Book Review: Umbrellas in Bloom

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https://thenanfang.com/book-review-umbrellas-bloom/

 

Jason Y. Ng is the author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men, and has now rounded out a trilogy with Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered (all published by Blacksmith Books).

While his previous books simply described modern Hong Kong social dynamics, the latest is explicitly political and an altogether different style than the others. Now that he has written book-length political commentary, Ng has become a crucial player by being first to record the 2014 “Occupy Central” protest movement in any English-language book. It is certainly a must-read.

Umbrellas in Bloom covers a lot of ground. The complex political system of Hong Kong is detailed in very readable fashion, with all the grievances spelled out. Various charts explain how the economy has left the majority of citizens behind, and why so many were upset enough to camp out in protest for all those months. Most of all, the mainland Chinese government is shown to blame for suppressing universal suffrage for the former colony under the so-called “one country, two systems.” Indeed, observers of Beijing and Asia as a whole would do well to read this book and understand the climate of Beijing in relation to Hong Kong.

The language of the book does reflect a specific point of view; do not mistake it as a scholarly, objective report. Ng delves deeply into his unique experiences and certainly takes sides. It makes for a good read, and it’s refreshing that he does not censor himself and expresses his informed opinion with confidence. Perhaps there is an element of preaching to the choir, even getting repetitive at times—“blue ribbon” supporters probably won’t change their minds after reading—but for international readers seeking to understand, the writing style works.

The book is very personal as well. It begins on September 28th, 2014, the day tear gas was fired into crowds as the whole world watched in horror. Then, the tone jumps around as it looks back on the history of Hong Kong politics. The central villain is Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, known as a corrupt stooge of the mainland Chinese government, although the entirety of the Legco system in Hong Kong is highly unrepresentative. As 2017 approached—the promised time for universal suffrage, the Occupy Central movement grew. There was also the Scholarism student movement, led by famous student Joshua Wong (Wong wrote one of the book’s forwards). Then the tale of three villages: the occupied areas of Admiralty, Mongkok, and Causeway Bay. Different ideologies and challenges are showcased, from the police to thugs and internal struggles between different factions and nativists. Some of the most heartwarming sections are about the young people he met, such as Kent and Renee and Hinson, engaging characters all.

In the end, due to a court order of all things, the Admiralty occupation fell. Four days later, on December 15th, the police cleared out the other encampments and the Umbrella Revolution was left to ponder its own legacy. Ng is quite optimistic; surprising considering nothing on paper seemed to get enacted yet, but he does point out that other famous social justice movements throughout history took decades to achieve their goals. His conclusion is definitely that it was worth a try. “The 11 weeks I spent in Umbrellaville were the happiest in all my years in Hong Kong,” he writes. Perhaps the soul of Hong Kong has been changed in subtle ways that are not clear yet, but in the long run history will prove that things did change…

There is so much to learn from Umbrellas in Bloom. However subjective, it is definitely required reading for expats and Sinologists. Whether you were there or only watched on the news from afar, the fallout is still occurring today and enlightened observers should learn what they can.

Highly recommended for all China watchers.

Umbrellas in Bloom is available in Hong Kong bookstores, and can be ordered from Blacksmith Books.

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Hong Kong Chinglish

Recently, I went on a short trip to Hong Kong. I was just there for a couple of days, but I did find a few random pictures to share.

Like Taiwan, Hong Kong is supposed to be more modern and developed than mainland China. Yet if you seek it out, there are misspellings to discover…

And an important sticker

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Looks appetizing

 

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Dessevt spelled wrong. I’m trying here, it’s HK!

 

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Finally, that’s not funny that’s cool. Power to the People!!

 

Hong Kong video II: Return to Occupy Central

Last week I returned to Occupy Central, to observe the umbrella-raising ceremony in support of the pro-democracy protest.

Again, I was truly inspired. The scale of this movement is truly incredible.

May they camp out as long as it takes…

Here is another vid:

OCCUPY MORE!

Another amazing experience in Admiralty. The movement is still going strong a month later, with no signs of letting up. Perhaps it will be a permanent fixture in Hong Kong, wouldn’t that be amazing!

Another amazing experience in Admiralty. The pro-democracy/Occupy movement is still going strong a month later, with no signs of letting up. A substantial community of sharing and donations, an authentic anarcho-commune collective in a modern metropolis. It is truly working. In some ways it actually reminded me of Burning Man, yet it is even less regulated and more organic. An inspiration. Perhaps it will be a permanent fixture in Hong Kong, wouldn’t that be amazing!

At 6:00 p.m. sharp I witnessed the umbrella-opening ceremony. I wandered and learned a lot. I saw tens of thousands of campers, infinite yellow ribbons, inspiring post-it’s along the Lennon Wall – You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one – and recorded some more video which I hope to edit soon and share. I was blown away by the creativity. T-shirts, banners, sculptures Umbrella Man ad Spider-Man and more, with cute paper Totoros. Even a library. The KFC sign amused me. And I like the setup in the bathrooms, with toothpaste ad shaving cream and even has volunteers to clean up. Very nice. The most solemn moment was the ‘Dark Corner’ area where a recent incident of police brutality took place. Finally, the umbrella tree.

Recently, I’ve been reading the book “Why Nations Fail” and while I am not smart enough to understand economics on a complex level, the book explains in layman’s terms that civilizations tend to be extractive or inclusive economies. Extractive are always unsustainable and damage a country, but the elites prefer it because it is good for only them. It is very hard to change this. Throughout all of history, development in human rights (which in turn helps growth) never comes because elites politely give it away through their bureaucratic laws, but because the masses of people demand it. Period.

CY Leung’s recent comments about how democracy is bad because it will give poor people too much political power… That is straight out of the thesis of this book. Let me just say, in my own layman’s terms, fuck this guy and this system.

Meanwhile, the latest propaganda from the mainland purports that it is all a scheme from Western governments. I scoff at that, because if it was so easy for outsiders to start movements than why are the PRC-funded counterprotests so pathetic?! They keep coming up with new narratives, from it’s only bad for business to pretending it’s all about rule-of-law to now this. Of course, it is truly a matter of the elites…

Things will change. I know they will. It won’t be easy, and it’s always a struggle because an entrenched system cannot even comprehend positive change, but it does come eventually.

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Hong Kong Protest – Video

Last week I went to see the Occupy Central democracy protests in Admiralty, Hong Kong. Students had camped out in front of the government offices, and took over roads in order to express their frustration with authority and demand change. The movement was still going strong, after violent actions from police had the opposite intended affect and renewed the people’s motivation and strength. Sadly, since then there has been yet more brutality and there is even more healing to do. At this rate Occupy isn’t going anywhere…

At the time, the scale of the scene astounded and humbled me. I have already posted some pictures, but I think moving-pictures footage can best communicate what is happening there. Allow me to share my video:

Occupy Central

Occupy Central – Umbrella Movement – Democracy Hong Kong Protests

On Monday night I finally found the time to go to Hong Kong’s protest site in Admiralty, and I was humbled by what I witnessed. It was remarkable; a much larger scale than I had imagined.

After some violence that morning, the protest movement turned out not to be flickering down but had escalated once again. What else could have happened? Lesson learned: violence doesn’t seem to be working.

The students built barricades on Queensland Road using public property, and then a truck also delivered bamboo with accompanying cheering of the crowds.

(The next morning, I sadly read, the police had brought chainsaws and tore down the barricades.)

It is all incredibly inspiring. In front of the corrupt government offices, the movement had completely rebuilt the landscape. Tents, notices, artwork, umbrellas, endless signs. They had taken over, without permission of the System. The people are truly taking over their own city.

I’m no expert, and I don’t know what will happen. It is very possible that no legal ramifications will be directly affected any time soon. But in a sense, I believe that doesn’t even matter. I believe the culture of Hong Kong has changed in subtle, more powerful ways. Mindsets have been altered forever. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The government will never forget, from now on, that they must be more accountable and more responsible or otherwise there will be pushback from the people…

Hong Kong, and China, will certainly never be the same. And that is amazing.

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