A Fishball Revolution and Umbrella Soldiers: The Battle for Hong Kong’s Soul

By Linda van der Horst
February 17, 2016 / The Diplomat

What started off as a government enforcement action against unlicensed street hawkers selling fishballs and tofu in Hong Kong on the first night of the Year of the Monkey ended in the most violent clash between police and protesters since the Hong Kong protests in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement.

But the “Fishball Revolution” was not about fishballs. To a younger generation, these street hawkerssymbolize Hong Kong’s identity, slowly coalescing toward the mainland. The protesters want Hong Kong to become more, rather than less, of a democracy. But their demands from the Umbrella Movement’s peaceful resistance fell on deaf ears and now these young activists are seeking more drastic measures. Some are moving toward violent resistance, whilst others seek to enter the political establishment. Either way, both camps focus as much on local symbolism and pro-Hong Kong causes as on the ‘China factor.’

“Instead of only having the image or perception of [being] anti-China, it is necessary to build up the pro-Hong Kong campaign.”- Joshua Wong

Image Credit: REUTERS/Bobby Yip / The Diplomat

When Hong Kong was handed over by the British to China in 1997, China agreed to a “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong’s civil liberties and political system would be guaranteed at least until 2047. But the erosion of the “one country, two system” model is happening faster than Hong Kongers could fathom –most recently highlighted by what looks like the secret abduction and arrest of booksellers who had been working on a controversial book about Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Concerns over the mainland’s influence and Hong Kong’s identity help explain why a political, satirical, low-budget movie called Ten Years outperformed the release of the latest Star Wars movie in Hong Kong. The movie plays into fears of Hong Kongers of what the territory could look like ten years from now – completely absorbed by the mainland, with local culture and the Cantonese language both marginalized.

“If Ten Years had been released earlier, even a year before, it would have sounded so unrealistic [and] unimaginable, but now it seems more and more possible,” says Victoria Hui, an associate professor at Notre Dame University, who has appeared before U.S. Congress to testify on the future of democracy in Hong Kong. Read more…


One thought on “A Fishball Revolution and Umbrella Soldiers: The Battle for Hong Kong’s Soul

  1. It’s really just a minority of kids who don’t want to be seen as Chinese.

    I’m going to quote an old expat friend of mine who has lived in HK for 30 years. “All that’s changed is the uniform of the military and the symbols of the flags”.

    Alot of the anger is that the Mainland is catching up to Hong Kong economically and or even superseding it, on a individual basis. These kids are crying that they no longer have some kind of special status. It’s just the case, this minority of people used to think themselves as deserving of special status compared to the rest of the Asian nations in the world because they were colonised.


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