Guest post: my friend’s plea for democracy in Hong Kong

Mr. Zhang of the Liaison Office reportedly told the democrats to thank their lucky stars for still being “alive” under Beijing’s leniency. Quartz updated on the friendly reminder with a link to a Chinese article covering the August meeting in its actual context; turned out the democrats were only told they were lucky to be still “sitting here today” (

Lost in translation or an educated guess? Did Zhang mean it was a heavenly gift that these dissidents even had the honour of sitting in the same room with His Highness and pretending to have a discussion, or was the comment tinted with a threat of unspeakable consequences? I’d like to think they wouldn’t go that far, but every time we thought so they managed to surprise us.

Either way, we can’t say they didn’t warn us when we see, one day, people of different opinions to Beijing’s silenced by whatever means. Just unlucky, right?

Anyhow, we have long entered an era of state level triad rule. Blackmail, anonymous attacks, mysterious “suddenly red” groups, organisations and leaders out of nowhere. It’s going from annoying to unnerving.

One common rebuttal to such lamenting I encounter is that HK had never been a democratic society under the colonial rule, so why should it be entitled to more autonomy now? There are many reasons why this is an idiotic argument (sorry my friends, I truly think so, and you’re welcome to confront or unfriend me if you think it matters to you personally). For practical reasons, the life we enjoy and things we endorse in HK will simply not be allowed with people like Zhang directing you what to and what not to think. It’s perfectly true that HK is always known for being a (relatively) free society without democracy (“有自由無民主”), and it flourished while many democracies struggle to tackle poverty. However, that was under an entirely different leadership, in style and in interest. The foundations of Hong Kong’s past success were many things, but the absence of a democratic electoral system wasn’t one of them. People were able to enjoy “freedom” because the colonial government chose to implement lax policies, a leniency that resulted from decisions made by individual governors on the advice of think tanks and advisors, which had nothing to do with universal suffrage or the lack thereof. What Zhang achieved was to confirm that the standard of leniency has since dropped considerably. Under an autocratic administration, freedom as we know it can be easily taken away, and it’s precisely why we need a better checks-and-balances system to safeguard the few rights we still have. Democracy is not some idealists’ dream, it’s a practical , imperfect tool widely adopted in the contemporary world albeit being commonly miscarried. It won’t be the ultimate solution, but it will give ordinary people a little voice and it will help people like the pan-democrats feel a little safer to tell Zhang to STFU when he decided it was appropriate to say what he did. It’s really in no one’s interest to indulge in the illusion that the current “freedom without democracy” model would be sustainable under Beijing’s watch, and for people like Robert Chow who are counting on Beijing to reward them, just remember the old lesson from those before you: to keep accompanied the Emperor is to keep accompanied a tiger. Hold on to your British passport, Mr. Chow.



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