four or five police officers against each demonstrator. When these police officers stopped a female demonstrator, her companions came over and yelled, "The police are beating people?" So all the cameras were turned towards the four or five policemen surrounding the female demonstrator. I saw that the policemen were at a loss. At that time, two female police officers came over. The female demonstrator stood still. While she stood still, no police officer dared to move or touch her ...
Just when everybody's attention was focused over here, a male demonstrator suddenly charged past the police line. But he was quickly restrained by four or five policemen and carried out. I was following them and almost blocked their way. After the male demonstrator was taken out, he quickly stood up. I wanted to take a photo, but I found that the battery had ran out. (It really ran out and not because I did not want to show you the photos on account of "one country, two systems.")
The demonstrator who was carried out stood up and used his hands to pad off the non-existent dust on his body. He displayed an expression of contempt against the four or five police officers surrounding him. "What are you doing?" The other demonstrators yelled aloud: "You are serving the people, not the People's yuan currency." The police said nothing. Afterwards, I noticed that apart from the several police commanders, the one hundred plus police officers did not speak to the demonstrators, regardless of the sacrasm and insults hurled against them. They only used their bodies as barriers to exclude the demonstrators.
Suddenly, the young man tried something again. He attempted to break through the cordon of the five police officers. There was physical contact. Suddenly, someone yelled, "There's bloodshed!" This was like a magical chant which drew people rushing over in our direction. More than twenty media reproters surrounded the "injured person" and clicked away with their cameras as if they were afraid of missing the "blood stain." Someone took some photos and realized that there was no blood to be seen anywhere. The "injured person" was asked, "Where is the blood?" The "injured person" touched his nose and found nothing, so he began to look all over his body ...
I almsot burst out in laughter because I was following him. Based upon my close observation, there might have been a slight bump, but that should not have caused any bleeding. But the shout about "bleeding" and the crowd of reporters who rushed over caused the police to become nervous. A female police commander rushed over and asked, "We have medical people. Do you want them?" The companions of the "injured person" cursed her ("You hit him. You injured him. What more do you want?") The police commander walked away.
At the moment, the "injured person" sat on the ground and began to tell the story of how he got injured to the dozen or so reporters. Then the demonstrators began to speak in Chinese and English to denounce police "violence" ...
Less than ten mintues later, the siren of an ambulance came from far to near. The police had summoned an ambulance. Two Hong Kong medical emergency workers came over, examined the "injured person" and then left. When the elder emergency worker walked by me, he was mumbling to the police officer: "There was no sign of injury. I can't do anything." The "injured person" declined to go the hospital for examination. He stood up, wipe the dirt of his pants and rejoined the demonstrators. So his injury must have healed ...
By this time, it must be realistically said that things have become somewhat comical. If you were present at the scene, you would see what I am talking about. I found the interaction between the demonstrators and the police to be like an exaggerated cartoon or a scene from a Stephen Chow movie. Although the police had a 10:1 numerical advantage, they were limited in what they can do. Although a police officer used a megaphone to "threaten" the demonstrators with arrests or pepper spray attacks if they continue to charge the police line as well as debating with them "Is this a peaceful demonstration?", the demonstrators completely ignored him from start to finish.
These demonstrators were basically peaceful. They were restrained, especially when they were being filmed by the police. They did not "assault" the police. Even when some of the more excited demonstrators make to charge at the steel barrier or cross the police line, a single demonstrator could take up the attention of half a dozen or even a dozen police officers. I saw how more than one hundred police officers become "controlled" by a dozen or so demonstrators. I almost wanted to burst out in laughter many times.
Of course I did not laugh out like I did at certain demonstrations in the western world. After all, this is in China where people should not laugh about these things which are usually accompanied by bloodshed and tragedy. But this demonstration in front of me looks like a "comedy" no matter how I look at it. The more I watched, the more I felt that the demonstrators and the police are "play-acting" for the sake of the reporters and me, a spectator who came from mainland China.
Yes, they were "play-acting" in an exaggerated but serious manner in accordance with the rules of the game in this theater. They seemed very excited, but they kept their reason. The police may have ten times as much manpower, but they did not apply any excessive force from start to finish. Due to the self-restraint of the police, a young woman's feint to rush the police line occupied the attention of half a dozen or even a dozen of police officers. When I saw how the police cautiously made contact with the demonstrators, I was moved by the spirit of "rule of law" shown by them.
I won't say what the issue behind the demonstrations was (it actually has to do with mainland China rather than any interests for the people of Hong Kong) and I won't comment on whether these demonstrators are "professionals" (including a foreigner) as characterized by some citizens for their frequent television appearances. I made a calculation that this demonstration tonight probably cost a milllion Hong Kong dollars for the taxpayers. In terms of economic efficiency and stability, many people will shake their heads. This type of demonstration is very common in Hong Kong.
But it is precisely this seemingly "farcical" situation which highlights the uniqueness of Hong Kong. I know that Hong Kong has the best "freedom" and "rule of law" in the world. But I never imagined that I would understand the meaning of "freedom" and "rule of law" in a very volatile and unharmonious situation. Freedom is the right to demonstrate, freedom is the right to chant slogans, freedom is the right to charge at a government office. As for rule of law, it means that you can exercise your rights in accordance with the law. The police also have to carry out their duties in accordance with the law and their duties include protecting your rights and not engaging in arrests, assaulting or using violence ...
This is the basic reason why I thought this very solemn demosntration seemed somewhat hilarious. In a place with "freedom" and "rule of law," this type of demonstration is commonplace and indicative. As long as everybody keeps some reason and remember the terms "freedom" and "rule of law," there will not be any tragedies. For those "professional" demonstrators, going to demosntrate at the places which symbolize the powers-that-be is as easy as going to work or having a group dinner. You go there in a relaxed manner, you zheteng around and then you go off to have a night snack to discuss the lessons learned. The next time, there will be another incident or annual memorial to attend. Of course, the police are aware of all that. Although they have the ability to "eradicate all the harmful vermin," they have to act like obedient daughters-in-law to the "demonstrators" who possess the freedom to demonstrate as well as the laws which retrict police actions.
Some people may well ask why these actions which disrupt stability and waste public funds are not banned? Anyone who says that must not be aware of the biggest difference between Hong Kong and mainland China. They must not understand why Premier Wen Jiabao said that the modernization of China will take at least a century. After the return of Hong Kong to China, the income gap between Hong Kong and mainland China has shrunk drastically. In terms of wages, housing and prices for goods, the standard of living in Hong Kong are beginning to get closer to certain cities in mainland China. But Hong Kong is still a very "fragrant" place. Hong Kong and mainland China are still separated by armed police and customs officers as if they are two different countries. On the black market, a Hong Kong one-way immigrant visa is worth more than 1 million yuan. Qualified people try to have their wives deliver babies in Hong Kong. Internationally, Hong Kong passport holders are treated different than mainland Chinese passport holders ...
All this is due to "freedom" and "rule of law." Perhaps some people will disagree with me. They will say that even if "freedom" and "rule of law" are valuable, these kinds of horseplay and abuse should not be allowed. But I have to bring to their attention that when "freedom" and "rule of law" are dissolved by the authorities to the extent that they cannot be determined by the constitution and the laws but have to determined by "stability" and "the interests of the masses," then "freedom" will have become "slavery" and "rule of law" will have become the "rule by individual persons." This people shall have headed down the road to serfdom!
In this sense, I may be unappreciative of this demonstration that I witnessed. I wanted to laugh aloud several times. But deep down inside, I appreciated once again the value of "freedom" and "rule of law" in Hong Kong. I was deeply moved once again. In the cold wind, I did not laugh but I was almost in tears ...
Perhaps Hong Kong may have retrogressed a great deal, especially when the Hong Kong people begin to "become self-conscious and self-disciplined" as a result of their dependency on mainland China. But as long as this place continues to have these "funny" demonstration marches and sit-ins, Hong Kong can still be proud of its "freedom and rule of law" with respect to mainland China ... of course, I am quite skeptical about how long the "freedom and rule of law" can last without being guaranteed by democracy.
I don't know how long this will last. But on this evening, I know that "one county, two systems" did not fail in Hong Kong. Because I respect "one country, two systems," you may feel that I was not being forthcoming in this blog post and my photos were vague. What can I do? This is "one country, two systems" and unfortunately, you happen to live in the other "system."
But you should not lose heart. You can personally come to the other "system" of the "one country." Where is it? It is on Connaught Road in Sai Wan where the China Liaison Office building has a globe on top. In front of the entrance, you will feel the "freedom and rule of law" in Hong Kong as well as the superiority of "one country, two systems" ...
Below are the Hong Kong media reports:
(South China Morning Post)
About 20 people held a candle-light vigil last night outside the central government's liaison office to mark the riots in Tibet two years ago.
A scuffle broke out when several activists tried to hang a banner and a snow lion flag - a symbol of the Tibetan independence movement - on the office's front gate. Police officers guarding the gate threatened to use pepper spray as the activists - including Christina Chan Hau-man, one of the organisers of the vigil - tried to push their way forward.
One person was slightly injured, the group said. Chan, a prominent student activist, was arrested in January over the alleged assault of a policewoman during a pro-democracy protest on New Year's Day outside the liaison office. She is on bail. Last night the group was marking events in Tibet.
In March 1959, a failed revolt by Tibetans against Beijing rule led to the Dalai Lama's exile. On the anniversary of the uprising two years ago, a riot started in Lhasa on March 14 and spread to Tibetan-populated areas in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu.
A dozen or so people held a silent sit-in outside the China Liaison Office at around 7pm last night holding white candles in their hands. They were there to commemorate the second anniversary of the March 14th uprising in Lhasa (Tibet) two years ago as well as to voice their support of the Standing Committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. At first, the assembly proceeded in a peaceful manner. Then Christina Chan took the lead and demanded the police to remove the steel barriers and let them hang the Snow Mountain Lion flag (of the Tibet Independence Movement) and a banner on the steel gate of the China Liaison Office.
The police said that the China Liaison Office had complained that their steel gate is private property and refused to permit anyone to hang anything on it. The police issued multiple warnings as well as applied pepper spray. But Christina Chan ignored those warnings and charged at the police line many times. During the confusion, one demonstrator injured his lip.
(Hong Kong Golden Forum)
Who's hand is on Christina Chan's tit?
[This video gives two new details:
(1) Christina Chan kept complaining about being manhandled by male police officers when two female police officers were assigned to her. The problem was that one of the female police officers had short hair and Christina thought that she was a man. So the policewomen had to tell her, "I am a woman."
(2) There was a loud quarrel between the demonstrators and the local residents, who accused the demonstrators of disturbing their sleep (because the demonstration went on until 3am. The demonstrator said that the police were making the noise whereas they were relatively quiet. This was met with a [censored] expletive from a local resident.]