Pro-Democracy Spirit Lives on
Apr. 2, 2015
Six months ago tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong. For more than two months they struggled to keep the election of their city's chief executive free from the control of the leaders of mainland China. Though the protesters have left the streets they haven't given up trying to keep the memory and spirit of their movement alive.
Once a regular apartment, a hotel that opened shortly after the protests ended last December is decorated with posters, helmets and other items actually used by the protesters. It's filled with tents for guests to sleep in. An overnight stay costs just 10 US dollars -- an extremely reasonable rate in pricey Hong Kong. The hotel is popular with tourists from mainland China and elsewhere.
One guest from Lithuania expressed sympathy for the protesters. He said he understood what it's like not to be free because his country was once occupied by the Soviet Union. "I just feel it's fantastic that (the activists in Hong Kong) felt so passionate about human rights, democracy and everything," he said.
The hotel's owner, Chen Tok, was one of the protesters. Explaining his motive for opening the hotel, he said: "I want the world to know what we were doing in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. The people of Hong Kong are still waiting for democracy. You can learn more about it here."
Another person working to keep the memory of the protests alive is university researcher Connie Yuen. She regularly visited the student protesters to sketch them in the blockaded streets. Yuen's drawings express the individuality of each protester. In her artwork, the sit-in site has the atmosphere of a village. The protesters peacefully looked after each other, and even sometimes injected a little humor into their protest.
Yuen sketched for as long as she could the night before the government forced out the protesters. "We thought Hong Kong was the city of despair, but there was a glimmer of hope after the protests," she said. "I'm worried that people will forget how much the movement touched them when they get back to their ordinary lives."
Even after the protests ended, Yuen continued to make sketches from photos and videos. She compiled some of her sketches of the protesters in booklets. She passed out copies at an anti-government rally in February that drew some 8,000 marchers. The responses were positive.
Yuen hopes her work conveys the message that even ordinary citizens can change society if they work together. "The most important thing is to continue to believe what you think is right," Yuen said.
Takuma Yoshioka joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu live from Hong Kong to discuss the mood 6 months after the start of protests.
Shibuya: So, Takuma, I'm sure others feel like Connie Yuen that change is still possible. But what's the general public's view of the current situation?
Yoshioka: Most Hong Kong citizens seem to be taking a "wait and see" approach, whether they're for or against the government's political reforms. Political scientists say the 79 days of protest left some residents feeling weary, and worried about the negative economic impact.
Pro-democracy demonstrators aren't as visible as they were six months ago. Just 100 people attended an anniversary rally last Saturday. However, that doesn't mean Hong Kong people have lost their desire for true universal suffrage.
46 percent of respondents to a recent survey by Chinese University of Hong Kong want the Legislative Council to reject the government's political reform plan. 40 percent say it should approve it.
Beppu: How are Hong Kong leaders expected to proceed with the reform?
Yoshioka: The Hong Kong government remains committed to pushing ahead. The protests started after Chinese leaders made a decision last August on the reform plan for the city's Chief Executive election. The decision suggests the candidates would be limited to two or three, which requires pre-approval from the pro-Beijing nominating committee. That means pro-democrats would be effectively excluded.
The Hong Kong government is ready to submit a reform proposal to the Legislative Council this month. They're hoping it will pass by summer. But they need to persuade at least 4 pro-democrat members, out of 27, to agree with the plan. Otherwise, the pro-democrats would be able to block the legislation.
Jasper Tsang, the President of the Legislative Council, a Beijing loyalist, told us the reform will make a difference. "Even if we will work entirely within the framework of the decision by the central government, we can still design a method of election which is much much more democratic."
Beppu: What are the students who organized the demonstrations expected to do in the coming months?
Yoshioka: The Hong Kong Federation of Students led the protests. Members are now reviewing their organization. Some raised concerns to their leaders that the federation lacked transparency and wasn't being managed properly. And some have decided to leave the organization.
One student said: "Such a big organization is useless. It cannot react to the social movement with huge changes in the future." A student leader told us: "We are all facing the pressure from Chinese Communist Party, when facing oppression, we need to link up different powers to counter that kind of political power."
Yoshioka: The Hong Kong government may have failed to generate robust public support for their proposed reforms. But the students have also failed to build on their movement and create a new strategy to block the plan. The next few months will be critical in showing whether these political changes will go ahead or face more hurdles.