On the fifth anniversary of the Fishball Revolution
Without 'street' life in Hong Kong (HK) the community is not living! This is about HK people taking back their streets as part of their democratic process! This pushback is still very far from being over!
Real local HK Cantonese culture is long loved and now missed: it's the 'street culture' of the city. In the midst of the sociopathic madness of one of the most oppressive, unjust, unequal, capitalist Chinese feudal plutocracies in the world this gem of local culture lies buried under the surface. For only ONE day in the year, New Years day, this authentic cultural treat was available to locals to enjoy - that is, until 2016!
Chinese New Year 2016 fell on 8 February.
How did we get here? The HK elites - real estate developers - created their monopoly through the pre-payment of the Land Premium. HK is the only place in the world that has this set up. And now at least 40% of HK's stock market is owned by just six families! HK has the world's most unaffordable housing and one of the world's largest gaps between rich and poor; 1/5 people in HK live below the poverty line.
The real estate developers reportedly use the 'triads' (local mafia) to squeeze the landowner to sell out at the price they want. The wealthy, police and triads all worship the same deity 'Kwan Tai'.
The HK government, whose employees earn at least 3 times more than they would in the private sector, have for a long time been in cohorts with the HK real estate developers. The government has, in the name of public 'food and hygiene', moved the old street 'dai pai dong' selling all manner of inexpensive street foods and drinks off the streets and into shopping malls and restaurants.
For a few, this arrangement is a nice cushy commercial relationship!
UNLESS you happen to be part of the HK majority (at least 70% of the population) who are peacefully protesting for political reform by upholding the Joint Declaration and the rule of law.
HK protesters have been locked out of their rightful democratic process with a Legislative Council that is not according to universal and equal suffrage elections as required under HK legislation. So, in 2019 they again took to the streets.
Thanks to Kevin Carrico for his timely reminder in the following article.
This is still very far from being over! Gai yau!
Pepe and Jeremiah B.
On the fifth anniversary of the Fishball Revolution｜Kevin Carrico
Apple Daily 12 February 2021 by Kevin Carrico
This week marked the fifth anniversary of the Fishball Revolution, a clash in Mongkok between police and locals on the first night of the Lunar New Year, February 8-9, 2016. There is no way to deny that this event was a major turning point for Hong Kong’s civil society and political culture as a whole, yet the anniversary this week has passed largely without remark.
I thus thought it might be worthwhile to use this week’s column to reflect on the lessons of the Fishball Revolution five years later, thinking through the meaning of this moment for Hong Kong’s present and future.
The first lesson to take away from the Fishball Revolution, in my reading, is its revolutionary reassessment of the relationship between civilians, the police, and the regime that the police serve.
The Fishball Revolution was of course ostensibly about hawkers’ ability to set up food stalls in Mongkok, hence the name “Fishball.” Yet if we simply halt our reflections at this point, the entire event comes to seem incomprehensible: activists engaged in clashes with police and faced lengthy prison sentences over street food? This would be like saying that 228 was about tobacco.
There is thus a need to delve deeper to understand that the pressures that the food stall hawkers faced from police that evening were symptoms of a deeper illness in relations between the local population and the state.
The genuinely groundbreaking insight that the Fishball Revolution embodies is recognition of the Hong Kong Police Force and the regime that they serve as colonial occupying forces interfering in and suppressing local ways of life. This is what participants that evening were both revealing and fighting against.
This insight, first articulated among a small group of activists and thinkers on the fringes of political discourse in Hong Kong, has been increasingly widely recognized as the reality of state-society relations in recent years: the police force’s indiscriminate violence in 2019 and its complete colonial unmasking under the so-called National Security Law made this truth all too apparent. Fishball was, in retrospect, very much on the cutting edge of this revelation of the regime’s true nature and loyalties.
The second lesson to take away from the Fishball Revolution, inseparable from the first, is the urgency of expanding modes of resistance against this regime into previously uncharted and admittedly more forceful territories.
Nonviolent resistance to injustice is of course a beautiful and laudable idea, made even more beautiful in its success, when such success is possible. Yet in its general feelgood pleasantness, peaceful resistance risks becoming at best a misplaced assumption, divorced from the actual conditions within which people find themselves, and at worst an impractical moralizing dogma.
In conversations with academic colleagues throughout the 2019 anti-extradition movement, for example, I was told endlessly of the prime importance of the movement remaining nonviolent: from the civil rights movement in the United States to South Korea’s transition from dictatorship to democracy to the peaceful resistance to the Kuomintang occupying regime in Taiwan, everyone can list examples of the inspirational moral power of nonviolent resistance.
Yet what my interlocutors failed to note is that for all of its success in other sociopolitical contexts, nonviolent resistance has never in fact succeeded in giving even the slightest pause to the endlessly violent rule of the Chinese Communist Party, whose exercise of power remains safely insulated from any ethical concerns. The track record for nonviolent resistance under CCP rule is in fact grim: from Beijing to Tibet to Xinjiang to Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party and its servants have never hesitated to use all of the ammunition available to them to bury and render useless any and all forms of nonviolent resistance.
Thus, after years of peaceful protests in the form of the June Fourth Massacre vigil and the July 1 march, which had in their annual repetition become increasingly ritualized, the Fishball Revolution reflected a newfound recognition of the need for novel paths forward in not only voicing resistance but in fact resisting.
The Fishball Revolution thus presaged new visions of state-society relations and more confrontational modes of resistance. Yet the state’s response to this event also previewed how an increasingly controlling and desperate regime would respond to such resistance.
The Hong Kong government spared no time in 2016 in classifying the Fishball Revolution as a “riot,” a verdict driven more by the desire to condemn than by the reality of the events.
Such eagerness presaged the near instantaneous condemnation of the largely peaceful gathering in Admiralty on June 12, 2019, as a “riot,” a trend which has only accelerated in the National Security Law era to the point that any gathering of a few people that is not a group of blue-ribbon idiots cheering the NSL immediately becomes an “illegal assembly.”
The government also showed its hand in its unforgiving prosecution/persecution of young activists at the site of the clashes in Mongkok. Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, currently serving a six-year prison sentence on Fishball related charges, is undoubtedly the most famous case, clearly intended to serve as a deterrent to other activists. Yet there are many other Fishball-linked political prisoners who deserve our attention and concern.
Foremost among these, in my opinion, is Andy Wai Yip Yung, who is currently serving a sentence of three years in prison. Yung, also known as “Captain America” as a result of his propensity for dressing up as this cartoon character, has been diagnosed with autism and developmental disabilities. Raised by his elderly grandmother from a young age, Yung represented the Hong Kong swimming team at the Special Olympics in Sydney in 2000.
Yet despite the obvious negative impact of imprisonment on his mental health as articulated by psychiatric experts at this trial, as well as supporting letters from 125 citizens, Yung was still sentenced to three years in prison on the basis of thoroughly unconvincing evidence. In this sentence the government, showed its eagerness to go beyond mere repression to meanspirited vindictiveness, ruining lives to make its point.
Faced with such obvious political persecution, still, others fled into exile: Ray Wong of Hong Kong Indigenous was one of the first to do so after Fishball, and has now been followed in the National Security Law era by a growing number of activists who recognize that exile is sadly the only refuge from Hong Kong’s broken political and legal systems today.
The government’s response to the Fishball Revolution in 2016 thus signaled its own inability to work with and respond to Hong Kong’s politically engaged and active civil society, opting instead for clumsy and impulsive repression that appears to work in the short-term but in the long-term in fact leaves issues fundamentally unresolved to fester below the surface: the China model.
In sum, reflecting on the events of five years ago, it may seem difficult to imagine an event like the Fishball Revolution happening again today.
Yet at the same time, the regime’s increasingly wanton repression also means that another event like the Fishball Revolution is in fact inevitable: the only question is when.
(Kevin Carrico is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Monash University and the author of Two Systems, Two Countries: A Nationalist Guide to Hong Kong, forthcoming in late 2021).