Hong Kong Goes Grey for a Day

The Best China


This is the latest chapter in ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’, a feature of ‘The Best China’ section of China Heritage devoted to the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill Protest Movement. Its author, the veteran journalist Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯), was the founding editor of The Seventies Monthly 七十年代月刊 and he has been a prominent commentator on Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan politics, as well as the global scene, for over half a century.

This essay is translated from ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, the column Lee Yee writes for Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
20 July 2019


Further Reading:

Grey-haired protesters march on the seat of the Hong Kong government on 17 July 2019. Source: Anthony Wallace / AFP


The Responsibilities of Grey Power

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


The ‘Protest of the Grey-hairs’ [or the ‘Silver Protest’ of 17 July 2019 in which some 9,000 people participated] — that is members of the older generation — against the Extradition Law, is, quite literally, an embodied expression of support for the months-long ‘struggle in extremis’ of Young Hong Kong. Its broad significance lies in the fact that it symbolises an end to the generational conflicts we have seen for over a decade. The essence of those conflicts revolved around democratic aspirations, that is, in relation to the direction of and the methods to be employed in the struggle for democracy. It reflected the differing generational approaches and understanding of the vast majority of Hong Kong people.


Public opinion surveys have repeatedly indicated that, in terms of self-identification, the majority of older people think of themselves as ‘Chinese’, ‘Hong Kong Chinese’ or ‘Chinese Hong Kong People’. At the same time, ever-increasing numbers of young people identify solely as ‘Hong Kong People’, and not as Chinese in any way. In terms of political proclivities, older people have, for the most part, supported the Hong Kong government and reliably cast their votes for the Pro-Beijing Camp [in elections]. Generally, they support the idea of a re-united China [that is, the absorption of Taiwan/ the Republic of China into the People’s Republic], and express patriotic zeal for Greater China, something repeatedly demonstrated by the scale of their donations to Mainland disaster relief efforts as well as their support for recent Mainland immigrants to Hong Kong.

The generations that represent Young Hong Kong, however, predominantly think of themselves in terms of a local identity and are in an ‘Anti-Beijing Camp’, one that is concerned about preserving the particular rights that they have previously enjoyed. The ‘bread and circuses’ vote-buying tactics [蛇齋餅糭, literally, ‘snake soup, vegetarian meals, give-away biscuits and “Chinese hallaca”, or zongzi’] of the Pro-Beijing Camp appeal to Older People; while, previously, the Young supported the Democrats. However, Pan-Democracy politicians gradually lost their popular political advantage over the Pro-Beijingers as they pursued a strategy to isolate and decrying Young Hong Kong over-all — that is, they ‘refused to sit on the same mat’. This was particular evident in the wake of the Mong Kok Incident [of February 2016, also know as the ‘Fishball Revolution’ 魚蛋革命] and the subsequent contention over the question of Hong Kong Independence and during mass demonstrations demanding that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying be ‘disqualified from office’.


Since the explosion of the Anti-Extradition Bill Protest Movement [from March 2019], the government has repeatedly tried to sow the seeds of generational conflict and attempted to engineer divisions in its favour. This was particularly evident in ‘A Message to the Young People of Hong Kong’ [posted anonymously on FaceBook on 21 June 2019] — a short video whose message received underhand support from the Pro-Beijing Camp. It shows a young man calling out the fact that his parents were not with him nor did they support him during the Anti-Extradition Bill protests, let alone when he was involved in the 1 July assault on the LegCo Chamber. Addressing Young Hong Kong as a whole he says: ‘By failing to join in the street protests your parents demonstrate that they don’t really love you!’

Immediately thereafter, many young people responded to that message of Hate with one of Love in their own short videos. They declared that even though one’s parents might not be joining in the demonstrations, or even if they opposed you participating in them, it was not because the didn’t love you, it was due to their profound Concern. Those parents who let you express yourself in a manner that you think is the most suitable and right for you are, in fact, giving expression to Profound Love. [For an example of these audio-visual ripostes, see here.] When, on 12 June, demonstrators launched an assault on the Legislative Council Chambers so as to prevent a Second Reading of her Extradition Bill, something that led the police to respond with excessive force, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam immediately decried the demonstrators for being ‘violent’. This time around, however, the Pan-Democracy members of LegCo did not disown the demonstrators or attempt to isolate their behaviour; instead they expressed their support.

On 1 July, demonstrators broke into and trashed the inside of the LegCo Chambers, Carrie Lum made another appearance — this time at 4.00am in the morning! — to censure the violence. However, although the demonstrators were purposefully destructive, both Pan-Democrats and popular opinion, as gauged in opinion polls, regarded their actions in a positive light. During the clashes between protesters and police just this last Sunday [on 13 July] between protesters and demonstrators at Sha Tin in the New Territories, Claudia Mo [Mo Man Ching] of the Pan-Democracy Camp and member of LegCo reiterated at a press conference that the Pan-Democrats would not disavow the demonstrators.


Throughout the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests this month [July 2019], as well as in demonstrations both on Hong Kong Island and in various other districts, when protesters have taken extreme measures that have provoked clashes with the police, many Pan-Democrats have sided with the demonstrators against the police. On [the main online platform for organising protests] LIHKG, the oft-repeated mantra is: ‘No Rejection, No Betrayal’.


The Lam Government hopes to provoke generational conflict in Hong Kong; it has achieved the opposite: Lam has inspired unity and collective action, at least in regard to those who identify themselves as the People of Hong Kong. The result is that the People of Hong Kong are at a stand off against a Brutal Regime.


The generation gap within the People of Hong Kong is closing. Initially, this was inspired by Young Hong Kong for, during the Anti-Extradition Protests, our young people have repeatedly affirmed an ethos of inclusivity, their ability to mobilise support for and participation in mass popular demonstrations. The most crucial difference, however, is that the older People of Hong Kong have been touched and inspired by the Young and this has led many of them to change long-held views. In my own case, for example, even though I have throughout thought of myself as being on the side of Young Hong Kong, many of the ideas and actions of our young people have made me think again.


Most older people like me are retired; we enjoy the benefits of an accumulation built up during Hong Kong’s glory days. Many of us can live out our day in relative comfort; most just want a quiet life and have no enthusiasm for daily protests and constant resistance. In some cases, they will be thinking: Why should we care? No matter what happens to Hong Kong in the future, we won’t be around to see it.

Indeed, why should people like us who are in the last stage of life get stirred up over a Young Hong Kong that is struggling for the future; one that, in some cases, is willing to sacrifice their lives to protests? It is at this juncture, however, that history has given us a glorious and unexpected task: to take a stand and support this amazing generation, to support Young Hong Kong.

In their selfless and fearless behaviour what Young Hong Kong needs more than anything else is the support of their parents and grandparents, even if amounts to nothing more than an encouraging look in the eye.