Perspective: An insight into Hong Kong's radical student culture
Tom Fowdy
The main building of the University of Hong Kong, July 29, 2011. /VCG Photo

The main building of the University of Hong Kong, July 29, 2011. /VCG Photo

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

For the past week or so scenes at Polytechnic University of Hong Kong have dominated news coverage, with students having resisted police by occupying the campus and barricading themselves inside while the latter responded by blockading it and leading to a standoff. The Western mainstream media inevitably threw its weight behind the protesters, describing the situation as a "siege" whilst activists sought to hyper-exaggerate the actions of the police. 

As always, the coverage was one-sided, ideological and completely negligent of the fact that some had broken the law.

On Wednesday, to observe the scale of changes within the city, I once again touched upon my old student life at the University of Hong Kong, visiting the dorm buildings where I used to live in order to observe changes in student culture. 

With university age individuals being the most politically active group within the Hong Kong movement and in some ways, constituting it's "core," visiting this location and observing the excessive literature posted around the area allowed me to dig deep into their collective psychology and discourse. Entering the area, one may observe that various posters and flyers have been produced and stuck around on an industrial scale, making it easy to decipher.

Pedestrians and shoppers walk through a street in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China, October 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

Pedestrians and shoppers walk through a street in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China, October 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

Although at the time I lived there the campus was already somewhat radical during 2015-2016, what I saw still turned out to be astonishing and in some cases, shocking. In line with the violence also waged by some in this age group throughout the city, I believe that instead of simply encouraging these individuals, there needs to be a serious discussion and emphasis concerning just how radical and fanatical some Hong Kong students have become.

The scope and content of their literature often far exceeded what has been portrayed by some media as a so-called benevolent "pro-democracy" movement. Here's what I discovered.

Beyond the inevitable "five demands" rhetoric, a great deal of student literature predictably focused on the police, misleadingly accusing them of murder, despite nobody having actually been killed by the police. In doing so, it reflected a large-scale representation of their own sense of victimhood and persecution, and they wanted to be depicted as martyrs. In doing so, literature also frequently emphasized dates of given incidents as "11.9" to mark what they believed were atrocities.

Some posters in dorm receptions also accused the police of rape, with one huge poster heralding a suggestive image of a woman lying on the street practically naked, without proven origin.

However, what proved more eye opening were the various "calls to action" posted on notice boards. One poster drew up an extensive list of businesses and restaurants which were allegedly supportive of the government. Although it called for them to be boycotted, in practice these institutions have been targeted for vandalism and destruction on a citywide scale.

Another poster, declaring a provisional government and constitution for Hong Kong, induced aggressive rhetoric, threatening "to avenge every single atrocity you have committed against us" and then stating in capital letters "THIS MEANS WAR."

Literature also went beyond the scope of Hong Kong issues, whipping up "China threat" hysteria with claims that the country aims to infiltrate and take over the world. One poster accuses China of overseas military aggression whilst claiming the government was aiming to wipe out Christianity at home.

This seemed to depict an all-embracing hatred and paranoia towards the Chinese mainland, a repeated theme of their rhetoric, thus the underlying sentiment that Hong Kong should be permanently distinct as a political space from China.

In this case, what I've seen revealed an extremely militant and radical culture amongst Hong Kong local students. On a citywide scale, this constituency represents the more notorious "hardcore" who have pursued intentional violence and destruction throughout the city, persistently stating the authorities are responsible for their behavior. 

The style and manner of this literature helps remind us that this violence is not merely accidental or defensive, but is intentional and a deliberate channel for expressing grievances, with campus literature practically encouraging it in many ways.

As I note above, the overwhelming conviction of their own persecution and victimhood on display, induced by mass hysteria and false information, essentially acts as an enabler for this activity.

Thus if things are to move forward in Hong Kong, this radical culture amongst students has to be addressed and nullified urgently and the Western mainstream media need to be honest about it.

However, this doesn't mean their voices and concerns should be totally dismissed, as such is a vital aspect of restoring dialogue and harmony. What I see within their mentality is a total lack of desire for any compromise but intention to glorify themselves as martyrs. 

These youngsters share the view of continual battle against the authorities, expanding and entrenching their own mythology and momentum in the process. As long as this kind of mindset prevails, nothing will feasibly progress in Hong Kong.

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