Hong Kong Student Leader Mobilizing in the Fight for Democracy

Protests have often been led by university and college students who are pushing for change, a cause, or peace — and in Hong Kong, the most well-known pro-democracy activist wears thick, black glasses, has a bowl cut, and is 17-years-old.  Gwynn Guilford, writing for Quartz, says Joshua Wong Chi-fung is currently Hong Kong’s most prominent student leader.

His activism is centered on the Chinese Communist Party’s invasive attack on the people’s freedoms, and he is already under the scrutiny of Beijing. One of the party’s documents on national security identifies Wong as a threat to internal stability.  Party authorities have called him an extremist. He has even been accused of working for the US Central Intelligence Agency in order to penetrate Hong Kong schools, an accusation which Wong denies.

In 2011, he and his fellow students formed a group called Scholarism, which rose to prominence in 2012 when the Hong Kong government tried to push the Communist Party-approved “patriotic” education on Hong Kong public schools in lieu of civics classes. The curriculum included textbooks like “the China Model” which represented the Communist Party as progressive, selfless, and united. It criticized multi-party systems and eliminated events like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square Massacres of 1989, according to The New York Times.

In 2012, Scholarism mobilized more than 120,000 people in a demonstration against the education program.  Many students went on a hunger strike as well. In just days, the Hong Kong government decided against the plan to make the curriculum mandatory.

Wong, and Scholarism, soon began galvanizing what is now known as the Umbrella Revolution to institute universal suffrage. In short, the students are asking that the chief executive and the congress be elected by the people or by representatives of the people.

Over the weekend, Wong was arrested and detained and protesters have brought parts of the city to a halt, writes Isabella Steger (and contributors Chester Yung and Jacky Wong), reporting for The Wall Street Journal.  He and 13 others were arrested on Friday after many protesting students occupied an area outside government headquarters. When the crowd spilled out onto Hong Kong’s busiest streets, police used tear gas to disperse the crowds. Wong was released because of the efforts of his attorney.

 The students “are now local heroes in the eyes of the protesting public. So if they have to go to jail or suffer some way in promotion or access to studies, it will win them even more support,” Suzanne Pepper, an academic at Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies democracy in Hong Kong, said in an emailed response.

The police defended the arrests on the grounds of forcible entry into government premises and unlawful assembly.

Wong started university this year, but says he has no plans of studying overseas.

“I’m not that smart…I want to do social work,” he said in an interview. “How could I leave now in this circumstance. If I leave, [the government] might use the chance to ridicule me.”

An Al Jazeera article says that some schools in the area would remain closed to provide safety for the children, many bus routes were canceled and subway stops near the protest were closed. Wong’s name was not mentioned in the article, nor was Scholarism.

“Many powerful people from the mainland will come to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government won’t want them to see this, so the police must do something,” Sui-ying Cheng, 18, a freshman at Hong Kong University’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, said of the National Day holiday. “We are not scared. We will stay here tonight. Tonight is the most important.”