Yesterday’s ‘Alliance for Peace and Democracy’ procession against Occupy Central is officially portrayed as the silent majority opposing lawlessness and disaster. It mainly highlighted the weirdness resulting from the political/social/cultural gap between the Chinese government and the mainstream Hong Kong population.
When the forces that hold power organize a street demonstration against the forces who don’t hold power – that is, the government holds a march against the populace – you know something strange is happening. Despite its title, the protest had no positive aim. It was a demonstration against demonstrating. It was demanding that people stop demanding things. It was a march for silence and obedience, and acceptance of unrepresentative (not to say poor) government.
Obviously, participants in such a march are not going to be an average cross-section of society. Pro-democracy gatherings lean disproportionately towards Hong Kong’s middle-class, young, educated – and disgruntled. But yesterday’s crowd didn’t even include many of their local demographic opposites. There were some of those elderly grumpy villagers who hate everything and came voluntarily, if not with great enthusiasm. But they seemed seriously outnumbered by people who were paid, fed, pressured or blatantly shipped in from across the border.
Busloads of orange-shirted members of some Fujianese ‘association’ started arriving in Tin Hau after noon. White shirts representing communities in Guangdong were also present. Red shirts were (predictably) most numerous. Many wearers were apparently connected with labour organizations, but they also included rather self-conscious South Asian guys, and some of the few people apparently having fun: Filipino and Indonesian women who could only have been domestic helpers.
Stories (start here) abound of money changing hands, Causeway Bay restaurants being block-booked for marchers’ free lunches, and attendees hiding faces or having no idea why they were there (or maybe even where they were). And there’s all the trash they left everywhere. Perhaps the most amusing feature of the fake protest was the way a noticeable number of marchers ditched their flags and peeled away just a few hundred yards after leaving Victoria Park. When pro-democrats march past Sogo, they are not overwhelmed by a compulsion to go shopping, but many of this lot apparently couldn’t resist. By the time the parade got to Central, it was as if nothing but stragglers had ever taken part (not counting cheats who had taken the MTR short-cut).
The turnout was obviously far less than that of July 1, which created a quandary for the police: do they preserve their reputation and issue a figure in proportion to that of July 1, or do they shred their integrity and appease the Communist Party’s United Front by producing obviously false numbers? They of course chose the latter.
It’s not fair to pick on the cops, or indeed on everyone else involved and also just following orders. This event was an exercise in self-humiliation for the whole government and establishment (you think lawmaker Regina Ip or landlord Allan Zeman felt good being part of this charade?). Some months ago, we can guess, a tyrant and user of black hair dye in Beijing banged the table with his fist and demanded that the CIA-backed splittist Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong be crushed. Such is China’s no-questions, punishment-oriented system that the order was passed down through the local Liaison Office and out through the United Front to Hong Kong officials, loyalists and shoe-shiners. They dutifully went through the motions, resulting in the absurd phoniness and massive overkill of the anti-Occupy campaign.
It is surprising that Beijing has such an inadequate power base in Hong Kong in 2014 that it has to beg and bribe (and import) people just to pretend to be its friends. And even with all those organizational and financial resources, this parade of morose rather-be-shopping litterbugs is the best the United Front can manage? They have control, but no influence. Which is almost sad, in a way.