South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Stephanie Cheung says the intolerance and hatred engulfing society emanates from the top, so it is now up to our leaders to ensure peace is restored
Whether one likes it or not, the umbrella movement has given Hong Kong a new spirit. Unlike the old spirit, whose raison d’être is economic development founded on political and social stability, this new spirit is based on non-financial values.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is correct in describing Occupy as a social movement on an unprecedented scale. No one in Hong Kong has been untouched by it, be they taxi or bus drivers, shopkeepers, students, politicians, or my vegetable vendor. Each espouses a personal theory on the whys and wherefores of the movement, whichever colour they side with.
In short, the umbrella movement has awakened in the city an interest for something deeper than merely eking out a living, and using the financial rewards to engage in shopping, entertainment and social gossip – that is, if one still has energy left after coping with the education concerns of one’s children.
This new spirit is daring, iconoclastic and out of the box. Possibilities abound. Who, before the movement, would have dreamt of sleeping under the stars in the middle of Harcourt Road? Or sung to the strains of
Beyond in unison with tens of thousands in a sea of waving iPhone torch lights? Or imagined they would be living in a village-like community in a spirit of brotherly fellowship? Or, see students sit across the table in a televised debate with government officials?
From a positive viewpoint, this new spirit is filled with ideals and new ambition. It is free from the shackles of orthodox norms, innovative and bursting with energy. This spirit sparks a yearning in the souls of men for something deeper, and bigger than themselves. It moves people from beyond the humdrum of their daily existence and offers imagination and adventure.
Yet from a negative viewpoint, this new spirit, if unbridled, will break through all legitimate boundaries and become an undisciplined destructive force.
As the movement drags out, stress, fatigue, criticism and the dark side of human nature have begun to percolate through this new spirit.
If we are not careful, Hong Kong will be suffocated by a negative spirit – one of intolerance, which regards people with different views as opponents across a courtroom, or downright enemies to be clamped down on without remorse.
In the past two months, we have seen tear gas, pepper spray and batons used by police on civilians with a degree of violence to which Hong Kong is not accustomed. Mistakes and momentary lapses could be forgiven in repeated high-stress situations, but what is troubling is that certain incidents, if reports are true, would appear to be calculated evil with malice aforethought. Incidents include the alleged molesting of the private parts of student leader Joshua Wong when he was taken into police custody, and a group of off-duty policemen reportedly leering at female students at Admiralty and threatening to take them to the police station to be raped.
One hopes there is a rational explanation for such uncharacteristic police behaviour and not just the blind venting of frustration, in a spirit of retribution.
Yet it is not only the police. This unloving attitude comes from the top, seemingly a strategy to provoke division in the community. From words of contempt for the poor, to accusing sportsmen and religious personnel of making no contribution to society, such speech is socially divisive and discriminatory, with the opposite intent of forging a spirit of unity and harmony.
Officials are pressed into taking sides to sign their support for the blue ribbon camp of anti-occupiers, instead of fulfilling their roles as public servants indiscriminately of the political views of those they serve. On the streets, blue ribbon protesters have blared out personal insults and vicious curses through megaphones, in heated displays of anger and animosity.
Rumour and slander abounds, not rational discussion. Where is the evidence of foreign instigation we were promised? What prompts untrue reports that student leaders have been paid and granted scholarships in overseas universities? And, of course, it was a false report on “cyber Article 23” that prompted the violent attack on the Legislative Council.
Protestors have also strayed off their original path of peace and love in an attempt to force a breakthrough. With such large numbers involved, without a single acknowledged leadership, the movement is vulnerable to hijack by those more prone to violence.
This line of intolerance, slander, enmity and hatred is like poison contaminating Hong Kong society. On Facebook, at dinner tables and family outings, a division of opinions over the movement has led to strained, sometimes broken, relationships.
Hong Kong needs a new heart. It is the antidote to counteract the poisonous spirit. It is a heart of loving care for the community, which treats all as part of the same family – not as enemies to be humiliated and annihilated.
It is a heart of liberal tolerance, in listening carefully with patience to one another with a willingness to distil what is common ground, and agreeing to disagree on what cannot be agreed. It is a heart of peace and compassion, with goodwill towards fellow men. Such a heart is willing to reach out without being defensive or proud.
It is a heart that can say, “Even though I don’t condone your unlawful conduct in pushing for your unreasonable demands, I do not wish to see your health damaged. Let us meet”, or “We both love Hong Kong and its people. Hong Kong’s future matters to both of us. Let’s try and work something out that is feasible and benefits us all.”
Leaders of the Occupy movement have turned themselves in to the police, to take responsibility for their role, and leaders of the Federation of Students have confessed to their wrong decision to storm police lines. Irrespective of whether one agrees with their views, they have at least shown courage and retrospective ability over their own actions and attitudes.
It behoves our government leaders – the only group of players in this saga who are actually paid for their roles – to show similar, if not a higher degree of retrospection and courage.
Political dissent should be solved through discussion and understanding, not by clamping down through superior power, as the latter will bring only resentment and a lack of co-operation.
In the final analysis, it is kindness that brings about persuasion and peace. Having passed the unpopular buck of solving the problem from the police to the courts, our leaders now have a duty to carry out discussions so a social consensus can be forged to bring about peace, harmony and progress in society.
Stephanie Cheung participated in the student movements in the 1970s, and is currently a solicitor and mediator, and volunteer in youth work and education