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Hong Kong: Why Occupy Central?

This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.

A group of activists in Hong Kong have occupied the ground floor of the iconic HSBC building in Central District for almost one week since October 15, 2011, in response to the global call for solidarity with the Wall Street Occupation.

Although some people find the slogan “Down Down Capitalism” too ideological, the occupation does provide a reflective space for people to look into the problem of the existing economic system which has marginalized the majority.

A group of activists are camping on the ground floor of HSBC. Photo from Occupy Central Hong Kong.

A group of activists are camping on the ground floor of HSBC. Photo from Occupy Central Hong Kong.

Below is a short video showing the initial solidarity protest on October 15, in Exchange Square in Hong Kong, uploaded by RishiWei to YouTube.

The Chinese University Left Wing Study Group has written a statement [zh] that sums up the problems in Hong Kong:

香港的社會問題簡直數之不盡,譬如說香港的堅尼系數在全球數一數二與非洲國家睇齊,貧富極度懸殊,有錢人把社會財富通通都搜刮到自己的口袋裡,窮人就只管賺那僅僅足夠維持生活的微薄薪金;地產霸權主宰人民生活,瘋狂炒樓讓樓價攀升到一個前所未有的水平,後生的就要供死一世樓,永遠做著地產商的奴隸,官員還視之理所當然。

關鍵的是:這些問題從何而來?讓我不厭其煩地重申左翼學會的立場--這些問題的根源就是資本主義的經濟結構。當各大資本必須不斷賺取最大利潤以滿足自身累積的需要,它就必須剝削勞動者… 我們認為,要真正根治這些社會問題,就只有推翻整個資本主義制度一途。

或者我們都被獅子山精神洗腦得太多,或者我們都視而不見,或者我們根本就不知道這些問題的根源──亦因此在香港這幾十年之間,反對資本主義的聲音幾近絕跡,連一次打著「反資」旗號的社會運動也未見出現。

就著這一個反資聲音極度薄弱的處境,這次佔領中環(Occupy Central)的運動便是一次絕好的時機。

There are so many social problems in Hong Kong. The Gini index is similar to African countries, income disparity is so extreme. The rich take all the wealth in their own pockets while the income of the poor can barely sustain their lives. The property developers control people's life, the property prices have increased to such a crazy level that people have to spend their whole lives working like slaves for the developers and the government officials take it for granted.

The issue at stake is where do all these problem stem from? Let us reinstate our study group's stand. All these problems come from the very structure of capitalism. The capitalists have to exploit the workers for capital accumulation… A radical solution of the problems is to abolish the capitalist system.

Perhaps we have been brainwashed by the spirit of the Lion Rock [a symbol of Hong Kong] for too long or perhaps we don't understand the root cause of the problems. That's why we never have heard any anti-capitalist statement nor have witnessed any anti-capitalist social movement.

The anti-capitalist circle is thus very weak and this Occupy Central movement is a great opportunity.

Protest Banner on October 15, 2011, Hong Kong. By inmediahk.net CC: NC-SA

Protest Banner on October 15, 2011, Hong Kong. By inmediahk.net CC: NC-SA

It is difficult for mainstream Hong Kong society to stand by the side of the occupants. Blogger Birdlw's questions [zh] reflect common people's doubts:

歐美經濟差, 赤字債務高, 失業率高, 民怨高, 有此行動, 我可以理解。
但是, 香港經濟穩定, 失業率只有3%, 為何要發起「佔領中環」這種活動?
我真的不明白。
示威者想表達什麼, 或爭取什麼?
給他們佔領中環之後, 又會做什麼? 大肆改革香港的金融體系?
如何改變? 朝哪一個方向改變? 哪個方向是香港市民會接受的?
如果, 示威者沒想過要改革金融業。那麼, 「佔領中環」這項行動的意義何在?是為了示威而示威? 玩完, 吵完, 再找別的活動來示威?
金融業是香港一項十分重要的行業, 有很多人賴以為生, 一旦被動搖了, 將會有很多人失業, 政府從金融業方面的稅收減少, 社會福利開支定必縮減, 影響之大, 「佔領中環」的示威者有沒有想過?

The economy in Europe and the United State is very bad. Their debts, unemployment rate and social discontent are very severe. I can understand their action.
However, Hong Kong has a stable economy, our unemployment rate is just 3%, why still occupy Central?
I really don't understand.
What do the protesters want to express and strike for?
After they have occupy Central, what will be their next action? A radical reform of the financial system in Hong Kong?
How can that be done? How would Hong Kong people accept such change?
If the protesters do not have plan to reform the finance system, what is the point of this occupation? Just for the sake of protest? After this protest party, will they will look for another topic to protest about?
The finance industry is a very important sector in Hong Kong. Many people depend on it for a living. Once it has been shaken, many people will lose their job. Government tax income will shrink and social welfare will be cut. Have they thought about all these things?

Anthony Chung believes that [zh] income disparity is inevitable because people are greedy:

假如…現在政府宣佈,所有人的財富要拿出來均分!
假如…李嘉誠的身家也要分,每人 100 萬、1 個物業。
不出 10 年…大部份財富又會回到現在的有錢人手裡!
當大部份小市民,高高興興的拿著這些資產享受人生…
中環的金融高手,還是會用花碌碌的金融產品,引發散戶貪念,將財富塞進自己口袋。旺角、銅鑼灣的生意高手,還是會引進人人趨之若鶩的時尚商品,毫不留情大賺一筆。各區各地的物業投資高手,還是會運用眼光與財技,一層樓變兩層樓、四層樓。
他們贏的…是洞悉遊戲規則,有理財智慧、執行力而己!
貧富懸殊?…政府救不到我們,只有我們自己能自救。

Even if the government redistributed all the wealth equally now, even if Li Ka-shing shared his wealth with every one in Hong Kong and each of us got one million and an apartment, in 10 years the majority of the wealth would fall back to the same group of people.
Some people would spend the money for enjoyment… the Central finance experts would induce people's greed with all the finance investment package and transfer the money to their own pockets. The business experts in Mongkok and Causeway Bay would introduce fashionable products to make money. The property experts would invest in property and get more and more apartments.
They win because they know the rules of the game and are good at managing their wealth. Income disparity? The government can do little, we have to depend on ourselves.

Chiu08112003 however, points out that the rules of the game are not fair in the first place, in particular after the handover of Hong Kong to China. He describes the situation in a sarcastic tone [zh]:

八十後和另類窮光蛋不甘血汗被榨盡變成肉餅,懷念毛澤東打土豪分田地蠢蠢欲動,屁言要罷工造反打劫鬧革命,分光財主高樓大廈與身家,讓股市崩塌,鈔票天女散花任人拾撿;財主針鋒相對不屑一顧,如妖龍一樣仰頭要挾中央,屁言若閉上血盆大口棄葷食素,自己就會腰挾金銀財寶遠走他鄉,到時香港就豈不風雨交加黑運當頭?

回歸後的政府變成木偶,操桿拉線的卻是中央政府和財團富豪,他們一方面口口聲聲保護香港的經濟自由,實際上這個說辭只是保護壟斷盤剝利益的遮羞布。他們一方面卻拖慢開放市場的步伐,強化財閥主導或壟斷市場;或以名目繁多的藉口向他們提供土地發展權或其他特殊優惠,令他們在屁民視野以外獲得巨大的商業及經濟利益。資本在地產壟斷中和政府勾肩搭背,以高地價和高准入門檻排擠中小地產商,手中牢牢掌控大部分香港的地產資源,絕對掌握地產的利潤空間;資本若橫向轉移到其他銷售行業,則以壓迫供應商的手法拒絕供貨予其他競爭對手,從而使自己成為行業的不倒翁。香港大型企業壟斷市場的趨勢日益明顯,超級市場的寡頭壟斷、鐵路公司以及巴士公司的合併都顯示著在某些市場裏已沒有中小企業容身之地。

政府睜一隻眼閉一隻眼,任壟斷在香港各類市場上下其手。壟斷本質上是經濟自由的羈絆,最後導致經濟的極端不自由,特別是體現在對經營自由和屁民消費自由的侵害上,經濟自由度實際上成了自由壟斷的藉口。大亨們和小企業商販玩的競爭遊戲,如同一個端着一挺資本機關槍的壯漢和一個小屁孩對決,有人看不過眼給小孩一條破竹棍,貪婪的壟斷階層大為不滿,發動吹鼓手長舌婦侈談『公平』,責怪社會偏幫這個小屁孩。這些巧舌如簧者真有些『信口放屁,何患無味』的蠻橫。香港多年在資本壟斷的干擾下無法建立起反壟斷法,這樣的市場算自由嗎?

The post 1980s generation and alternative poor guys do not want to be squeezed into a meat roll. They miss Chairman Mao's redistribution of the landlord's land, and talk bullshit about strikes, revolts, robbing and revolution. They want to share the landlords’ apartments and wealth, want the stock market to collapse, want the money to fall from the sky; the rich fight back. Like dragons, they strangle the central government, talk bullshit that if the government let them go veggie and stop eating meat with their shark-mouths, they would take all their money and migrate elsewhere. Hong Kong will be struck by thunder.

Since the handover of Hong Kong to China, the government has become a puppet controlled by the central government and the tycoons. They claim that they are protecting economic freedom in Hong Kong, but that's a cover-up of their monopoly and exploitative measures. They are foot-dragging in opening up the market to reinforce their monopoly status; or they use all kind of pretexts to get special favors for land development rights. The losers would never know how they make their profit. The capitalists are working hand in hand with the government in this monopoly system. The high land price has squeezed small developers from the market and the giant developers have controlled all the land resources and profit rate. They extend their influence to other areas such as the sales industry, by forcing the suppliers to give them monopolized rights to sell their products. The trend for big corporates to monopolize the market is getting obvious. The monopoly of supermarkets, the merging of railway companies and bus companies have excluded SMEs from the market.

The government ignore the monopoly and let the giant corporates control the market. The essence of monopoly is against economic freedom and harms the business environment and consumer rights. The so-called liberal economy is just a pretext to monopoly. The competition between giant corporates and small business is like a fight between an armed man and a kid, however when someone hands the kid a rod to defend itself the monopoly class feels unhappy and order their drummers and loquacious women to give lectures about “fairness”, blaming society for helping out the kid. Their bullshit is so stinky. Hong Kong is yet to pass its anti-monopoly law under the influence of monopolized capital, can we still say it is a free economy?

Hui Yuk believes that [zh] the greatest achievement of the occupation is the reflective space it has generated:

當人們能接受不需要確切的目標的時候,想像就真正開始﹕無限的訴求(infinitively demanding)。佔領中斷了我們固有的操作手法,並開拓了一個新的思考空間。我想許多人並未能真正領會這樣的驚嘆﹕「佔領竟然可以在香港發生!」。要留意「佔領」並不是一個純粹的反抗行動,例如駐地留守 、保衛家園。傳媒的鏡頭永遠只會將「佔領」視為抗爭,而無法理解「佔領」實踐上的多層意義。最基本的,是它嘗試顛覆空間既定的符號(symbol),例如將一個辦公室當成了住所,將那裡工作的人當成客人或者入侵者,於是人們重新建立空間的秩序,行動者重新去論釋空間、物件的使用,使他們從一個使用者、消費者的被動身分,重奪(re-claim)他們的主權。

When people begin to accept an indefinite goal, they start imagining, which is a state of demanding. The occupation has disrupted our habit and opened up a reflective space. People are yet to understand and exclaim: occupation can happen in Hong Kong! We have to be aware that “occupation” is not just a pure resistant action like protecting one's home. The media only sees occupation as social struggle and cannot understand its multidimensional meaning. It has subverted the symbolic space, such as turning an office into a home and turning the workers into guests. People has to reconstruct the order of the space and the activists have to re-interpret such space. People within that space transform from as passive users or consumers into active interpreters and in the process they have reclaimed their autonomy.

This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.

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