Joshua Wong was seventeen years old the first time he was arrested in 2014. As a leader and a participant in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest, the Umbrella Movement, the Beijing Government considered him anti-Chinese: a threat to the stability of country. Lucky for him, despite the possibility of spending five years in prison, he avoided a prison sentence. Instead, the judge sentenced him to pay a $3000 fine.
Four years later, the same man, now twenty one years old, was arrested on Aug 17, 2017 for failing to comply with a court order to clear from a major protest site in Hong Kong. Regardless, Wong, along with the other two of his comrades Nathan Law and Alex Chow, feels no remorse. In fact, during the trial, when the judge sentenced him to six months in prison, Wong confessed to all charges.
“We will vote in prison in the March by-election. We will accept it with calmness. We hope the pro-democracy camp will unite,” Wong tweeted, according to Al-Jazeera. While Law and Chow received seven and eight months in prison respectively, the decision would also forbade Wong and his comrades from running for a seat on the Legislative Council in Hong Kong for the next five years. No bail had been posted in the first trial on January 17, 2018 for any of the defendants, though the High Court considered the possibility setting bail in the second Hearing.
Ever since 1997, when Hong Kong was transferred under Chinese authority from Great Britain, China has operated under a system known as ‘one country, two systems’. The idea was developed by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the Republic of China in the early 1980’s. While China would have authority over territories like Hong Kong and Macau, those territories would retain their previous governmental and economic systems. In the case of Hong Kong, because it had been under British control for 156 years, it had already adopted more western style of government and economic policy- in other words, a democracy and capitalistic system. The rest of China would remain under a socialist form of government.
However, no theory is perfect in practice. Because Hong Kong and the Chinese government have functioned under such different systems, they contrasted each other in how they defined freedom. Soon after Hong Kong was transferred to China, the Beijing government had promised allow Hong Kong citizens to elect their own officials, but only out of candidates that Beijing had approved. After multiple attempts on Beijing’s part to undercut Hong Kong’s democracy, protests exploded within Hong Kong in 2014. These protests, still very much active especially with the news of Wong’s arrest, are now known as the Umbrella Movement. This movement is a pro-democracy revolution led by students in response to 31 Decision, otherwise known as 2014 NPCS Decision. Mirroring the initial elections in 1997, this act would allow the Chinese government to pre-screen Hong Kong’s candidates in legislation. In other words, any Hong Kong official starting from 2014 would more than likely be someone in Beijing’s government, not someone Hong Kong’s people would approve of. Students from Hong Kong started the Umbrella Movement in response to the passing of this law, that would silence any opinion that differed from that of the national government.
Wong stands at the center of this movement, fighting for individual rights and a more democratic system while holding an umbrella. As a symbol of a peaceful movement, the umbrella not only acted as a physical barrier, but also as a figurative shield against political oppression and police violence.
Three years later, the movement is still strong and alive. Upon the arrest of Wong and his comrades in August 2017, members of the Umbrella Movement and members of smaller more radical political groups (ex. Pro-Independence groups) took to the streets to protest the unlawful arrest of their unofficial leader. Initially, Wong and the other two defendants were given community service sentences, but then the government bid to dish out harsher punishments on the youth leaders; this is a clear attempt on the government’s part to silence the pro-democracy Faction.
Luckily, the government failed on at least one level of oppression. On January 23rd, 2018, Wong was released on a bail. According to the judge overseeing his case, the original sentence had not taken into account Wong’s age in 2014, which gave Wong grounds to apply for an appeal only after three months in prison. Unfortunately, the other two activist leaders were unable to appeal for bail and will most likely be forced to serve out the rest of their prison sentences.
Without a doubt, this is a clear victory for the pro-democracy faction in Hong Kong. Although Wong did not mean to become one of the faces of the Umbrella Movement, he is, without a doubt, a political figure crucial to helping preserve the rights Hong Kong residents have been promised since 1997. He does not consider himself a politician, but people don’t have to become politicians to fight against police violence and oppressive governments. The simple act of protesting and speaking up in the face of violence often is more than enough to spark a revolution. The simple act of standing up for your own belief is enough to inspire others fight for
their individual rights and freedoms- the very luxuries that we Americans have enjoyed for decades.