Urban Sociology: The Umbrella Revolution Argumentative Essays Example
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Political conflict and issues are at the core of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, which started in September 2014. Hundreds of students organized a rally at Central Hong Kong. The goal of the demonstrators was to demand full democracy in Hong Kong amid the growing influence of the Chinese government in the city’s governance. Considering the events that occurred during the Umbrella Revolution, the main objective of the research is to essentially identify the urban problems in Hong Kong that led to the Umbrella Revolution. Data and information would be obtained from news articles that covered the Umbrella Revolution. Furthermore, the research study will focus on the identification of the link between urban social movements or social mobilisation to an entrepreneurial city such as Hong Kong.
The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
The Umbrella Revolution emerged due to political issues that stemmed from economic, social, cultural, and even historical issues. The main issue, however, is the Chinese government’s planned interference in the Hong Kong elections in 2017. Most of the players in the Umbrella Revolution were students and academics. Benny Tai, a law professor at the Hong Kong University, instigated the demonstrations. Tai mobilized students and young people to demonstrate at Central Hong Kong, the financial district of the city (Iyengar, 2014). Tai and the demonstrators named their move ‘Occupy Central with Love & Peace’, patterned after the ‘Occupy Movement’ in New York. The ‘Occupy Movement’ was the people’s response to economic and social inequity and the role of Wall Street in perpetuating inequality all over the world. Tai and the demonstrators used the ‘Occupy’ term to identify with the essence of the ‘Occupy Movement’, which is geared towards achieving equality in all aspects of life. Tai staged the protest following the arrest and harassment of several students who joined the pro-democracy demonstrations.
Aside from the demonstration at Central Hong Kong, other pro-democracy demonstrators also staged sit-ins at the Causeway Bay. Other groups also mobilized to support the demonstration. Other prominent groups in the Umbrella Revolution include the Scholarism, a group led by Joshua Wong. Wong is a 17 year old, pro-democracy student. The Hong Kong Federation of Students is another group that supported the revolution. Fellow students Joshua Wong and Alex Chow led the Hong Kong Federation (Iyengar, 2014).
Although the Chinese government agreed with the Britain about the governance of Hong Kong, the former expressed its concerns over the upcoming elections and its hesitance to allow Hong Kong to elect their own leaders. The Chinese government stated that it would only allow Hong Kong to vote their own leaders if Chinese officials select the candidates. This means that the Chinese government would still maintain its control of Hong Kong despite the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy by selecting candidates who would submit to the wills and orders of the former. The Chinese government’s mandate angered Chinese residents in Hong Kong.
Considering the foregoing issues, the Chinese demonstrators in Hong Kong staged a demonstration to demand full democracy in the city free from the Chinese government’s control and imposition. Essentially, the demonstrators want to elect their own officials without the influence or interference of the Chinese government. Aside from this demand, the demonstrators also expressed their disapproval of Hong Kong’s current chief executive. The demonstrators believed that Chun-ying Leung, the current chief executive of Hong Kong, supports the Chinese government. Instead of promoting the interests of the people, the demonstrators argued that Leung is serving the interests of China. Clash between pro-democracy and pro-China demonstrators ensued. The involvement of pro-China demonstrators complicated by the problem or issue because their presence escalated the conflict.
Social Problems that Triggered Mobilisation in Hong Kong
Chen (2014) wrote a useful article detailing the struggles of people in Hong Kong and how social inequality in the city brought about the demonstrations and the Umbrella Revolution. Chen’s article may be used to create a case study of the social problem in Hong Kong that triggered and contributed to the demonstrations. Economic gap has largely contributed to Hong Kong citizens’ call for democracy. Economic issues that create gap and inequality in the city include income inequality, unaffordable housing, decreasing quality of life, the divide and inequality between the top 1% and the remaining 99%, and reliance on the Chinese economy. All these social problems have influenced and triggered social mobilisation in Hong Kong (Chen, 2014).
Based on reports, Hong Kong’s income inequality rate has risen in the past years and is actually catching up to the income inequality rate in China. Chen (2014) presented a chart that shows income inequality in Hong Kong rose steadily since 1996 until 2011. The income inequality rate did not show any decline or improvement. Aside from income inequality, another problem that plagues Hong Kong is the cost of housing. Compared to other expensive cities such as New York and Japan, the cost of housing in Hong Kong is higher. Couple the high cost of housing with income inequality and this leads to problem or issues of inadequate housing. Only a few people can afford to own houses in Hong Kong. According to Chen (2014), one of the reasons that contributed to inequality is the involvement of wealthy people from mainland China in purchasing lots and houses in Hong Kong. Consequently, the cost of housing increased because the main players in the housing market are wealthy families and individuals.
Perhaps an indicator of income inequality in Hong Kong is the number of wealthy residents in the community compared to the number of people living below the poverty line. Chen (2014) reported that the top 1 percent of wealthy Hong Kong residents continue to get wealthier over the years. On the contrary, the number of people living below the poverty line has increased. In a chart presented by Chen, we can see that the number of wealthy people in Hong Kong have increased significantly since 2003. From 11 billionaires in 2003, the number of wealthy people increased to 45 in 2014.
Another problem that intensified the rhetoric of Chinese autocracy is Hong Kong’s growing reliance on the Chinese economy. Since 1997, Hong Kong and China have entered deals to boost economic gains in the city through partnerships in trade and export with Hong Kong. Through this partnership, Hong Kong’s trade exports to China has increased over the years. The problem with this set up is that Hong Kong has grown dependent on China. In the past, Hong Kong has remained open to trade in other countries, which served the city well because open trading to other countries increased or widened opportunities for the country. With greater reliance on China for economic growth, it has made Hong Kong vulnerable to China’s control.
Overall, all the foregoing social problems exacerbated the reasons behind the demonstration. The demonstrations may have resulted from China’s interference in the upcoming elections in Hong Kong but the social problems contributed to the public’s anger. Furthermore, the foregoing social problems intensified the demonstrator’s desire to demand for reforms in the government in order to reduce income inequality and free Hong Kong from the control of China, both politically and economically.
The Case of the Umbrella Revolution: Social Movement and Landscape of Power
In an article for Time, Iyengar (2014) explored the meaning and symbolism of the umbrella during the Umbrella Revolution. Demonstrations, which were mostly led by students and young citizens of China used umbrellas to protect themselves from the authorities’ pepper spray. During the demonstrations, Chinese police officers suppressed the demonstrators by spraying pepper solution. The demonstrators, refusing to back down, used umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray.
The police officers’ decision to suppress the demonstrators was rooted from their view or belief that the demonstrators’ actions were that of civil disobedience instead of revolution. The terms used to describe the event plays an important role not only in analysing the significance or relevance of the Umbrella Revolution but also the view or perspective of the legitimacy or rationality of the demonstration. Calling the Umbrella Revolution ‘civil disobedience’, for instance, makes it a crime that does not mean anything. On the other hand, calling the demonstration ‘pro-democracy revolution’ or merely ‘revolution’ both connote and denote progress and change, particularly a transformation from traditional ways or observances that prevent progress and development.
Hence, the view of social movements as the landscape of power largely depends on how key players see it. The demonstrators saw the demonstration as an opportunity to make their demands heard and to convince other people in Hong Kong to join their cause. Others, however, saw the demonstration as civil disobedience. Consequently, the term ‘civil disobedience’ alters the representation and meaning or significance of the demonstration. The term ‘civil disobedience’ criminalizes the demonstration, and therefore, decreases its value as a platform for social change.
For other people who see the importance of the revolution as a platform for social change, however, they understand that the revolution has increased awareness about the plight of people in Hong Kong. The Umbrella Revolution was covered in international news, which meant that they were able to gain the world’s attention. Consequently, people were familiarised with the influence of the Chinese government and their desire for power. Furthermore, the Umbrella Revolution has raised discussions about social inequity and how even wealthy cities such as Hong Kong experience this problem on a wide scale.
The Sociology of the Global City
The notion of Hong Kong as a global city illustrate the city’s role in the global economy. A global city is something that affects trade relations as well as economic growth and progress. As formerly noted, Hong Kong’s relationship with China illustrates how the city affects trade and revenue. Consequently, China’s control of Hong Kong is bound to affect the country’s position in the global economy.
The Chinese government’s involvement in Hong Kong illustrates the country’s desire to take control of the city. The Chinese government insisted that the candidates for election in 2017 must be selected by Chinese oligarchs and tycoons, all of which are pro-Chinese. On one hand, the Chinese government wanted total control of Hong Kong not only because of the latter’s economic contributions to the country but also to prevent radicalizations and democratization of China’s political structure. The Chinese government’s fears follows Leung’s low number of votes. Leung, a known supporter of China, only won by a small margin against his opponent. This means that in the next elections, there is a high possibility that the people’s choice as Hong Kong’s leader would win against the Chinese government’s choice. To avoid this risk, the Chinese government seeks full control over the candidates.
We have already discussed the political and historical viewpoints of the issue. We are now going to explore it from a cultural standpoint. As formerly noted, Hong Kong used to be a British territory, which meant that the city enjoyed the rights and liberties that the British government afforded its citizens. Essentially, the Chinese population in Hong Kong has been westernized over the past decades, which made them resistance to control and authority. Both of which were non-existent even if the British government controlled Hong Kong. Hence, culturally speaking, differences in cultural background and mind-set also contributed to the conflict between pro-democracy and pro-China movements. The former enjoy autonomy and democracy. Under the Chinese government, the citizens of Hong Kong would be fully controlled and oppressed regardless of China’s agreement with Britain.
Within the foregoing context, the global city that is Hong Kong is one that is influenced by an external power. In a way, the global city is influenced by an external power and vice versa. Hong Kong’s relationship with China is also bound to affect the city’s relations with other countries if China decides to maximise its control of Hong Kong’s manufacturing environment.
Hong Kong as an Entrepreneurial City and Comparative Urbanism
Not all citizens of Hong Kong support the Umbrella Revolution. As mentioned several times, many of the supporters of the revolution were students. Young people in Hong Kong who grew up in a democratic community influenced by the West are used to their rights and civil liberties. For this reason, they are resistant to any form of oppression or control that could affect their freedom. Nonetheless, other populations do not support the revolution. Many citizens have joined the pro-China movement to express their desire to be ruled completely by the Chinese government. Other populations, particularly the elderly, did not support the revolution. Many older people felt that the revolution would spark anger in the Chinese government. This population compare the Umbrella Revolution to the uprising in Beijing, infamously known as the Tiananmen Square massacre, wherein many people were killed after joining the demonstrations. Many old people, particularly those that witnessed or experienced the Chinese government’s tyrannical rule as well as the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989, fear that the Umbrella Revolution would also lead to another massacre. Furthermore, some adults and the elderly argue that by antagonizing the Chinese government, the demonstrators are courting restrictions and impositions that could fully strip away the rights and liberties of the people in Hong Kong (Iyengar, 2014).
Other people expressed their disagreement over the protests and demonstrators for economic reasons. Some people needed to go to work but the massive protests prevented them from doing so due to the closure of roads and streets and the dangers of venturing outside. Many people lost the opportunity to work during the demonstrations, which they resented. Overall, the foregoing discussions prove that populations in Hong Kong had different reasons to support groups or movements and agree or disagree with them.
The people’s call for the end of the demonstrations illustrate Hong Kong as an entrepreneurial city. As a city that is dependent on entrepreneurship, Hong Kong will fail to thrive if events such as the umbrella demonstration paralyse the economy. In Chen’s (2014) report, we see how Hong Kong heavily relies on entrepreneurship to gain revenue. Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry and trade relations contribute to the city’s revenue. “In entrepreneurial terms, it portrayed Hong Kong as a type of urban economic space that would manage every-expanding global-regional-local flows of production and exchange” (Logan, 2011). The demonstrations halted work, which influenced the entrepreneurial city. Despite this, the city’s entrepreneurs commended the demonstrators for trying to change the system (Lanyon, 2014). Although in Hong Kong, “business is king” (Lanyon, 2014), some business owners saw the revolution as an opportunity to instigate change. On one hand, “business owners worried publicly about destruction of property and effects on the economy, and many dismissed the student movement as naïve realists" (Lanyon, 2014). When the police officers began using pepper spray and tear gas, however, business men lauded the protesters. Businesses understood the shortcomings of the authorities and understood that they could just as easily be the victims of control and oppression. For this reason, business people understood the necessity of demonstrations even if this signalled interruptions in entrepreneurship in the city.
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