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Have you ever thought of changing the world right when you were still starting to solve equations involving letters or explore the wonders of the Internet? Thinking about it might be the first step but it is arguably not going to get you somewhere. If we are to change the world, a bespectacled Asian student said, we need to go to the streets. Yes, in such a young age, he already knew that education is best acquired outside the four corners of the classroom. The student I am referring to is Joshua Wong, co-founder of the student movement Scholarism which staunchly opposed the incorporation of pro-China and pro-Communist education materials into Hong Kong’s public school curriculum. At a tender age of seventeen, he is already an experienced activist. He started mobilizing students when he was 15 and is at the forefront of the Occupy Central movement. In such a business-minded city such as Hong Kong where any form of civil disobedience is seen as stumbling block to economic development and is, therefore, frowned upon, a host of student-led pro-democracy groups battling against China’s autocratic tendencies thrives. Here, student activism is alive.

When Hong Kong ceased from being a colony of the United Kingdom (UK) as the former was returned to Chinese rule, an agreement was signed between the UK and China stipulating that Hong Kong shall be granted a high degree of autonomy. However, this autonomy has always been compromised by China’s interference to Hong Kong rule. Heavily prejudiced in favor of Beijing sentiments, the democratic rule in Hong Kong is one that is cloaked in droppings of democracy but deeply flawed in the inside. We could not go further but cite China’s recent proposal to Hong Kong stating that citizens can elect their leader in the year 2017 but with one condition: candidates need to receive Beijing’s approval. With China’s blatant measure to influence electoral reforms in Hong Kong, students stormed out of their classes and went to the streets instead to express their disgust.

The series of student strikes and protests in Hong Kong is something that the Mainland China regards as problematic. Such youth opposition makes the China’s clout of influence to Hong Kong unstable. Waves of civil disobedience, no matter how Beijing tries to conceal it, have weakened China’s grasp of Hong Kong. China cringes on the sight of students who chant in the streets, unfurl banners with messages motivating bystanders to take into action, and unite for a noble purpose. China hates students who voice their concerns and remind the central government of their foremost duty: to serve the people. To stand in the forefront of the battle for genuine democracy in Hong Kong is to wage war against the Mainland.

Certainly, China is going to have a hard time quelling the opposition especially when the resistance involves a multitude of students and young people – most of which are not old enough to drive or vote. Any act of hostility would reap condemnation from neighboring countries and the international community. What China can do is to name as many young protest leaders as they could and mark them as targets and threats to national security. Joshua Wong was branded extremist by the State-sponsored media and named an internal threat to the Communist Party rule. But then, its purpose is to instill fear and encourage inaction among students and those who wish to challenge the central rule. These students, well-grounded to their ideology and philosophy, are those who cannot be wiped out simply by fumes of teargas, not even by staccatos of gunfire. With very high level of political consciousness and agency, China is yet to realize that the youth of Hong Kong is a strong force to reckon with. They can identify any form of repression as well as manipulation if they can see one and, with conviction, they will fight against it. With its flagrant disapproval on giving Hong Kong full universal suffrage, China is not extinguishing but rather fuelling the flame of opposition among the ardent young protesters.

As compared to the Mainland, Hong Kong enjoys relative freedom which makes it a strategic place to instigate a democracy movement that could sweep all of China. Social movements carry with them the power to ring on a message to a wide range of listeners. This power does not emanate from one person nor does it come from the leader. It comes from the collective action of the people brought together by a defined purpose. This makes suppressing a movement easier said than done as the power comes from every single person who chose to be a defender of the people’s rights. This is how the concept of popular sovereignty works. Popular sovereignty is that apparition which makes the government afraid of its people, and the force which makes the people demand from the government all that is due to them. The youth of Hong Kong knows this by heart.

Image Source: NY Daily News/Reuters