About a month ago, the last of the Occupy sites in Hong Kong were dismantled. As a high Tory, I am not eager to occupy the streets and stop the usual running of society; and neither, I think, are most normal people. To endorse a popular movement rather than a slow process of work through established institutions is, to my mind, quite the exception to the rule. It is not only typical but also normal to interrupt one’s routine only for something one considers important. To interrupt not only one’s own routine but also those of others is a deed, for most, that is compelled by only the weightiest of matters.
The Basic Law of Hong Kong says, in Article 45,
The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.
The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.
It is rather odd for a constitutional document to speak of an ultimate aim, rather than spelling out ways of doing things. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that anything named as an ultimate aim, especially in a document meant to be in force for fifty years, needs some permanence to be at all meaningful. If the ultimate aim is not achieved until the last five years of the fifty-year period, it is a farce unless one can expect the aim achieved to remain an integral part of the civil order. For this to happen, either Hong Kong must maintain its autonomy much longer than fifty years (for which there needs to be a definite plan), or China itself must change to be able to integrate into itself the constitution and customs of Hong Kong.
This is the kind of commitment that Hong Kong has not secured: no one has even hinted at a longer autonomy for Hong Kong, and neither has China shown itself able to even respect today the liberties to which Hong Kongers have the legal right. Instead, today’s colonial government has shown itself either unable or unwilling to protect Hong Kongers’ freedom to protest the government’s current direction and write honestly about the way things are. Public spaces for protest have been enclosed, and freedom of the press practically curbed. This is to say nothing of the police’s ‘motherly’ use of tear gas against protesters in an attempt to disperse them.
Today is the last day of Christmas, and I think no one can imagine that the alma Redemptoris mater (‘loving mother of our Redeemer’), the mother of mothers, would approve of the Hong Kong police’s brand of patience with Occupy protesters. A motherly response, as I understand it, is not to attack Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s organs of generation, nor is it to take away from her father a fourteen-year-old girl who has used chalk to draw flowers on a wall. In response to God’s unusual act of sending his only-begotten Son into the world of men, it seems that the apparatus of Hong Kong’s government has been able only to think of cruel and unusual punishments for those who have raised their voices. Rather than reflect the God of God and Light of Light, or the sanctity of the Virgin whose womb he did not abhor, these punitive reactions seem to reflect the cruel devices of the mainland régime.
It is small wonder that people in Hong Kong, who could not care less about separatist causes, want more than the dissimulation the mainland régime has offered. Rather than protect the autonomy of Hong Kong and its people, and mediate between the life of Hong Kong and the needs of China as a whole, the Chief Executive and his kind have served the tycoons and their cronies. And then the word comes down from the north that the Chief Executive will be selected in 2017 by universal suffrage, but only among two or three candidates already approved by a majority of the largely pro-Beijing committee that today selects the Chief Executive and requires only an eighth (12.5%) to nominate candidates. Are the people of Hong Kong to have rejoiced at such falsity? Is it not entirely just that they looked to civic nomination as an alternative to Beijing’s wholly duplicitous offer?
For practical reasons the method of street occupation has lost public support. But this does not spell the end of Hong Kong’s unrest; it does not vindicate Leung Chun-ying. Meeting a movement with the shutting of a black gate does not make God’s blessings flow, nor does it shut off the flood-like qi of a great part of the population. Damming up the desire and the anger like the Three Gorges, both in Hong Kong and on the mainland, can only damn those who do it in the memory of the next thousand years.
By analogy with just war one might ask: When such civil disobedience, whatever its effects in the longer term, is itself doomed to achieve none of its immediate goals – especially if it interferes with the livelihoods of ordinary people and clashes with their wishes – then is it justified? Because I am not a majoritarian, I think the support of a majority is unnecessary: to wait for such a majority is to entrust oneself to the statistical moods of a groups that is not of one mind. One can, without commanding a majority, create coherence by persuasion. A majority – or rather, meaningful public support – is made, not simply received.
The night is still young. Who can tell what new sights and sounds there will be, and who can tell how the tides will turn again?