February 26, 2014, by Editor
Framing the Radicals: Panic on Canton Road (II)
Written by Daniel Garrett.
Part Two Introduction:
In the first section, notions of hegemonic framing and deployment of moral panic in Hong Kong (HK) by the local (primarily) and central regimes over a transgressive nativist contentious performance (Tilly, 2008) described as an “anti-locust” protest and broader anti-mainlander sentiment were elaborated. In this continuation, a rebuttal of hegemonic distortions and exaggerations of the incident and the exclusivity is given. Subsequently, ostensible anti-mainlander strains are situated in a larger context of “One Country, Two Systems” (OCTS) and the rising protester insurgency and resistance movement within HK.
The explicit and implied claims of reputational harm and the exceptional nature of the anti-mainland incidents, protests, or sentiments displayed on February 16th discussed in Part One can be easily rebutted with a cursory survey of local Chinese and HK media reporting over the past two years. This is not to say that the HKSAR cannot suffer further damage to its reputation. Rather, the counter-claim made here is that hegemonic assertions of the dire nature of the “anti-locust” protest on the 16th are distortions and/or exaggerations of reputational risk or damage for Hong Kong, and not an entirely accurate representation of what occurred that day or of the underlying factors related to it. Due to space considerations, only the refutation of the potential for reputational damage and exclusivity of anti-mainland sentiments are considered.
First, contrary to the ruling powers assertions of the Special Administrative Region’s (SAR) good name’ as a tourist destination, HK’s reputation with many mainlanders has already been affected by widespread mainlander awareness of frequent highly emotive confrontations between the two peoples. A December 2013 Global Times op-ed may illustrate this best. Writing about a 2013 a falsified abduction of a Hongkonger child by a mainlander widely reported in HK print and broadcast media, the writer explained that: “The [Hong Kong] woman’s allegation against a non-existent mainlander led to a new torrent of invective at mainlanders from Hong Kong people. This is the incident to show the hatred some Hongkongers have for their mainland cousins.” (A., 2013) (emphasis added)
Second, problems in HK’s mainlander-centric tourist sector has already produced a mangled reputation. According to a 2013 Tourism Commission paper for the Legislative Council: “Hong Kong’s tourism industry has been haunted by a spate of untoward incidents involving coerced shopping and poor receiving arrangements for Mainland inbound tours since mid-2010. Incidents involving misbehaving tourist guides and undesirable business practices of ‘zero-negative free tours’ have caused serious concern and criticism both in Hong Kong and in the Mainland. Such notorious incidents and then associated widespread reports in the local and Mainland media had tarnished considerably the reputation of Hong Kong’s tourism industry as a whole.” (Tourism Commission, 2013) (emphasis added)
Third, a significant number of Hongkongers have often been ambivalent towards mainlanders. For instance, a survey of Hongkongers in November 2013 by the University of Hong Kong reflected that nearly a third (31.8 per cent) held ‘negative’ feelings toward mainlanders. Earlier in 2013 the highest percentage of respondents expressing negative feelings since the survey started in 2007 peaked at more than a third (35.6 per cent). (AFP, 2013) And, in a HKSAR commissioned study of Hong Kong’s younger generations after political resistance led by post-80s and post-90s youth including major confrontations with the SAR government in 2010, it found in response to a question regarding various groups of people respondents would not be willing to be neighbors with, 11.3 per cent identified mainlanders as a category they would prefer not to live next to. (HKU, 2011) Other marginal social groups scored higher in negativity but a finding more than a tenth is not insignificant.
Fourth, a large number of high-profile HK-based ‘anti-locust’ actions have occurred in the HKSAR since 2012 that were arguably much more damaging for HK-mainland relations than the recent minor ‘anti-locust’ dust-up consisting of only approximately 100 participants (and much less at the rally.) Several of these actions, such as the January 2012 “Professor Kong incident” between Hongkongers and mainlanders over a YouTube video depicting a verbal confrontation between a HK resident and mainland visitor led to local and national government intervention, China-wide awareness, and numerous subsidiary protest performances .(Garrett, 2013b) Other HK anti-mainlander actions that month included anti-mainland mothers (birth tourism) and anti-mainland driver protests over fears of hit-and-run threats to Hongkongers from cross-border cars. More famously, was the January 1,000 person protest on Canton Road at the Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) store over alleged discrimination towards Hongkongers in favor of mainland tourists. The D&G drama was said to also be a ‘platform’ for Hongkongers “to express their frustrations over the mainland Chinese.”(Chow, 2012a) The D&G protest is significant because this event also occurred on Canton Road and was ten times the size that of the February 16, 2014 ‘anti-locust’ protest, attracted substantial international attention, but did not elicit the same level of hegemonic demonization.
In February 2012, another major blow to the OCTS relationship transpired. “Hong Kong people, we have endured enough in silence” was the war cry in a full-page advertisement in a popular local paper. Deploying a photoshopped ‘locust’ signifying mainlanders exploiting the city stalking the metropolis from high on HK’s Lion Rock – a symbol of local Hongkonger identity – was also widely reported. The HK group responsible for the advertisement raised over HK$100,000 (US$ 12,900) from 800 supporters through online crowd sourcing. (Chow, 2012b) According to AFP (2012) reporting, Chinese state-media had to intervene to calm Chinese netizens. In late-2013/early-2014 another anti-mainlander advertisement was crowd sourced online and placed in local media. Flyers of the advertisement could be found online and on various structures in the city. One flyer was even posted on a column near to the front entrance to the HKSAR government complex.
There were also many other important (in size, influence, and visibility) anti-mainlander or anti-communist events in 2012. (Garrett & Ho, Forthcoming July 2014) This included Hongkongers’ rejection of mainland-style patriotic education[i] (seen as brainwashing) that ultimately forced the local government to back down after a massive public mobilization.[ii] There was also the momentous, year-long opposition to the s/election of HK’s current chief executive over fears of his alleged underground Communist Party membership. And then there was the “Locust World”: For some Hongkongers the viral video depicted the hidden underbelly of OCTS and its ideology of relentless integration. All the perceived insulting, humiliating, and uncivilized mainlander transgressions and violations of HK, the HK identity, and “Hong Kong Way of Life” by waves of misbehaving and bad mannered mainlanders are vividly argued in this theatrical online performance.
Another transgressive viral video, Attack on China [iii], and in some renditions, Attack on Shina, invoked the same slur the anti-locust protesters were excoriated over for using. Derived from the Japanese anime and manga series, Attack on Titan, the story is a reimagined David and Goliath tale of a tiny isolated enclave of humans fighting for survival against and endless onslaught of humongous, mindless humanoids seeking to devour them. In other words, tiny HK versus the flood of mainlanders devouring all their resources. Within the video the giants are represented as the PRC and giant locusts with five-starred eyes replace them in latter scenes. The members of HK’s autonomy, HK first, and separatist movements are the putative heroes saving the territory from giant ‘red’ locusts. Through popular culture troops as these and others, like “Attack on China/Titan” placards on display during last week’s “anti-locust” action, these protesters see themselves as attempting to “Defend our Hong Kong Land” from those who would exploit and ruin it. (Garrett, 2014) Placards bearing displaying this concept were used during the “anti-locust” protest.
Anti-mainland ‘invasion and integration’ sentiments – including representations of mainlanders as locusts and ‘colonizers’ of HK – were similarly numerous, equally transgressive and blatantly apparent throughout 2013 and in early-2014 albeit frequently backgrounded or ignored by local MSM media (and government statements.) For example, placards and banners demanding “China to Get Out” were endemic at many anti-government protests at China’s Liaison Office in 2013. And during the annual July 1st democracy march T-shirts visually shouting “Fucking Chinese Dictators!” or “I’m a Hongkonger” (and in various other derivatives) were very discernable among the hundreds-of-thousands of protesters.[iv] Protesters even brandished a huge banner demanding “Chinese Colonists Get Out!!” Colonial and HK autonomy movement flags, placards, T-shirts and other symbols were also noteworthy for their numbers observed during the protest. The Attack on China video mentioned before was released shortly before the July 1st protest in 2013. Notably, The ‘anti-locust’ actors from Canton Road were even in prominent display at the 2014 New Year Day protest bearing the same claims as given last Sunday – yet, they were mostly ignored by HK’s MSM and the Chinese and HK governments – at that time. Which begs the question, why now are they such a threat?
Closing, or Rather the Beginning
Parts One and Two of this exploratory essay has examined the dubious hegemonic framing and construction of moral panic in HK over the actions of a small group of anti-mainland, pro-HK activists engaged in transgressive contentious political performances. It disputed and arguably dispelled the most particularly egregious and unsustainable frame deployed by the authorities, and seemingly initially uncritically reproduced by the majority of HK’s English-language media: that of an existential reputational threat posed to the HKSAR’s prosperity and relationship with the mainland due to the ‘insulting’ and ‘humiliation’ of mainland tourists by the protesters. In the course of this attack, it also provide substantive counter-arguments to another primary frames deployed by the ruling forces, namely, the alleged exceptional nature of the anti-mainland sentiment. Taken together, the two responses unveiled distortion and exaggeration in hegemonic accounts of the alleged atrocity of February 16th and demonization of a marginal actors responsible for the claimed moral violations. Concurrently, observations bringing into question the role of pro-regime counter-protester groups’ or their supporters’ culpability in instigating or contributing alleged “scenes of chaos and turmoil” on Canton Street were presented.
Ultimately, the ‘anti-locust’ action of February 16th, no matter how discriminatory, intolerant, transgressive, and/or regrettable, can be said to be a vivid symbol of unresolved Hongkonger anger and failed Chinese and HKSAR government policies of rushing the integration of HK into ‘One Country.’ Even more so, the impatient and premature pushing forward the mainlandization project has created new problems for the regime(s). The missteps have now given birth to a new generation of dissidents – ones that we are seeing who are much more willing to transgressively confront the ruling class, and spectacularly so. Political parties are less important to these forces than to their more subservient democratic predecessors – a fact the organizer of the ‘anti-locust’ protest stated. (Ng, 2014) Moreover, because of the perceived success of the regime in co-opting political struggle through the ballot, legal regress, and even civil street protests, they see more strident action necessary to be heard, seen, and felt. Not only will they not “Look Down”[v] they won’t be ignored.
Daniel Garrett is a PhD. Candidate in the Department of Applied Social Studies at the City University of Hong Kong and CPI blog’s emerging scholar.
A., W. (2013, December 10). Hongkongers, mainlanders and the tale of the ‘abducted baby’, Opinion, Global Times. Retrieved from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/831301.shtml#.Uwb7DvmSySo
AFP. (2012, February 2). Hong Kong ‘locust’ ad angers mainland netizens, Asia One. Retrieved from http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Asia/Story/A1Story20120202-325526.html
AFP. (2013, December 4). Hongkongers still ‘negative’ about mainland visitors, HKU poll shows, South China Morning Post.
Chow, J. (2012a, January 9). Dolce & Gabbana Photo Ban Sparks Protest, The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2012/01/09/dolce-gabbana-photo-ban-sparks-protest/
Chow, J. (2012b, February 1). ‘Locust’ Ad Breaks in Apple Daily, The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2012/02/01/locust-ad-breaks-in-apple-daily/
Garrett, D. (2013a). Online Counter-hegemonic Resistance in China’s Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/chinapolicyinstitute/2013/11/25/online-counter-hegemonic-resistance-in-chinas-hong-kong-a-very-quick-glance/
Garrett, D. (2013b). Visualizing Protest Culture in China’s Hong Kong: Recent Tensions Over Integration. Visual Communication, 12(1), 55-70.
Garrett, D. (2014). Superheroes in Hong Kong’s Political Resistance: Images, Icons, and Opposition. PS: Political Science & Politics, 47(1), 112-119.
Garrett, D., & Ho, W. C. (Forthcoming July 2014). Hong Kong at the Brink: Emerging Forms of Political Participation in the New Social Movement. In J. Y. S. Cheng (Ed.), New Threads in Hong Kong’s Political Participation. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.
HKU. (2011). A Study on Understanding our Young Generation. Hong Kong: The University of Hong Kong.
Ng, K.-c. (2014, February 17). Scuffles break out as protesters hurl slurs, abuse at mainland Chinese tourists, South China Morning Post.
Siu, P. (2014, February 22). I don’t hate mainlanders – just their behaviour, TST protest organiser says, South China Morning Post.
Tilly, C. (2008). Contentious performances. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tourism Commission. (2013). Latest Progress in Taking Forward the Reform of the New Regulatory Regime for the Tourism Sector in Hong Kong (I. a. T. B. Commerce, Trans.): Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.
[i] The Anti-Moral and National Education movement.
[ii] Reportedly, the student-led anti-national education movement was the impetus of the political awakening of the “anti-locust” protest organizer, Ronald Leung Kam-shing. (Siu, 2014)
[iii] For other online video mashup reflections of HK-mainland tensions see Garrett (2013a).
[iv] These T-shirts were also sold at street stations for fund raising during protests and at some local holiday fairs.
[v] Refers to the song “Look Down” from Les Misérables. The movie has become one of the popular totems of resistance to many in HK’s protest and resistance movements. The song, Do You Hear the People Sing? has been defiantly deployed in many protests.