Why Hong Kong's Government Won't Look Too Closely at The 'Fishball Revolution'

A commentary by Yiu-ming To
china-mongkokpolice-feb122016.jpg Policewoman guards a cordoned-off street following overnight riots in Hong Kong, Feb. 9, 2016.

On the first night of the Year of the Monkey, Hong Kong saw the biggest clashes between police and citizens for half a century, on the streets of Mong Kok, leaving more than 120 people injured.

However, the very next day, without any investigation, the government announced that the incident was a "riot" conducted by "violent radicals," without looking at any of the events that preceded it, nor the consequences.

They just relied on the public abhorrence of violence to whitewash their own responsibility for the deterioration in relations between the public and the police.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said whatever the causes of the incident, be they a breakdown of trust in the administration [of chief executive Leung Chun-ying], problems with the management of food vendors, or a backlash from the Umbrella Movement, all of these are still "excuses."

What she meant by this was that we must concentrate on the perpetrators of violence and on bringing them to justice, because these explanations couldn't possibly be what motivated the "mob."

But if we don't agree with their behavior, and we accept that none of these reasons account for it, then it can only be explained by a sort of irrational recklessness, or even a hysterical impulse to violence.

However did she come to that conclusion?

What would bring such a violent mob together in the Hong Kong of 2016, all at the same time, gathered in Mong Kok like that? And why would they then vent their anger on police, who were trying to enforce the law?


Carrie Lam seems unwilling to face up to a cold analysis of the riots. She just wants to win over public opinion, to declare the perpetrators to be "rioters" and their actions as "rioting."

She's not thinking about the abnormal level of "iron fist" law enforcement measures taken to clear the area of food hawkers during the Chinese New Year holiday period as a contributing factor.

Nor is she linking the attitude of confrontation towards police as being linked to similar clashes on Long Wo Road [in Mong Kok] during the Occupy Central movement [of 2014].

Or to the way in which the methods used by the police force under [former police commissioner] Andy Tsang against [the Umbrella Movement] may have sowed the seeds of a desire for revenge, making it harder for officers on the ground to enforce the law, and unfortunately turning them into targets for public anger.

But her head-in-the-sand approach is in itself an excuse aimed at saving her from having to look at the embarrassing truth, and enabling the government to avoid legitimate blame.

In the face of the biggest scenes of violent unrest in half a century, the Special Administrative Region government should set up an independent inquiry to investigate the causes of this incident, and to deal very carefully with the aftermath, to prevent something similar from happening again.

Abusing state power

But it looks as if chief executive Leung isn't seeking truth from facts, nor is he seeking to make the facts clear and to share responsibility so as to avoid a repeat of this incident.

Instead, he is planning to round up and charge the perpetrators, even to the point of abusing police powers and smearing youth groups like Scholarism.

The aim of this bunker mentality is to use state power to suppress any dissenting voices and to force through his policies, as opposed to working to gain public trust and recognition for them through consensus-building.

If he carries on like this, Leung will continue to see a number of "small matters" escalating into big ones, much as the management of food vendors escalated into violence.

He may also see his lies become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the form of protracted social unrest, especially now that people are realizing that peaceful reforms are out of the question, because our rulers in Beijing don't understand humility, and instead impose the tyranny of minority rule on them.

I believe that some people will no longer hesitate to go beyond the limits of nonviolence to sacrifice themselves in the fight against that tyranny.

The pro-establishment camp currently only commands 40 percent of public support, but it controls more than 80 percent of votes in the electoral college [for chief executive], and more than 60 percent of seats in the Legislative Council.

Top-heavy system

This top-heavy system of political power is bound to produce unjust policies and institutions.

And when mainstream public opinion has only a weak voice in key government executive and legislative bodies, and when those in power don't understand why this is an issue, then the people of Hong Kong may reject their political fate.

And when that happens, the conflict that should take place within political institutions will spill out onto the streets.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Yiu-ming To is a political scholar and assistant professor in the journalism department of Hong Kong's Baptist University.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.