Joseph Y. Lian: American Revolution & May Fourth Movement are Far more Violent than Hong Kong Resistance (Trans. Chapman Chen, Local Press Hong Kong)

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Liberty Leading the People. 1830. Oil on canvas, 260 x 325 cm.


The 1898 Hundred Days Reform was absolutely peaceful, rational and non-violent, but the authorities’ suppression of it was extremely violent (Six leaders of the reform were executed; the others fled overseas; and the emperor was put in house arrest.) However, what later succeeded in overthrowing the Ching regime was the 1911 Revolution, which involved a lot of violence. Here, history’s hints about the appropriateness of violence and non-violence are unclear, because the revolution ensuing the 1911 Revolution was even worse and much more violent. Today, we are also discussing whether the means of social activism should be peaceful or valiant, but history is in the main silent. The fact remains that in today’s Hong Kong, the price of valiant/militant resistance is very heavy (NB: there are now at least 31 imprisoned dissidents in connection with the 2016 Lunar New Year Mongkok Police-civilian Clash) but not without sizeable rewards. But Hong Kong activism is still far away from being able to carry out long-term valiant resistance; it can only reach the periphery and had better stop there.

It is problematic for certain pan-democrats to condemn valiant resistance on moral grounds

From now on, the work of struggling for democracy, planning for self-determination and promoting independence can be, and have to be, peaceful. Yet, it is problematic for certain pan-democrats to morally condemn valiant resistance. Not only the 1911 Revolution was violent; the 1919 May Fourth Movement students who burnt the house of a corrupt government official as well as the 1776 American Revolution were also violent.

Peaceful Resistance is a Matter of Expediency

The nation-building myths of the China Empire, The Tong and Mo Revolutions (1600 BC and 1046 BC), the latter of which overthrew the tyrant King Zau (1075-1046 BC), were definitely violent. Meniscus (372-289 BC) said, “I have only heard of slaying a bad guy known as Zau; have never heard of regicide.” Ultimately, both slaying a bad guy and regicide are violent. The Hong Kong pan-democrats’ ground for opposing valiant resistance, even taken to the extreme, should only be treated as a kind of expediency (NB: in view of the huge discrepancy in power between the authorities and the activists). History’s hints have never overstepped this view.


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