Editorial – ‘Ten Years’: Hong Kong’s Political Awareness

When the movie Ten Years was released, Hong Kong was in a commotion. The low-budget film with its virtually volunteering actors had surpassed the newest Star Wars movie at the Yau Ma Tei box office last December, marking the Hong Kong people’s political awareness, expression and to some extent, unrest.

Ten Years was a project directed and cultivated by five local undergraduate students from institutions scattered around Hong Kong. The entire production consists of five short films compiled together, connecting to one another under the larger discourse: a fictional foresight of what Hong Kong will become in ten years’ time. The five short films, ‘Extras’, ‘Season of the End’, ‘Dialect’, ‘Self-immolator’ and ‘Local Egg’, address socio-political issues that are currently in the local heat of debate.


Where did it all start?

In December 2014, the ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ campaign, a disobedience project aiming to inflict pressure on the PRC into implementing an electoral system of universal suffrage, and the spontaneous ‘Umbrella Movement’ that followed, brought people of different ages and occupations onto the streets. The movement was quite divided, as 12 different organizations and political parties were present, each advocating for their own version of ‘universal suffrage’ and ‘democracy’.

Following the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ and ‘Occupy Central’ protests that had placed Hong Kong under international spotlight, Ten Years symbolizes an artistic rise in political awareness and expression. Civil disobedience, language restriction and self-identity are themes within the piece that protest against China in response to the student strikes and subsequent violent outbursts. As SCMP writes, it conveys “Hongkongers’ worst post-Occupy fears”.

The 2014 civil disobedience triggered the immense sense of segregation and disunion between the people, as more campaigns and alliances of different views emerged, such as the ‘Blue Ribbon Movement’ and the ‘Silent Majority for Hong Kong’. The disparity in opinions was the fitting climate for brewing violence and dissent, allowing any change to become impossible as 2015 rolled around. The prospect of previous efforts inflicting any effect at all on Hong Kong’s future was shattered when the Pan-Establishment, or Pro-Beijing camp, suddenly left the Parliamentary hall as they were asked to vote on the bill to pass a reformed (but apparently unsatisfactory) version of Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive Election last summer. This tremendous act was broadcasted live. That summer, the disorganized state of the authorities left Hong Kong in awe, or rather, in distress, having witnessed the (live) process of returning back to square one.

Student activists giving a speech at the 2014 Umbrella Movement. (Courtesy of flickr.com)

Student activists giving a speech at the 2014 Umbrella Movement. (Courtesy of flickr.com)


Post-Occupy: where does Ten Years come into play?

Hong Kong has entered a period aptly deemed the “post-occupy” time, where collective contemplation and criticism of past events start to sprout. Today, Hong Kong is divided as ever. The peaceful protestors of Central and Admiralty have long gone, as news channels are teeming with students and protestors with rebellious thoughts and schemes to break into government quarters. The Mong Kok civil unrest riot, better known as the ‘Fishball Revolution’ (there was a crackdown on illegal fishball-selling hawkers) that broke out on Chinese New Year in February 2016 at one of Hong Kong’s most populous districts, is a case on point of the pent-up dissatisfaction and opposition between civilians and authority. The violence that night left the Hong Kong Police Force, once known as “Asia’s finest”, with a tarnished image as severe distrust aroused amongst the Hong Kong people.

‘Extras’ launches a subtle but penetrative blow at Hong Kong’s pro-establishment and PRC-supporting groups. Kwok Zune, director of the short narrative in Ten Years, describes the local armed forces as “not much different from triads”, highlighting the police’s rising rate of power abuse and infliction of violence on those with opposing views. As a light movie review, netizens have linked the recent Mong Kok riot with the plot of ‘Extras’, exclaiming that the scenes in the movie are gradually materializing.

Another heatedly debated topic is the extermination of Cantonese, Hong Kong’s official language. ‘Dialect’ depicts the marginalization of a Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who had failed to pass a Mandarin proficiency examination. The underlying pro-Cantonese sentiments expose not only the protection of the Hong Kong identity, but also an exaggerated defense against those who threaten its place.

Hong Kong’s political unrest over the past year and a half has been a striking one. Though fragmented, the once largely politically silent and indifferent majority, especially students, are starting to speak up. However, Hong Kong itself is still unsure if it is prepared to hear the voices of its people. For a choir to produce a harmonious sound, the soprano, alto, tenor and bass singers must cooperate with one another, and listen to the sounds that each person is producing. Good progress cannot be achieved without open-minded discussions that give way to creative thought and new perspectives.

An exploration into China’s pollution resolution

As of 2015’s concluding months, China’s air pollution problem has been hitting the headlines, serving as a constant reminder of its persistence and severity. Although 10 cities in China had been issued red alerts December last year, and announced unsafe for citizens to remain outdoors for prolonged periods, Greenpeace’s 2015 data reveals that PM 2.5 levels (particulate matter levels from coal combustion) in China had in fact dropped by 10%.

Premier Li Ke-Qiang was also said to be waging a “war with pollution”. Despite this unexpected reversal, most of the major Chinese cities maintain dangerous levels of smog and air quality. So, after all, is China in the process of improving air quality to meet international safety standards, and what are some of its measures due to be implemented in the near future?

To nobody’s surprise, as the world leaves 2015 behind and prepares for the dawn of 2016, Beijing’s smog levels also strike an all-time high, resulting in streets to be cleared and gas masks to be pulled out. China’s pollution problem has remained a tenacious one due to excessive coal-burning in local factories and power plants.

The multiple red alerts and smog-filled photographs issued last year are grabbing more international attention than ever. However, following Greenpeace’s 2015 report revealing China’s improving air quality, China had announced its termination in the constructing of new local coal mines within the next three years, as well as its plans of closing down up to 1,000 mines in correspondence to its persistent pollution problem. China’s coal ban and declining coal consumption is a heavily persuasive progress in its journey to cleaner and safer air.

Morning smog makes things a little less clear (Courtesy of flickr.com)


What are some of China’s measures for improving air quality?

It has been revealed that China had devised multiple plans to keep smog levels in check, which are possible reasons behind the decreasing levels of particulate matter. Apart from the central government’s efforts to decrease pollution levels, provincial governments in China are also warming up to join the pollution resistance, and this was an ongoing process since 2014.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China presents flying parafoil drones: unmanned bots with wings and chemical parachutes that are equipped with particulate-clearing technologies. These drones will be tested in major Chinese cities, and are useful resources for surveillance, disaster relief, and as an integrated tool in agriculture. Furthermore, the central government had been encouraging its citizens to abandon their cars, and to replace them with riding bikes and walking, as well as implementing 25-year environment laws and tax breaks to boost the market of eco-friendly green cars.

If China had all these proposals under their belt, the process of relieving pollution and improving air quality should be a quicker and more effective one than it is at the moment. Why have red alerts for hazardous smog levels been issued all over the country, even after these measures have taken place?

The Diplomat states that China still “faces problems in implementing and enforcing these proposals”, pinpointing its improper operating of pollution control units and realized difficulties of catching and convicting non-compliance scattered nationwide. The Tianjin explosion that happened last summer would be a case on point, as it had created a leakage of toxic cyanide chemicals that infiltrated a populated residential and commercial area in the city. Within the warehouse, discrepancies in the storage content reports were noted by Tianjin’s State Administration of Work Safety, and authorities did not find out what the warehouse contained until after the incident.

Greenpeace’s data conveys that China has been making progressive efforts that led to a perceivable drop in its PM 2.5 levels last year. It is clear that although China has theoretical ideas and measures since 2014 to lower pollutant levels and clear the atmosphere of smog and dirt, implementing them would require rigorous efforts, intricate organization, as well as increased funding.