Saturday, October 25, 2014

The view of Hong Kong from the USA

I often have little patience with the patriotic Chinese students who claim the US media is biased against China, or does not really understand China. I actually don't meet many such people; I generally just hear about them, or read about them in news stories. But I sometimes hear myself saying similar things about the media when journalists talk about Hong Kong. I had one such awkward moment when Jon Stewart had his very funny bit about the Hong Kong protests. Coming a few days after the Alibaba listing, he remarked something to the effect of, "The Chinese are not only doing Wall Street better than us, they're now doing the "Occupy" better than us too!"  Most of us who heard that did a double-take, because of course Hong Kong, at least in this case, does not see itself as "China." Of course Hong Kong is part of China, but the protesters are asserting rights of local autonomy, so it suggests some confusion on his part to lump Hong Kong with "China." It ruins the joke, if you understand Hong Kong. I guess most Americans just laughed.

Then today on Fresh Air, David Edelstein said the following in a review of Laura Poitras' movie Citizenfour about Edward Snowden.
Poitras is very protective of her subject. She doesn't show Snowden a few days later praising Hong Kong's, quote, "spirited commitment to free speech and the right of public dissent," which would be cringe-worthy in light of the current crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrators.
Well, why is it actually "cringe-worthy"? The protests are now in their 28th day, and are blocking very busy streets in three neighborhoods in a major city. There is no crackdown on free speech, or on the right of public dissent. I honestly can't think of any place in the world that would allow protesters to occupy public places like streets for four weeks. In the case of Occupy Wall Street, the protesters occupied Zuccotti Park because it was privately owned. Edelstein does not seem to understand the issues in Hong Kong: it is not about free speech, but about election rules. The protesters are occupying public spaces to pressure the government. I can't imagine any city in the US allowing such an occupation (well, maybe Berkeley and a few other places, but not New York or Chicago).

I don't say this to defend the Hong Kong government, but to defend Hong Kong society. Many in the pro-establishment camp in HK claim the protests make HK look bad, and Edelstein's uninformed comments suggest they might be right. Others have noted that the civility of the protests honor Hong Kong. But that is only true if Americans do not jump to the conclusion that there is no free speech or dissent in Hong Kong, just because they see riot police and some scuffles on TV. Hong Kong is very different from Mainland China. But uninformed comments and superficial views from the US make the patriotic Chinese right in arguing that Americans are hypocritical, because oftentimes Americans argue for the rights of protesters overseas but would never allow such protests to continue at home. The least the Americans could do is recognize the remarkable civility and peacefulness of the protests (for the most part), and the remarkable tolerance of the government (for the most part).

Of course, since many Americans think Hong Kong is in Japan, maybe I'm asking too much.

No comments: