I am what many consider a third culture kid, having been born in Hong Kong, brought up in New Zealand for 15 years and currently living in Shanghai. Being exposed to vastly different cultures, customs and practices has led me to feel that I do not truly belong with any one cultural identity. Yet, when Occupy Central took off in September last year, I felt an unusually powerful connection with the movement, and when my friends asked me what I thought about how Occupy Central was unfolding in Hong Kong, I could not help but feel a passionate sense of responsibility to making them aware of the political objectives as something more than a simple, all-for-democracy, rights-for-everyone movement. I am continually surprised at the faces that turn pale and aghast when I mention that in the context of Hong Kong, I am not always a supporter of democracy. A common response is “You’re a communist!”, after which no more constructive debate or intellectual conversation could be had. I would then attempt, with little or no success, to argue that communism is not necessarily the polar opposite of democracy. My primary argument as I have realised through discussing this issue with many people is not an issue of democracy, but an issue of practicality. Beijing has many reasons not to cave in to the voices of Hong Kong people, especially now that Occupy Central has placed even greater pressure on Beijing diplomatically. One of these reasons is largely historical, and often this reason does not receive enough weighting and credibility. People cannot talk about China in the context of politcial freedom without talking about the idea of revolution and dynasty. With the millions of people that have perished in its long two-millenial history and with rebellions still fresh in the minds of the Chinese – the Taiping Rebellion, Nanjing Massacre and of course the Tiananmen Massacre, a characteristic that has slowly weaved into Chinese culture is stability, even if it compromises the self-efficacy of the individual. Combine that with a precarious party reputation and discontent in small regions such as Xinjiang, the Communist Party treads a fine line with maintaining that sense of stability. Hence, the demands for democratic nomination and election procedures is very unlikely to be met. My uncle would argue very strongly in favour for the Occupy movement, his argument being that if dialogue does not work to move the government to reconsider, Hong Kong must find other methods to do so. I support democratic elections in the long run for Hong Kong, but only knowing that right now, the political situation is not as simple as a communist superpower devouring a liberal metropolitan power-house. While we may have little idea of what to do in the short term about Hong Kong, we definitely should not approach the issue without considering historical and cultural reasons why China may not budge on Hong Kong and without putting aside the inclination to dismiss the situation being one-sided and dominated by a power-hungry communist party.
Henry is a biomedical engineering major at the Pratt School of Engineering.
This year, as part of the application process, we asked delegates to submit an op-ed, academic analysis or creative piece on China or US-China relations. The editors at the Duke East Asia Nexus have selected some of the best ones to publish here in hopes of generating intellectual discussion before, during and after the conference. These are very short and not meant to be groundbreaking. Take them as conversation starters!