Press Freedom or Tourist-free Trains?

In Taiwan since March 18th, 2014, student protesters have been occupying the main hall in the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.   They are protesting against the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which is a part of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).   The CCSTA is a reciprocal trade agreement between China and Taiwan, which opens various Taiwanese sectors of the service industry to China.   This is an extremely controversial pact as it is seen as a threat to Taiwan’s political and economic autonomy.   President Ma, along with the Kuomintang (KMT) are seen as evil doers selling Taiwan to China.   The student protesters who are backed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), are demanding the KMT to not implement the agreement until it was considered in the legislature and reviewed clause-by-clause in public hearings, with consultations with academics, NGOs, and the representatives of the sectors that stood to be affected by the pact. Hong Kongers have been showing their support for Taiwan in various forms:


It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that Hong Kongers are supporting the Taiwanese people, but there is an element of ridiculousness and triviality to their complaints.  For instance, a Hong Kong based blogger, badcanto, who writes for Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese, posted an item about Hong Kong tourists in Taiwan.  Hong Kongers are encouraging Taiwanese people to be strong, and not to become a ‘Second Hong Kong”, which I totally agree with, but I do find this statement amusing: ” In Hong Kong, I’ve to wait for four trains before getting on one.  However, in Taiwan, even during rush hour, I can still breathe.  I feel very grateful.”  Basically, what this tourist is implying is that if the Taiwanese don’t hold their ground and fight this trading pact, the country is going to be overrun by Mainland Chinese, which seems like the only thing this individual was concerned about.  He didn’t mention any other consequences other than crowded public transportation… like, what about the the loss of freedom of speech and free press?    In Hong Kong, three journalists have been attacked in the recent weeks.  On February 26, a notable journalist Kevin Lau, former editor-in-chief for Ming Pao, was stabbed as he was getting out of his car.   On March 20th, two more journalists were attacked in Tsim Sha Tsui.  These attacks have been regarded as a threat to free press in Hong Kong, which I believe should be a far more concerning issue for the Taiwanese people to think about than the prospect of too many tourists from a particular country. While it seems that the majority of the people in Hong Kong may support the student protesters in Taiwan, the view of mainstream media is a little vague (perhaps a sign of shrinking press freedom and its subsequent self-censorship).  The South China Morning Post has an article today titled, “‘This isn’t the democracy we want’: Some Chinese dismayed by Taiwan students’ occupation of legislature”.   While the author agrees that most Hong Kongers support the Taiwanese people, she had chosen some provoking images to represent the student protesters.  In one picture, the students are seen drinking beer, and in another, two gay men kissing. Instead of openly being critical of the movement, the author had chosen a passive-aggressive tactic to discredit the whole event.    Why don’t you just tell us what you really think, SCMP?

What is troubling is how Hong Kongers aid the media in trivializing the student protests in Taiwan, whether they intend to or not.  While Hong Kongers are supportive of the Taiwanese, and urging them not to end up losing control over their country as they had, the Hong Kongers show their support by focusing on petty issues, such as having the public transport system overrun by Mainland Chinese tourists.   Hong Kongers are not articulating their issue and their demands to each other and in the media.  There have been emotionally charged protests taking place that are targeting Mainland Chinese tourists and shouting at them in public places to go back to China.   These anti-Mainland sentiments are ineffective in enabling Hong Kong to be more autonomous, and they end up making Hong Kongers look ethnocentric, which hardly generates as much international sympathy as would protests about press freedom.  The rhetoric of bigotry is harmful because the purpose and the demands of the political activity can be easily discredited.   I hope Taiwanese people take a cue from what’s been happening in Hong Kong and employ a different tactic.  They should articulate their demands as they have been doing, hold their ground, and do not let emotions and bigotry get in the way of the issue at hand, because if they do the press controlled and influenced by Beijing will be ready to pounce.  Go Taiwan!


6 thoughts on “Press Freedom or Tourist-free Trains?

  1. I see your point, but the reason why Hong Kongers concern about “trivial” matters like not able to get on a train is because this is a real-life issue they face everyday – the city is overcrowded and the influx of tourists just make it worse. Overpacked trains is just one of the many examples of the worsening living standard we have to endure. Luxury shops are serving only mainland tourists, that has resulted in inflating rent and the closure of many local small business. Working class people would understand this as a big problem, not just some anti-Chinese sentiments.

    Sure, a protest supporting editor Lau and press freedom would gain some support from foreign media, but it wouldn’t result in any response from the government, while the anti-tourism protests have already made both Hong Kong government and Chinese government respond immediately, because they know if they continue to let tourists flood to Hong Kong, it will sparkle an unimaginable riot. I don’t know if you are a Chinese American or whether you travel by car. You wouldn’t understand the working class if you haven’t set the foot on a overpacked train everyday.

    • I’ll let Kayo respond to this in more detail, but just so you know, we both ride the trains everyday. And compared to the public transport in the US, they are wonderful. A little crowded at times, but nothing to get all xenophobic about, in my opinion.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Lorraine. I am a Taiwanese Canadian who lives and works in Hong Kong. And no, I do not travel by car- in fact, even in Canada, I do not have a driver’s license. As Wes said, both of us take the train to and from work everyday. Also, I have some idea of the lives of the working class people in Hong Kong as I work in Sham Shui Po, and I do spend quite a bit of time in a overpacked train everyday.

      Though I understand that Hong Kongers are threatened by the large influx of Mainland tourists, I still believe acting in a xenophobic manner will not improve the situation. Instead of throwing hissy-fits, perhaps Hong Kongers need to come up with better strategies to cope with the change. For instance, perhaps the people should be pushing the government for better education, so Hong Kongers can be better educated and be more competitive in the market. People need to gather and have intelligent conversations about the issues they want to fight about, instead of ranting emotionally with no real demands for change.

      Sometimes I feel that Hong Kongers do not appreciate their city as much as an expats such as myself or Wes do. I hear a lot of whining, and not a lot of doing. Having worked in universities in Hong Kong, I find the undergrads to be spoiled and entitled- they are fearful that their Mainland Chinese classmates will take away their jobs, and yet they refuse to work hard. As an expat and a fan of Hong Kong, I think Hong Kong people need to change their tactics in order to maintain their cultural and language identities. At the same time, freedom of speech is essential and worth fighting for- Hong Kongers have been spoiled in having it- I lived in the Middle East for four years before coming to Hong Kong, and people were thrown in jail for blogging. Though I wouldn’t go as far as calling Hong Kong democratic, as residents of this wonderful city, we do have the liberty to speak our minds. I hope Hong Kongers will not take this for granted and continue fighting for their rights to speak freely.

      • Thanks for your reply. I’m glad that you know how life is like for ordinary people here.
        On education, certainly the government is NOT trying to provide better education for Hong Kong young people. In fact, they did many bad things to ruin the education system. They enforced Mandarin teaching in primary school, which in some schools teacher even ban the speaking of Cantonese in class. They have abandoned the British system of Certificate and Advanced Level Exam for secondary school students, and made their own set of exams which are not internationally recognized. They removed History and Chinese History from compulsory courses for the first three years of secondary school, and in favour of “General Education”, which leaves the youngster ignorant about their own history. They changed secondary to 6 years and university to 4 years, so that it is the same as the mainland China system, and thus open the gate for mainland Chinese to come to study in Hong Kong. You say Mainland Chinese students work harder, but do you know they’ve taken a lot of benefits as well? Most of them are provided with hostel accommodation, while many local students couldn’t get a place in student accommodation because of this. While most mainland students have some scholarship or studentship, a lot of Hong Kong students have to work part time, and travel a long way to the university. And most Hong Kong students take part in a lot of student activities too. And before blaming them xenophobic or spoiled, it’s better to know what caused that. Hong Kong people do love this place, and every youngster I know are much more concern about current affairs now, as politics is affecting us deeply everyday.

        I don’t know if you can read Chinese? If yes, you would find that these few years internet media have flourished, although most of them are written in Chinese. Traditional media like newspaper and TV are now mostly under government control. There are a lot of facebook groups and bloggers keep on writing about local politics and organising all sorts of protests and movements. HKU student union has a magazine 學苑 which is written very well. The only thing lacking are English blogs about Hong Kong. International media about Hong Kong are often biased, as some reporters are based in Beijing or Shanghai and rely on mainland sources, while local English newspaper, SCMP and Standard are being controlled by mainland Chinese businessmen. Badcanto that you’ve read is one of the few who blogs in English. He may be biased some time, but you have to know, he is only one person but he translates loads of news everyday. He has also created an online Cantonese English dictionary almost on his own effort.

      • Well said sister! Now you are articulating a substantial issue. See, I knew you cared more than just kicking the Mainlanders out of Hong Kong. I hope you continue to have this kind of conversations with others, where you identify an important issue and pressure the government into making positive changes. I am still proud of Hong Kongers for not allowing that compulsory “Chinese” class in the public school system last year (or was it the year before?)

  2. Stuff is starting to appear in the international media such as the BBC and New York Times, but as mentioned earlier it is solely focused on the egregious attacks on the free press here in Hong Kong. I was particularly disheartened to read that a number of International Banks were put under pressure to remove their advertising from some of the politically independent newspapers as punishment for some of their attacks on Beijing. I agree with all of the above that not enough is done to educate its citizens on the slow creep of Chinese nationalism and the erosion of the free press, Cantonese history, language and culture. More events need to be organised to educate the populace about what is essentially a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, particularly in the run in to the debates on universal suffrage.

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