The protestors are back again, thankfully. In recent days the college kids have surfaced -- attired in black headbands and T-shirts that read "Freedom." they are pitching tents alongside concerned parents, and boycotting classes outside of the Hong Kong Government headquarters. Their presence is both a relief and a concern to the present state and future of Hong Kong.
The tent city is a sign like a flash at high noon against the proposed national education program to roll out in all elementary and secondary schools in 2016.The compulsory program will include 50 hours of lessons focusing on "building national harmony, identity and unity among individuals."
Along with that comes the textbook debut of "The China Model." The title says it all.
First things first, the good news. Hong Kongers care enough about this issue to put aside their lightning-paced lives revolving around marathon days at work, shopping mall trekking, dim summing, and Instagramming on iPhones to come out of the woodwork. The proposed program is getting darts from parents and educators who fear brainwashing, which is a likely result when information and concepts are injected through the education system. It's getting the cold shoulder from Hong Kong's Catholic diocese. Pro-democracy groups and organizations such as the Civil Alliance Against National Education are also taking a strong stance against the program. The vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the top universities in Hong Kong, has even given the student protestors his blessing.
To be sure, the strikes are a middle finger against a government that has increasingly lost its backbone in post-'97 Hong Kong. Some say that this is inevitable. It's a wonderful sign that the protests are occurring, that they have caught the eyes and ears of the Chief Executive. It's a positive sign that the protests and the issue at large are making top headlines in Hong Kong newspapers, including English language dailies such as the South China Morning Post. At the very least, the protests haven't been silenced.
That said, the very fact that the protests exist are an underlying concern about the question over freedom and the state of Hong Kong's future: the growing reality of self-censorship in the press, and reporters who would rather avoid tackling the tough issues.
The other night some journalism friends and I attended a panel at the Foreign Correspondent's Club about self-censorship featuring panelists including Albert Cheng, the talk radio king and founder of the Digital Broadcasting Corporation who was almost chopped to death by thugs outside of Commercial Radio offices. The Hong Kong Journalists Association shared results from a recent survey that showed 70 percent of the city's local reporters thought self-censorship was on the uptick. "Pity the Hong Kong press," said Mak Yin Ting, the chairperson of the of the HKJA. "This is happening more and more." The panel was a low key event mostly attended by the media elite in Hong Kong, and not widely covered by the press. But if these issues continue unresolved, the protestors and even such panels will soon be sidelined and fade.
"Hong Kong in the end will be just another Chinese city," said Claudia Mo, a former broadcast journalist and university lecturer during the panel. A scary thought even against the anger and frustration of the hunger strikers. Who knows, in the end the printing presses for the textbooks might have already started rolling.