Doing prison time in Hong Kong

On my current visit to Hong Kong I am once again trying to talk to some of the activists in order to get a better understanding of the shifting political territory. When I contacted Joshua Wong, one of the most dedicated pro-democracy campaigners, he wrote back to me: “I might not able to meet you since my court case sentencing is scheduled on Thursday afternoon. I need to prepare before being locked up in prison.” This will be the third time he is sent there for his political engagement.

In 2017, he was jailed for his role in the occupation of Civic Square three years earlier. Last year, he was in prison for failing to comply with a court order concerning a protest in Mong Kok in 2014. Meanwhile, the organizers of the Occupy Central demonstrations of 2014 have also recently been sent to jail.

The Hong Kong authorities are using a heavy hand in dealing with those activists. In other jurisdictions such cases might have been dealt with more leniently and in a spirit of reconciliation. But here in Hong Kong the opposition is tolerated only as long as it accepts that it is and will always be only a minority and submits meekly to the edicts of the ruling system.

One begins to  understand why the ancient Greek democrats thought of majority rule as a form of tyranny.



1 comment

  1. One begins to understand…

    …when one begins to study even in the most dilatory fashion, the several thousand year old history of China; when one realises that experiencing an 18th century-style enlightenment in the 1920s, a 19th century-style bourgeois revolution in the 1930s, and a communist revolution in the fifties was never going to be simple.

    That a courageous young man is imprisoned for exercising what we consider to be a basic human right is a tragic fact of life in a tiny ex-colony whose peculiar status makes it a fault line in current geopolitics. Defend his rights by all means, and thereby discourage the authorities from further repression. But bear in mind the complexity of a civilisation which may soon equal and even surpass our own in economic and military power.

    I started learning Chinese ten years ago at the age of sixty, in response to my Chinese students in a small French university where I was teaching English. They wanted to learn, while the French students wanted a pass in their exam so they could get a job. Motivation, I realised, was directly correlated to the economic growth rate of the country of origin of the students, whether from China, Senegal or Cyprus. That growth rate has raised hundreds of millions from absolute poverty, but it has to continue in order to raise hundreds of millions more. Does this justify in any way the brutal treatment of the likes of Joshua Wong? I wouldn’t even dare raise the question anywhere other than on the blog of a philosopher.

    By the way, I was a student of yours at UCL a century ago. A terrible student, since I hardly ever turned up, but I think it was your lectures in mathematical logic that scraped me a pass, due to a certain fascination I felt for the weird world of Gödel.

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