Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

On April 10th, the Hong Kong based political party Demosistō was formed by some of the youth leaders that led the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

The highlight of the party’s platform is the desire to hold a referendum on Hong Kong’s autonomy prior to 2047. It is a revolutionary desire in the eyes of the Chinese government and many pro Chinese political figures in Hong Kong.

When RISE NEWS  learned about the creation of Demosistō, we reached out to them in order to share their story.

After all, they are some of the most politically influential millennials that the world has seen.

We eventually secured an interview with Agnes Chow, the party’s Deputy Secretary General, and veteran of the student group Scholarism, which proved highly influential in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

She is also a second year student at Hong Kong Baptist University, studying politics.

Chow first became involved in Hong Kong politics in 2012, after being exposed to Scholarism via Facebook.

The group was founded in opposition to the highly controversial Moral and National Education Curriculum, which was claimed by opponents to be pro Communist Party of China (CPC) brainwashing.

One of the more compelling pieces of evidence to this claim is one of the key seven priorities of the curriculum being “National Identity“, which is to say an identity indistinct from that of mainland China.

Scholarism, and its allied groups were ultimately successful in defeating the Moral and National Education Curriculum, but also in demonstrating that a grassroots movement of millennials in Hong Kong can make political change.

However, Scholarism’s next big outing, as well as other liberal organizations, proved even larger than the opposition to the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

The Umbrella Movement was a mass protest spanning several months in Hong Kong. Thousands of protesters gathered in opposition to constitutional reform imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). These reforms give a nominating committee, with purportedly strong ties to the CPC, the authority to pre-select a handful of candidates prior to a territory wide election.

The “suffrage” presented by Beijing outraged a tremendous number of Hong Kongers, and in particular, large swaths of young people, many of whom were in secondary school.

In particular the student group Scholarism was the centerpiece of what little international media attention was put on the Umbrella Movement.  It was largely out of the ranks of Scholarism that Demosistō emerged.

However, size of opposition did not prove decisive in the Umbrella Movement, as the ultimate objective of the protesters was thwarted.

When asked if the three month event was a failure, Chow told RISE in a Skype interview;

“in terms of political goals, i think it was a failure, but it also had lots of influence on people’s minds.”

Indeed, there is something to be said of the conditions being created in which a handful of university students can exercise a considerable degree of influence in politics.

To those familiar with the Occupy Movement in the United States, the idea of using the political capital gained through the Umbrella Movement to work within a broken system may seem strange or counter intuitive.

“It is difficult to fight some things through the Parliament, or through the Legislative Council, and while I can understand these kinds of feelings, because in our legislative council now half of our council is not democratically elected, because of the Functional Constituency,” Chow said. “I still believe we can enter the Legislative Council, we can do something… because our aim is to not just work within the Council.

“Through the election we want to promote our ideas to more people. What we have to do is connect the Legislative Council and the Civil Society outside.”

The intentions of Demosistō and other liberal actors within Hong Kong has not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year, Chow brought attention to the abduction of a man selling books that criticized the Communist party, or were otherwise banned in Mainland China.

Chow has also had the shadow of the CPC come upon her as well.

Limits on withdrawals were placed on her bank account which was intended to be used to accept donations on behalf of Demosistō, as they have thus far been unable to register as a company.

This has resulted in Demosistō relying on crowdfunding via Paypal.

Chow was more concerned with Demosistō’s hurdles in registering as a company. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t like this very much.

” In Hong Kong we do not have the legislation for political parties,” Chow said. “They all have to register as a company instead.”

These financial problems likely do not improve Demosistō’s opinion of the Hong Kong establishment.

” Of course the government and the companies will not support us, because we are opposing the government, and the business sectors are also always standing on the government’s side,” Chow said. “They have to cooperate with the Chinese side.”

Demosistō then will be relying on their proven ability to utilize grassroots tactics to gain wins in the Legislative Council, especially students, but not exclusively.

“We have involved a professor teaching in one of the arts schools… We believe that the new political party, because it’s not a student’ s organization anymore, and it’s important for us to involve more people from the older generations.”

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A Demosistō social media banner showing members of the party. Photo Credit: Demosistō/ Facebook.

She also notes that for future plans, the party will:

“Try to recruit them [volunteers], through our website, and different forums, and public locations we will try to send our message to Hong Kong People, and hope that they can join us later on.”

Spreading the message of a referendum on Hong Kong’s self determination by 2047, the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration expires, is the clear center piece of Demosistō’s platform, but is far from the only position taken.

Scholarism was deemed ill fitting for elevation to Demosistō’s status as a political party in part due to a lack of political cohesion, according to Chow.

Demosistō heavily invests in individualist language to describe their proposed policies, broken down into the ” Four Selves” :Self Initiating, Self Standing, Self Autonomy, and finally Self Determination. These are intended as steps over a ten year period.

” Self Determination does not mean dissolution of the Social Problems in Hong Kong”

” Even after self determination we still have lots of: education problems, housing problems, property hegemony, etc,” Chow said. “We still have a lot of problems to solve before the self determination of Hong Kong. Resources such as food and water heavily rely on the supply of the mainland China. No matter if it was an independent country or a city under a country, it has to have self sufficiency.”

Not only does Demosistō insist on self sufficiency for the city of Hong Kong, but also an advancement of Hong Kong’s unique identity.

” It is also important to build up the identity of Hong Kong People, so we propose a Hong Kong History subject be implemented,” Chow said in the interview. “Hong Kong people do not really know much about Hong Kong history; in our education system there are only World History and Chinese History.”

This idea of an independent Hong Kong identity seems pivotal in the dispute between Hong Kong and Beijing.  As previously noted, establishing a national identity was one of the objectives of the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

Beijing specifically does not want there to be any distinction between China and Hong Kong, and may be trying to begin laying the groundwork for 2047, and end this “salutary neglect” like relationship.

Chow concluded our chat by telling us about her vision of Hong Kong’s identity, saying;

“For me, the identity of Hong Kong people, or the characteristic of Hong Kong, is diversity. We have lots of different kinds of people, who believe in different core values, who came from different countries, who are different races, etc. It’s very important to emphasize the diversity, and not to exclude the others who disagree with us.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Agnes Chow Ting/ Facebook

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About the Author
"John Massey has a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory. "

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