Guest Post: Last week, adopting the language of the left, the pro-Beijing ‘Silent Majority’ group founded the ‘Alliance for Peace & Democracy’ in a response to the peaceful July 1st march. In this essay, Evan Fowler recalls his meeting last year with convenor Robert Chow, and says that the choice is not between radical protest and constructive engagement, but between believing Hong Kong people deserve a say in their future and believing they do not.
Last year I was at a gathering at which Robert Chow, founder of Silent Majority and the recently convened Alliance for Peace and Democracy, outlined his case against the Occupy Central Movement. He began by stressing that he agreed with the democrats wish for political reform, but that he believed that the threat of Occupy Central was confrontational and would only antagonise Beijing. However, from this point on he lost the plot.
First there were repeated attempts to misuse data. He claimed that Silent Majority represented 75% of Hong Kong people. He quoted this figure from a HKU poll that concluded only 25% of people at the time believed Occupy Central would “succeed”. From this, Robert read this as meaning 75% of Hong Kong people are not only against the movement, but support Silent Majority. These figures were challenged, including by members of the survey team. Yet Robert continues to publicly and deliberately misrepresent these figures.
Second, there was the fear-mongering. 10,000 people occupying Central, he claimed, would destroy the city. He claimed businesses would relocate and that we would see a mass flight of capital. Only then did he turn his eloquence to portraying the horrific social affects: a city brought to a standstill as roads are closed; our transport networks overloaded; rioting, looting and anarchy as our police and public services are overwhelmed. Images of pregnant mothers unable to be served at hospitals and children unable to attend school – all calculated to hit an emotional chord.
Tom Holland, the former SCMP economics columnist who was present at the gathering (and who has since left the Post), addressed the business case brilliantly when he pointed out that not only Central but the whole city completely shuts down during a typhoon, and yet, a point he stressed any economists will know, it has no effect on our economy as extra demand is generated immediately prior or immediately after such events. Capital, he reminded us, was drawn to a balance between opportunity and risk. Hong Kong’s advantages, from our Rule of Law to Freedom of Expression, are in fact what Occupy protesters are seeking to defend.
As for the scenes of anarchy that Robert outlined, I have witnessed streets in Central shut for extended periods by accidents and selfish drivers (or shoppers); and every Sunday, over 10,000 domestic workers congregate together in Central, with many smaller groups taking up residence close by. The domestic workers are mostly young, socially and politically disenfranchised, often religious, and have to the best of my knowledge never yet hurt anyone. I have also seen our transport system overwhelmed, our public services abused and expectant mothers and parents fret over hospital and school places, though the cause of these inconveniences has not been the Hong Kong people.
In comparison the Occupy protest is pitched as and can only be symbolic; 10,000 invited participants, many with a public profile and from well-connected backgrounds. They have pledged to represent an ideal; sworn vows to remain peaceful; attended workshops and have training camps on how to avoid any form of confrontation even in the face of provocation; who identify with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King; and are lead by a priest and an academic.
The student groups that we are told may gate-crash this party are identifiable at protests (and contrary to our sensationalising media) less by their actions than by shirts that quote Nelson Mandela. These are cogent student groups untouched by drug and alcohol. In Joshua Wong they idolize a young, teetotal Christian student who as a prodigious 16 year old he lead a popular and successful movement against the implementation of national “patriotic” education, outmanoeuvring both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments without a malicious insult thrown or window broken. I am not saying that there isn’t an element of risk, only that we need to put it in perspective.
Thirdly, and most distastefully, Robert resort to threatening his audience. “China will not deal with people”, he stated, “it will only deal with [political] parties”, and by supporting Occupy Central, the democratic parties risked “fading into political obscurity”. The majority of Hong Kong people would, he suggested, be so disgusted at any party associated with Occupy that it would in effect become unelectable. Let me quote my own notes at the time:
“This was stressed to the point that I wondered whether this was the real reason he came to speak with us that evening. Resorting to a threat, itself based on an assumption, only increased my suspicion of the weakness of his position.”
He may be right on the first point, but what he misses is that what people are really demanding of Beijing is that this not be the case – that Beijing and the Hong Kong government must also listen to the people. On the second point, that an association with Occupy would leave one unelectable, the very opposite seems to have been the case. James Tien and the Liberal Party, who once openly opposed Occupy, has since the referendum been unusually quiet, and was noticeable by his absence at the launch of Robert Chow’s newest initiative, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy.
That was last year. Events has moved on, so have Silent Majority changed to reflect the new situation? Well, yes they have – in limited but revealing ways.
Moving the goalposts.
Last year their opening criticism of Occupy Central was that it was merely a reactionary movement with no intention but to force Beijing into a confrontation. Robert repeated on several occasions that Occupy could not be a constructive protest as it did not present an alternative proposal. This point was addressed repeatedly and to no avail by those sympathetic to the Occupy movement – Occupy having from the start outlined a process by which the people would define the alternative, and that they would be presenting the people’s choice as is consistent with democratic principles.
Now that Occupy has an alternative, the preferred choice of almost 800,000 people, Robert tells us that the problem with Occupy is that they are “pushing for an unconstitutional civic nomination procedure”. Change the goal posts if you will. The irony, and a point that was raised to Robert last year that he again choose not to hear, was that his criticism of Occupy as a reactionary movement that offered no alternative for the Hong Kong people actually better described Silent Majority. It is a criticism that applies to them still.
Another charge Robert made last year was against Benny Tai directly for being a radical academic who was misleading a small group of impressionable students. He claimed that “a professor and a few of his young students” were wrongly claiming to represent the student body, who were in his mind overwhelmingly against the movement. He accused supporters of being an ignorant rabble with “little or no support”. This was immediately called out as inaccurate by a number of academics present. Having conducted private research into Hong Kong’s education for 6 years, and having lectured part-time, I also called him out on this, including stating that not only was Occupy’s support widespread at our universities, but that it was often most fervent among our best students.
Silent Majority continued to make this claim right up until July 1st. Now, they have changed their official line. What we are now told is that young people are being “misguided” and “used” by pro-democracy politicians. This is quite a turn as Robert had addressed last year’s gathering in an attempt to win over pro-democracy politicians who were still undecided. Sadly for Robert, his performance actually pushed many into the opposing camp.
Shepherding the flock.
There was however one over-riding memory of that evening with Robert. It was a story he told. We tell stories to get a message across; to impart what we consider to be a wisdom worth sharing.
Robert told us that when he meets with friends he never makes plans. He lets them decide where to eat and what to do. This is a sign of friendship and respect. Sometimes they will choose one restaurant over another that he may personally have preferred. But it doesn’t matter to him. What is important, what defines a good night out, is that there is no cause for conflict, and that there is nothing to get angry over. He ended by saying, “like most people in Hong Kong, when I go out for dinner with friends, I don’t mind where we go or what we eat. I’m happy to trust the decisions of my friends and go where they go.”
This is the wisdom of the imbecile. The dishonesty and logically fallacy of this position should be obvious. (If we are all to be sheep, who then becomes the shepherd?) Does this really represent friendship for the people of Hong Kong? And is our relationship with Beijing merely that of a friend?
Neither silent, nor a majority.
Let us not confuse that the choice between Occupy Central and the now Alliance for Peace and Democracy is not a choice between Benny Tai and Robert Chow. Neither is it a choice between radical protest and constructive engagement. It is a choice between believing Hong Kong people deserve a say in our future and believing that we don’t. Silent Majority is neither silent nor representative of a majority. The Alliance for Peace and Democracy promises peace at the expense not only of genuine democratic reform but of the democratic ideal.
Let me end by quoting Martin Amis. A friend is someone “you can say anything to, no matter how shameful, how horribly revealing of yourself; someone to whom you can admit to all your worst impulses, and yet never feel the need to tailor it to fit in to their idea of me.”
Evan is a Hong Kong writer, poet and playwright who writes regular opinion pieces for House News. His essays on identity and the culture and politics of his home are studied at select schools in the city.