This is a Procrastination, an occasional newsletter from Hong Kong: City on Fire.
I feel obliged to apologise for my relative silence over the past few weeks. As I explained in my first instalment, I began this newsletter as way of procrastinating writing my book. What I discovered over the past few weeks was that, having created the psychic obligation to deliver a regular newsletter, I then procrastinated writing the newsletter by...actually working on my book! A brilliant plan, if only in retrospect.
Anyway, the book is now done! Finished! Submitted! (All the protests can stop now, thanks.)
Hong Kong’s Nameless Revolution
People have long been talking about this protest movement being “leaderless”. It has also been nameless.
In writing a book about the movement, one of the biggest challenges I faced was what to call it. A while ago I and some notable co-conspirators had advocated for “Hard Hat Revolution”, after the protesters’ distinctive yellow hard hats which became a key part of the movement’s visual identity. Alas, #HardHatRevolution never took off and using it in the book was frankly going to cop way too much stick.
I pondered over the question, and my thoughts ended up as a piece I wrote, published today in Quartz. In the piece, I posed the problem thus:
As Hong Kong’s protest movement passed the six-month mark and the year drew to a close, the question of what name to give a movement that began in June 2019 became a vexed one for editors and reporters, academics, and commentators. With the season of year-end wrap-ups and retrospectives now upon us, the need to call it something is especially acute. There is only so long that people can go on writing, “this movement,” “the present unrest,” or the “ongoing protests” before our capability for gymnastic euphemism is exhausted. While some have argued passionately against the media’s instinct to impose a label, there comes a point at which it is not a matter of ideology but simply a practical necessity.
Please do head over to Quartz to read the full piece (and to learn my conclusion!).
The Octopus is in the Box
The events of the past seven months have been, to say the least, complex and multi-faceted. I had likened the process of writing a book about it to trying to pack a live octopus into a box: it felt like I was wrestling with all these tentacles, and just when I managed to squeeze one in, another would pop out the other side.
I then did the obvious thing one would do when facing a pressing deadline to submit a book manuscript and Googled “octopus in a box,” whereupon I learned, somewhat to my disappointment, that an octopus will in fact voluntarily pack itself into a box, no questions asked. So, I lost a metaphor but learned some interesting facts about octopi.
For those of you wondering what my octopus-packing looked like, here is a sneak peek at how I kept track of all those tentacles:
(Key: yellow for 2019 events; orange for historical events; pink for themes.)
It was only after I was quite some way into this planning process that I realised I had unconsciously — but entirely appropriately — created my own “Lennon Wall”.
The Last Protest of the Year?
On Sunday, 8 December, the Civil Human Rights Front staged a very large — and largely peaceful — march from Victoria Park to Central. It seems likely that this was the last large-scale protest of the year. (A selection of photographs from that day at the end of this email, below.)
In the lead-up, I spoke to ABC Australia’s Barbara Miller for The World Today with a wrap-up on where we are and where things are heading: you can listen here (~3 minute listen).
As a weary Hong Kong staggers, gratefully, into the holiday season, we wonder what 2020 will hold in store. I will suggest just three things, among the many, to keep an eye on:
Prosecutions of protesters. The HK authorities are likely to continue their “lawfare” campaign, in particular through their prosecution of protesters and pro-democracy leaders. Those arrests and trials will unfold in the coming months (and years, if the Umbrella Movement aftermath is any indication). The latest example came with the breaking news yesterday that organisers of the Spark Alliance (a protester fund-raising organisation) have been arrested on money laundering charges.
LegCo elections in September 2020. Beijing and their proxies in Hong Kong will do everything they can to ensure that result is not a repeat of the District Council elections a few weeks ago. United front efforts, lawfare, pressure on businesses, direct interference in the elections, we will likely see them use all the tools in the box as the year proceeds towards September.
Protests will recur, it’s just a question of when. And the high point of every historic protest sets the floor for the next protest. This year’s protests peaked with petrol bombs, graffiti all over the city and trashed Mainland businesses. We can assume that will be the starting point for the next protest movement — where will it go from there?
I look forward to procrastinating with you next year.
All that remains is to thank all of you for reading. I will be back after the holiday season with more news and analysis from Hong Kong, plenty of shameless book plugs and of course more Procrastination.
I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas, and a peaceful, healthy and Happy New Year.
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