No ‘excuses’, lots of ‘reasons’


The strict official line on Hong Kong’s brief but bloody and inauspicious New Year ‘Fishball Revolution’ is that a small bunch of extremist radicals indulged in criminal violence and, as threats to society, must now be rounded up and brought to justice. Chief Executive CY Leung and his deputy Chief Secretary Carrie Lam will not accept that the riot had anything to do with governance. Loyalist groups and media dutifully go along with this (the South China Morning Post today offers this and – for fans of hardcore mouth-frothing – this).


The brick-throwing and firing of live ammunition were genuinely shocking. This was not, as some media reports said, the worst unrest since Occupy Central ended a year ago; it was the worst in living memory for most participants (inexact precedents date from the early 80s at the latest or the 60s). There is a constituency out there – off-line, grumpy, elderly – who would love to see uppity students hanged and flogged. But even many pro-establishment figures must suspect that the riot is a symptom of the city’s failed leadership.

Lawmaker Regina Ip calls not only for water cannon but for the administration to address ‘deep-rooted’ problems. Mainstream pro-democracy politicians and others similarly strive to get their own personal balance between denouncing the violence and blaming the governance.

A letter in the SCMP provides a quick reminder of the problems with the latter:

Legitimate requests are made to overhaul our education and health-care systems, have a universal retirement scheme and deal with cage homes and subdivided units. These calls are systematically ignored. In the meantime white elephant projects like the high-speed rail link to Guangdong and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (being backed by Beijing) are put to the top of the agenda in Legco. It is no wonder that the feeling of not being included is finally taken to extremes.

The first person to blame for this is a chief executive who has refused to listen to Hongkongers and failed to recognise the feelings people had which were boiling over. Secondly, we should blame those ministers and secretaries who in their bureaus and departments should have listened and recognised what was going on. They failed to do this and did not act.

You can add an array of other contributing factors, from bureaucratic stupidity in administering street food vendors to Beijing agents’ abduction of booksellers.

Separate items in the Standard reject ‘excuses’ but insist on ‘reasons’ for the Fishball Riot…


We know throwing rocks at the police is wrong, and we know that if a government is doing its job properly, you don’t get rioting – but beyond that, we don’t have a clue.

An optimist would hope that officials would learn a lesson at this point, and do more to get governance back on track. There is a bigger picture and a more pessimistic and even apocalyptic point of view – of which more later. Meanwhile, an interesting look at police tactics here, and a taste of the apocalyptic here.

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18 Responses to No ‘excuses’, lots of ‘reasons’

  1. Sir Crispin Bentley-Smythe IV says:

    “the city’s failed leadership.”

    This statement, of course, presumes that there has ever been any form of leadership since the handover.

  2. I forecast this the day before it happened.

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    I’mwriting a little piece aabout learned helplessness to explain the Hong Kong government’s production of this riot.

    Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an organism (human or animal) that has endured repeated painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn escape or avoidance in new situations where such behavior would be effective. In other words, the organism seems to have learned that it is helpless in aversive situations.

  3. Probably says:

    Maybe I am slightly off message here but if the riots were genuinely due to FEHD provocation then why do they not send the police into buildings with dripping a/c onto the streets and bars or restaurants that turn a blind eye to smoking? The 2 examples I cite are ones I cannot escape but I can make my own choice as to whether or not to purchase food from a street vendor.

  4. Probably says:

    @Enid, is that not just another form of Stockholm Syndrome?

  5. PD says:

    The fishball riots came as a shock, but not a surprise to anyone living in the poorer areas of the city or countryside.

    The Mongkok section of Occupy Central already involved an unholy union of street thugs and legitimate student protesters; in the sticks since August it’s been bellowing, sharpened-stick-carrying indigenous “villagers” and impenetrable crocodiles of HK Indigenous fashionistas, all in favour of “HK for HKers”.

    The middle classes will continue to cower in their rich enclaves, upmarket blocks, gated communities and locked cars. But the huddled masses will, I believe, continue to rampage.

    The history of China is marked every fifty years or so with violent upheavals, apparently irrational but reflecting deep-seated malaise. I can’t see any way of HK avoiding such a fate.

  6. Stephen says:

    Does anyone else see a “black hand” in this ? Mass illegal hawking is usually going to be under the “auspices” of Triad societies – ask a policeman! Meaning there would have been Triads within the vicinity of the riots. Were they acting as instigators or agitators in all this ? Are these patriots (The CCP’s view not mine) now being used so the authorities can clamp down and shut Hong Kong up for good ? Is there a corresponding agreement for the OCTB to cut the gangs a little slack, afterall they are working for the greater good ? Credit to CY Leung he keeps setting records for serious disturbances and an increasingly polarized population. But hey, let’s blame the students.

  7. Jennifer Eagleton says:

    The HK gov. is a strange organism for sure.
    Scientists should do some research on it.

  8. Knownot says:

    The hygiene inspectors came down in a block
    To harry the hawkers in busy Mongkok
    And mounted with courage their virtuous attacks
    On vendors of fishballs and savoury snacks.

    The rioters came down like a wolf on the fields
    And their cohorts were gleaming with helmets and shields.
    They readied their weapons, their canes and their sticks,
    Their rods and their poles, their stones and their bricks.

    The riot police came with armour and spray
    And peppered the people to chase them away,
    And when they were beaten and frightened and tired
    One of them took out his pistol and fired.

    The localists rose – or a false flag was flown –
    Or the triads attacked – may never be known.
    Look forward or back, in hope or down-hearted,
    The Year of the Monkey has only just started.

    with acknowledgement to ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ by Lord Byron

  9. Cassowary says:

    Do you have a sarcastic, spoiled, surly, trash youth at home? Ashamed of having to explain his belligerent Facebook posts and juvenile court hearings to the relatives? You might be qualified to benefit from the government’s new One Country Two Systems Quality Child Replacement Scheme! Just take your child to the nearest police station, and within 15-38 business days you will receive a brand new quality child from the Mainland, complete with adoption papers. Your new child will be polite, respectful, grateful, uncomplaining, well-dressed, get straight As, never talk back, have no political opinions , and is guaranteed to pursue careers only in medicine, law, finance, or at worst, accounting. He or she will only require one weekend off per month to attend patriotic cadet camp. Seize your chance to have a child you can finally be proud of!

  10. HKSojourner says:

    Sound observations all round, but hats off to Knownot and Cassowary for making me smile.

  11. Joe Blow says:

    @Stephen: you are assuming that the HK Government is thinking strategically, or is capable to do so. Like, planning ahead 1 or 2 moves. Think again.

  12. gweiloeye says:

    Stephen, I too was getting that strange feeling when seeing this thing blow up all too easily. When mainland security can waltz in and whisk people away with impunity, why wouldn’t you think there are mainland operatives planted in some of these groups stirring the pot. End result is PLA on every corner. Or maybe my paranoia has set in.

  13. Cry Shop says:

    One of the reasons HK government has been reluctant to give hawker licenses, is even these are not proof against Triad involvement in controlling who gets access to any real estate. Just like the Mob/Mafia in NYC and Chicago co-opted local political machines, I suspect there was a heavy mix of local triads pushing back against the government taking advantage of the relative naivete and corruptibility of the NT based localist movement. Knowing CY is weak and needs the triads to provide unofficial power against attempts to organised political power, the triads probably decided to test the governments resolve. The whole action looks like a well planned set piece.

    Of 60 some odd rioters “arrested’, so far only 30+ were bound over to the courts. My bet is the others apparently were let out the back door of the police station. Probably once their triad backgrounds were checked, as (difficult) allies, the police let the triads go. As to the students, political activist, and any hanger-ons that didn’t have triad protection, then they fell into trap which will give the government some leverage to turn some of them into government informants (or spend 10 years in prison). CY will now be on the hook to provide more opportunities for the triads to make money as he lost a lot of face, and can’t afford to have the triads keep testing him.

  14. Joe Blow says:

    Did any of you guys catch the news tit-bit that Letitia Lee, Blue Ribbon princess and BFF of the HK Police, has disappeared, after, allegedly, borrowing money from many people in her blue ribbon circle ?

  15. RhZ says:

    The problem ultimately comes from the government’s refusal to sanction these vendors. Everyone loves them, no one is forced to eat their food, they are a tradition…yet for some reason they cannot be made legal. Let me be clear, there is no reason that the vendors’ businesses should be illegal other than rent-seeking, with the government turning a blind eye, at least usually.

    Are triads involved? Probably. But ‘ask a policeman’ seemly elides the fact that the triads or vendors themselves are definitely paying off the policemen as well. And now we see why it seems these vendors can’t be made legal.

    The regulators did not show up in large numbers because of any public safety concerns; they showed up to piss on everyone’s parade. And if they were surprised at the reaction, they only show their deep stupidity. Indeed, this is quite possibly exactly what the authorities wanted anyway.

    I suppose the above doesn’t really affect your analysis, though. Its hard to see what the goal could be, although the government will now claim that the thugs are out of control, that part is guaranteed.

  16. Chinese Netizen says:

    Let’s put it this way: if you don’t react in writing to this event in an appropriately “zero tolerance, needed law enforcement crackdown, rule-of-law, yada yada” manner, then your overlord in Beijing and Jack Ma have no reason to pay your insignificant alms to keep you writing this sort of drivel.
    Tony Kwok’s frothing, in particular, was especially despicable.

  17. C.M.O.T. Dibbler says:

    The alleged government of HK mostly caused this to prepare the way for their retarded Food truck licenses, at the price the license is ($600,000 or some such wasn’t it?) you can’t have people on the streets selling food for free: it looks like the alleged government is ripping off big corporations.

    But ultimately it is a clash of two cultures — Hong Kong culture and the culture of the alleged government. The rioters represent Hong Kong culture, which the alleged government abhors, fears, and finds wretchedly embarrassing in equal measure. The fishball is an excellent representation of the whole clash — cheap, classless, convenient, popular, not the best food but it does the job, deeply representative of Hong Kong and the alleged government would rather ritually disembowel themselves than promote it.

    The alleged government in contrast live in an entirely different culture, alien to most of Hong Kong — it’s an expat culture, where the cuisine and clothes are European, the wine collection is French, the schooling is British or American, as is the language about 30% of the time. They know nothing about actual Hong Kong or what the “little people” do, eat or believe — other than it is a culture clearly for those inferiors and halfwitted-children that make up “the poor”.

    This is why every government tourist initiative seeks to make Hong Kong much less like Hong Kong and much more like [insert “it” country of month/anywhere but Hong Kong]. And why the moratorium on Hong Kong-style street food licenses that has been going on since 1978 can be suddenly lifted in the case of New York-style food trucks. These then are the people who counsel us to “Appreciate Hong Kong”.

    The cultural divide has been exacerbated recently with the PRC and the CCP adopting a far more colonial attitude to Hong Kong than the previous colonial power (irony is the new black), who for the most part didn’t care in the slightest what Johnny Foreigner got up to in the privacy of his own slum shack as long as it wasn’t endangering the empire’s income. The CCP wants everyone to speak the language of the new colonial power, and bow to its superiority and infallibility and sing its praises at least five times daily.

    What the CCP have failed to note is that Hong Kong has a scandalously subversive tradition of studiously listening to their colonial masters and then ignoring every word and doing what they see fit instead, occasionally throwing in a good riot if said colonial masters get too up themselves and start trying to take too close an interest in local business.

    PS. I reckon the fishball should be on the flag & cash instead of that bauhinia nonsense — who wouldn’t covet access to the Order of the Fishball Star, and that most holy of holies, the Grand Fishball Medal?

    Fishballs onna stick! Get chore fishballs here!

  18. Knownot says:

    “This is why every government tourist initiative seeks to make Hong Kong much less like Hong Kong and much more like [insert “it” country of month/anywhere but Hong Kong]. And why the moratorium on Hong Kong-style street food licenses that has been going on since 1978 can be suddenly lifted in the case of New York-style food trucks. … What the CCP have failed to note is that Hong Kong has a scandalously subversive tradition of studiously listening to their colonial masters and then ignoring every word and doing what they see fit instead, occasionally throwing in a good riot.”

    For the sake of big business
    And thousands of bucks
    Move out the hawkers
    And bring in the trucks.
    Our spirit
    Will not diminish.
    And in the end
    We’ll do what we wish.

    For tourists and shoppers
    Make it cute and exotic.
    Teach our children
    To be patriotic.
    For years
    We seem to be quiet
    But in the end
    We’ll give you a riot.

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