On the hot summer day of July 1, a number of Hongkongers were again compelled to do their annual walk from Victoria Park to Central. On other days, they perform similar workouts on other pretexts, making Hong Kong the city with the largest number of protests in the world.
In 2012 alone, the police approved 7,500 rallies. If these activities are distributed evenly around the year, that’s 20 demonstration per day. If they are skewed towards the weekends, we have close to 50 on each Saturday and Sunday. If you ever witness one of these gatherings, which usually begin or walk past Causeway Bay, you know they have congested a fair share of the city’s downtown. Instead of laying all the blame on mainland tourists for crowding our city, we should also take our dissidents to task.
On the bright side, the 20 rallies per day provide Hongkongers the opportunity to walk for an extended period of time. Walking has tremendous health benefits, and is a gentle, low-impact form of exercise that is easy, free and suitable for people of all ages and most abilities. Scientists have found that 30 minutes of walking per day helps deflect diabetes, soup up sex life, and prevent dementia, osteoporosis, and even cancer. That may be the reason why despite all the pollution, stress and negativity, Hongkongers are still outliving the rest of the world, giving our Financial Secretary John Tsang the “aging society” headache.
The July 1 march this year was big. A seemingly endless stream of protesters poured off the Tin Hau MTR and patiently queued up to get started, hours after the protest began. But as important as the question of how many, is the question of who and why.
The South China Morning Post ran a tweet-like live feed on the march; and as much as the staff reporters there would like to present a rosy picture of the event, there were quite a number of dead giveaways.
The first group of people interviewed by the Post after the march started at 3 pm included the Shum family, which comprises a couple with two daughters — aged five and two. “My older daughter didn’t want to come as she said it’s so hot today but I tell her we have to come to protect our city,” Mr Shum was quoted as saying. Then the Post mentioned that the Shums “were spurred to attend by the proposed new towns development in the New Territories.”
That is to say, in this group of four, half was underage and was brought against their will, all in the name of democracy. And the Shums weren’t even there really for democracy — at least not the “civic nominations” kind of democracy, as in the slogan of this year’s July 1 march. They were concerned about new towns development in the New Territories.
The Post’s live feed also showed a photo (taken by Bryan Harris) with the captioned “Tom Lam, a tour guide who speaks seven languages, rails against corruption in Hong Kong’s courts.” If we read the words on Mr Lam’s placard carefully, we will find that his grievance has nothing to do with the popular narrative of the city’s “threatened judicial independence”. In fact, he was complaining about being denied legal aid and judicial review by our legal system.
All these amply demonstrated the fact that the July 1 march is now an established tradition, where people went for a walk and voiced various grievances. It is a jolly good thing to let it all out once a year.
In the morning before the march, up to 20 members of the League of Social Democrats called for open elections and burned a copy of Beijing’s white paper outside the flag-raising ceremony in Bauhinia Square. Holding banners, they chanted “We do not fear the white paper.” The words remind me of what Optimus Prime said in the latest Transformers movie: “Humans asked us to play by the rules — but now the rules have changed.” Substitute “central government” for “humans”, and the League of Social Democrats might have a much better slogan. But have the rules been really changed?
The new Transformers movie also mentioned that “The central government will fully defend Hong Kong.” And when the alien spaceship appeared hovering over Hong Kong, one Hong Kong policeman told the other “I am going to inform the central government.” Has the movie undermined “One Country, Two Systems”? Does the League of Social Democrats fear the Transformers? If not, will they march and chant “We do not fear the Transformers”?
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.