Chinese Culture [4]: Hong Kong July 1st Protests

You all know I normally don't talk politics on the blog, even though that shows through in my books. I'm breaking this streak today, but note that I hold no explicit public political stance.

But first, I've been thinking of switching to Disqus for comments. If you could take like 1.4 minutes to fill in a 3-question survey, that would be awesome. Thanks guys!!
Chinese Culture Appreciation is a blog series that aims at explaining tidbits of, well, the Chinese culture. As a girl from Hong Kong, I really hope to share more of my amazing, historically rich world with you.

I'm not sure if this counts as Chinese culture, but it's definitely a Hong Kong speciality. Today, July 1st, marks the day of the handover, i.e. when we stopped being a British colony and was fully back in China's hands. (That sounded less ominous in my head). It's called the Hong Kong Special Administration Region Establishment Day. What a mouthful! We call it seven-one in Cantonese, qat-yat.

It's become something of a tradition to have a peaceful protest on that day. To be honest I am very proud of this tradition, even though 99% of the time, I just laugh at the protesters. (What? I'm rude.) Say what you like about our politics, the population is generally okay with protests that are carried out with the sole intention of expressing opinions.

Okay, I lied about the sole intention. People also go for photography.

A brief rundown of past July 1st protests:

  • 2003: The first major July 1st protest; against Article 23, which prohibits acts of treason. 10% of the population showed up on this one!
  • 2004-2009: Too young to remember.
  • 2010: A call for universal suffrage and open elections for the Chief Executive.
  • 2011-2014: Basically calling for the CE to step down, commence universal suffrage, and stop soaring rent.

Major issues of the 2015 July 1st protest:

  • Beijing and the HK government have set out a framework for universal suffrage, which pan-democrats don't think is acceptable.
  • Related to the above, the Occupy Central movement will probably make an appearance, at least through its leaders.
  • Rent prices are still rather high, matching NYC's.
  • Judging by past trend, there will still be calls for the CE to step down. We're not very creative.
  • Miscellaneous topics: parallel traders from mainland China, retirement plans for all workers, etc.

Here's the funny thing: I don't write about protests a lot.

I base 99% of my stories off my own experiences and thoughts, which is why they tend to the political. But I've never written a peaceful protest — okay, there was that one time I set a story in Occupy Central and posted a #WatchMeWrite. Maybe war and double-dealing and rebellion are just more fun to write about?

The sad thing is, the protests in Hong Kong have a tendency to turn violent after a dozen hours of stewing outside government buildings. Please don't tell me that so-and-so side incites the violence; I'm not making that point. Should I focus on the more ideal side of the protests or the darker side?

The dark side may have cookies, but I write to do my stories and characters justice. More than that, I have to do the source material justice. To present an idealised view is to ignore the very issues that writing is supposed to illuminate. To present the grittier aspects is to satisfy my inner demon and overlook the good intentions of protesters.

It's a philosophical question, and one I'm not ready to answer yet. Protests are a warning sign for the slippery slope of politics. What's the warning sign for the slippery slope of violence?

Thoughts on this tradition of sorts? Should I write more protests?

Twitter-sized takeout:
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  1. I'm not really a fan of protests, but I think that the annual protest is a good tradition to uphold. As long as it doesn't turn violent and no one gets hurt, it's a good way to remember your history.

    1. My thoughts exactly! I'm not extremely passionate about politics, but I admire anyone who expresses their views peacefully.

  2. I do not blame you for calling it the Qat-Yat instead of that long name I refuse to retype, because, as I said, it is long. Although it does seem I will copy-paste it into Google to learn when it was, and then being surprised to realize I was alive when that happened. I mean, sure, I was only six months old, but still, it's weird to think that this is something that has developed pretty much exactly within my lifetime. (I totally knew some stuff about Hong Kong being in Britain's hands from my AP Euro class since we talked about some Chinse history, the Opium Wars, etcetera, but I guess I lost track of the end result.)

    When you say photography do you mean to take pictures or to get their picture taken?

    Still, it's interesting to see what ends up in the mix in the protests. I guess when I think of protests, I think of one thing being protested at a time. I don't know why; I've never actually been to an actual protest, although we held one at school once and made the news.

    I like protests in that you can share your opinion without hurting anybody, but like you said, sometimes people let their emotions get the better of them. Tempers rise, shots are fired, and I think that would be pretty scary—I mean, even if it were just adults who attended the protest I assume there are kids who live in the near vicinity. It's kind of disturbing to think that adults who want to change something for themselves and their children would kill the progeny a protest is meant to benefit, in the long run.

    (And of course, that's just me thinking out loud. I've been out of the country once, and it was not any kind of July 1st, nor in China. But at least in my studies for my Spanish class I do know that it's definitely something to think about in South America.)

    I don't think it's weird to not write about protests, even if it's something you witness. There's a stable a mile or so from my house and I don't write about horses. I mean, it's a weird comparison when you think about protests as a representation of the people's voice and a petition for change, and then horses being sources of work and entertainment and symbolism, but I think what they have in common is being a part of life. I see horses, you see protests, and even if they have a profound impact on how we think, sometimes they don't have a profound impact on how we write. And that's okay.

    Protests, horses, culture. They're all a big, interesting mess. Things can turn interesting, things can turn dangerous. And the film of history keeps rolling.

    1. I totally sympathise with the long name. It's even worse in Chinese when I don't actually know what all the words mean. I was born just a bit after it, so yes, it's not actually ancient history!

      To take photos, ahaha. Pardons for the confusing wording.

      That is typically what happens in protests, I think, and there is one main theme each year, but it's just a chance for us to all speak out. *ducks away at the mention of shotguns* OMG, Heather, we freak out when pepper spray is used. People would have to resign if shots were fired. *inches away from America*

      BAHAHAHA. Your comparison is too hilarious. Seriously, you make these wonderful and incongruous comparisons and they are the best. But yes, I agree -- just because it's something that happens around you doesn't mean it's something that must happen on paper!

    2. *wince* EVERYTHING IS SO LONG. I would like a nice acronym. It's weird to think, though, that we're going to be adults and kids will be taught it in school and then they'll find out we were basically alive then, and then they will stare at us and say, "You're so ooooold."

      XD Well, it's just that I could totally see people trying to get on the news or be, "Oh, look at politically conscious me."

      It didn't have to be a shotgun... it could be a pistol or something, okay? A B.B. gun. I DUNNO. Guns are a thing here, it is what I am used to! *clutches toy water gun and squirts it at her sister because she is evil*

      XD Maybe they are incongruous but they always make sense to me. But yes.

    3. Yeah well, you can't really make an acronym with Chinese strokes. And argh, don't remind me. I already feel old all the time.

      Ahaha, yes, I suppose that's possible. But seriously, a moment on the TV is not worth the boiling temperature.

      Aww, it's okay. I'm sure they'll nail gun control down sometime. Like maybe in 4 more presidents.

  3. That's really neat that Hong Kong has a protest tradition.

    I can understand the concept behind protests. In a way, they are necessary to show what the people want. But at the same they often do turn violate, not because of either "side" but just because a few random individuals (from which side doesn't matter) didn't have the the good sense to keep their heads. I think protests are important, but people should keep their cool when protesting. Because when they turn violate it only gives everyone involved a bad name and whatever they were protesting against or lobbying for is thrown in a bad light.

    Writing a protest would be interesting. If you took a couple different POV characters and showed their different experiences and thoughts during the same protest, it would be interesting to read the comparison. But I think whether you think it's important to you and your writing to write protests, is up to you and the story you're telling.

    1. Yep, it's definitely cool!

      *nods* I second everything you say. I mean, for some protests, I can totally understand why they're going out there and I might even agree with them, but then one or two radicals start throwing eggs or whatnot and I'm just like, "Yeah, never mind. Let's go back to homework."

      OH YES THAT WOULD BE FUN. Actually, there was once a riot in Hong Kong, and an acclaimed (Chinese) author wrote about it from the perspective of multiple non-living objects. SO COOL.

  4. This was interesting. :) I had to look up a few terms, but thanks for the education!

    I think including protests (if relevant) would be a great idea. Maybe they're not much fun to feel if described in great detail, but it adds complexity to the fictional world. If all the politics took place inside governments...well, it would still be awesome (because politics is awesome), but I would be one of the readers asking, "What about the people?" There's a V for Vendetta quote that goes "The people should not fear their government...the government should fear their people." Protestors hold a fair amount of power, themselves. Political battles are so complicated. :')

    1. *fun to read. I didn't see the autocorrect until I published this, sorry about that!

    2. Haha, that's totally okay :) Autocorrect does like to mess things up.

      I'm glad you found the post informative! And yes, I write a lot of politics, so it would be interesting to include protests in some of these. Unfortunately I tend to go for riots and rebels instead of calm, nonviolent protests. Because that's just me XD

  5. I've heard all about the protests over there and I am actually proud of you guys for standing up against the status quo and demanding social justice and fairness among many others. It's a passionate thing because you are pretty much fighting for a common cause. So I say go for it! It would be interesting to read and I would love to see the fire and passion behind it :)

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. Thank you, Faye! There is definitely a lot of fire here, but I feel like maybe the west doesn't have the full picture because (a) the protests are super political and issues like social justice are often sidelined and/or polarised and (b) there is a significant subset of neutral citizens and another of pro-government citizens, which I don't think international news media covers well enough. But the support of the international community means a lot to everyone, I'm sure.

  6. Oh, where should I start...okay, I know there are some protests last year, which from what I've heard, were about suffrage and open election for CE, and education (something about what should be written in textbooks and what should be taught; we're (sort of) having a protest about that recently as well). They involved yellow umbrellas and black boxes, I believe XD.

    Jokes aside, I actually don't know it's annual. Newspapers here all reported it as if it were something really rare (which again proved that newspapers here are anything but helpful). I don't know how it really is over there, but I think it's a good thing because a) it shows that your people really care about their rights and their land, b) it shows consistency, unlike how it is here--we only have major protests when something serious happened or was about to happen, and most of the time it didn't last long; people tend to forget about it as soon as it faded on the news, and c) (though I'm not really sure about this one) it means the government actually (kinda?) allows this kind of things to happen, which means more democracy! (okay okay I don't really know, I remember one time when we held an election for president, China ended up aiming missiles at us :P )
    Is this year's protest especially intense, since it's THE year when Hong Kong is handed over to China? Or am I just overthinking :P ?

    Violence in protests is never a good thing. It is usually started by some asshats who's high on emotion, which leads to people on one side following suit and the other finding an excuse to be violent as well. And that often provokes even more emotions in people all around the country through the media. Violence definitely adds severity and, I'm sorry to say, drama to things, sure, it brings more attention but whether it's worth it, hard to say.
    There's a book I read that portrays a student protest that last pretty long from the perspective of the teenager who sparked the whole thing, though I don't know if there's an English version of it. (It's called 危險心靈 by侯文詠, if you're interested)

    I love reading your posts, they're always so thought provoking and thoughtful!

    1. Aww, thank you, Melody!

      That would be the one, yes, helpfully colour-coded for your convenience. XD Oh yes, it's actually been around for a while, but the Occupy Central protests were obviously an outlier. Well, on one hand you could say it shows consistency, but on the other you could also say our issues are never resolved.

      Well, it was actually much more laid back since the pan-democrats sorta lost a lot of support in the vote for electoral reform. So there were fewer people on the streets, actually. And ooh, that sounds like an interesting book. But seeing as it's Chinese, I probably won't be checking it out XD

  7. I love reading all your Chinese culture posts, and this was especially neat, since I don't know all too much about Hong Kong. Personally, I feel like peaceful protesting is a good tradition to uphold--what does it say about the government if people aren't allowed to express their own opinions and beliefs? Great post, and thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Alex! I'm glad I was able to share some of Hong Kong about you. And yes, peaceful protest is important, but when does it start becoming un-peaceful? That's an important line to discuss, even if it's hard to draw.

  8. Wow, this is (as usual!) very, very interesting! I am all for anyone's right to speak their mind in a peaceful manner, but I totally get what you're saying about it turning into something less than peaceful. I think if I were writing such a thing, I would show BOTH sides of the spectrum- the peaceful and well meaning, and those who get carried away for whatever reason. Because really, no one in ANY huge event like that is going to be ALL good or ALL bad. There will always be at least one person upsetting the status quo, so that could always work into a story!

    And I filled out your comment survey, of course :)

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    1. Thank you, Shannon! And yes, the grey area is definitely important in this situation. I'd also look for atypical perspectives. But with all the writing ideas I've got, I think I have a lot of time to think of all the PoVs possible.

      Thank you, your opinion means a lot!

  9. WOAH, THAT'S LONG. I lost track somewhere between Special Administration. Lovely post, as I enjoyed seeing so talk about different cultures (blargh I've had about enough of the US in both books and TV shows tbh0 and this is a pleasant change XD

    Though I've never been to any protests actually, as long as they're for a good cause and peaceful, I'm all for them!
    (Ooh, filled out the survey too.)

    1. Ahaha, yes, it is rather annoyingly long. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about non-Eurocentric cultures! I'm making it a personal goal to write as un-Eurocentric books as possible, or when I do have an Eurocentric setting, to include as many non-Caucasian people in the book as I can without sacrificing the depth of research.

      Agreed! Unfortunately "good cause" and "peaceful" is so subject to fluctuations.

      Thanks, Nirvana! I think we have a winner, though I'm not 100% sure. XD

  10. Ah, I remember we talked about this a little bit when we met up - I didn't realise it was an annual thing, though! Interesting tradition - in Canada they put maple syrup in everything, in the UK they burn straw poppets, and in America they set off fireworks and eat lots of red meat... so you know, I guess whatever floats your country's boat? ;)

    In all seriousness, though, protests are not my favourite thing in the world. I've found that even supposedly peaceful ones can so often escalate into violence... but I suppose they're one way to ensure the people's voices are heard. (And real talk here: qat-yat is basically my favourite phrase in the history of the universe. Aside from, perhaps, lama glama. ;))

    1. Mmm yes -- Occupy Central was a one-off, so everyone's eyes were on us for a while, but we have quite the protest tradition here! Gosh, Canada makes me feel guilty. *passive-aggressively eats takeout waffles*

      I totally agree. I'm not super into them -- I agree you should be able to, but I'm not gonna join or anything. And ha, rhyming words are always the best :D


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