In Hong Kong in the early 90s – before China’s takeover in 1997 – I spent a night sitting ont the 66th floor at the very top of the restaurant Revolving 66, rotating around the pulsating iridescent city, while glimpsing China behind the dark woods on the horizon. Since those times, the liberal population has experienced the growing presence of Communist China, fearing extensive control and surveillance. And with the China-friendly Hong Kong government’s proposition for the extradition of «criminals», its inhabitants got infuriated this summer. An unprecedented 2 million people, out of a total population of 7,4 million were protesting in the streets.
But can we glimpse something different and far deeper going on this time – which sets this incident apart from the umbrella-movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and the demonstrations at Tiananmen square 25 years ago? There might be something else happening, comparable to the yellow vests in France or the extensive environmental protests of Extinction Rebellion.
Today, more anarchist-oriented collectives in Hong Kong claim that the demonstrators are consciously presented as stereotypical rebels. Disquieting scenes with police, organized marches and oppositional leaders are seen as something to be avoided since they can easily be taken hold of, termed «criminals» and renegades, and the consequence is years of bitter disappointment. This is what happened with the umbrella movement, which started with the slogan of the intellectuals «Occupy the center with peace and love» – but without tangible results.
In Hong Kong, many protesters have chosen direct action, while others chose a pacific non-violent approach. And the groups dislike each other. The first groups don’t want small discussions, a search for consensus or endless talk, but chose direct action instead. YouTube videos show them cutting down surveillance cameras. They use masks and umbrellas to avoid being recognized. An action can be to crowd the subway to jam the network, another can be letting big groups cash out their money from the banks, causing a significant commotion.
That USA or foreign powers should be behind the uprising, like a new colour revolution, is implausible. Yet, Hong Kong does receive some help to pull the weight: Twitter has closed 936 accounts connected to the Chinese authorities and Facebook has stopped 5 accounts, 7 Facebook pages, and 3 groups. Also, 210 YouTube channels have been closed. Totalitarian China is manipulating the population with 480 million submissions annually (2017) – derailing critical debate. But even if there is some outside support, what we see is really a grassroots uprising.
The new protest reform mentioned by the anarchists doesn’t look for a framing «narrative» about the incidents in Hong Kong – which can too easily be simplified, categorized or dismissed. They reject the «scholastic» fraction of students («Demosisto») and the nationalists on the right («Nativists») – as being too involved with ruling institutions.
Do you assume that it is the «left» who are rebelling in Hong Kong? For them, the left is synonymous with the communist party, and they would see a rich businessman and party-member as a typical leftist. Young people in Hong Kong also use «the left» more as a term for the suppressed generation that came before them – which patiently waited for change. Nothing happened. Today, most would rather identify with the negation of China, as a non-China, as a nationalistic free space.
Some of the demands that have been raised are that the extradition deal must be canceled completely, that Hong Kong’s «China-initiated» leader Carrie Lam must resign, and that free democratic elections must be held.
Dismissal of power
The deeper issue here is «dismissal» of traditional concentrations of power. The desire is to weaken the legitimacy of the powerful: kings, the clergy, politicians, and capitalists. People are wary of the few ruling or representing the many. Instead of new vertical power structures, more horizontal networks and local communities are being sought.
In philosophy, this is called «destitution». Destitution means disposal, where old metaphysical or hegemonic principles are weakened or delegitimized. The old regime is not simply replaced with new institutions. The point is rather that authoritarian state, the military and the rich shouldn’t be allowed to keep their grasp on us forever. Thus, destitution means saying no, removing the current suppression without establishing a new power.
Do you assume that it is the «left» who are rebelling in Hong Kong?
Philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Georgio Agamben have long shown us how power has been consolidated, how metaphysical epochal patterns have dominated throughout history, by way of doxa or diagrams («despositifs»), or simply through predominant ideologies. Our current technological and administrative society is the last instance of this development. This is the new «biopolitics» where the state controls the bodies of its citizens through enormous systems of control, taxes, fees, and surveillance – a development in which China leads the way.
We can only hope that violence doesn’t spread in Hong Kong, so that China intervenes with military units, creating a spiral of violence which would further legitimize moves that would create a deadlock for years to come. China, after all, is a country where people tend to «disappear» – not exactly a place you want to be extradited to.
We are touched emotionally by the power of the new, by the young and the coming communities. Like the chinese man in front of the row of tanks in 1989. Or the videos we see today, where the police beat up protesting youth. The reactions are not only demonstrated by their mothers who take to the streets but also in the governmental and business sectors have demonstrated a broad support Hong Kong’s values and fight for freedom.
We ought to hope for the downfall of vertical power structures – even if it may take this whole century.
The new uprising
EDITORIAL: Fearing increasing control and surveillance, Hong Kong's liberal population has experienced the growing presence of Communist China.