What Hong Kong Protest Can Teach Us About Life and Death

by | Jun 29, 2019

News about the Hong Kong protest has been appearing on my feedback for many days. For the lost souls who are still unaware of what is going on, I will provide a quick background to bring you up to date.

Backstory of the Hong Kong Protest

It all started with a murder case in 2018. A Hong Kong woman was killed during a holiday trip with her boyfriend in Taiwan. Though her boyfriend admitted to the murder after returning home, the authorities can’t extradite him back to Taiwan to stand trial.

The reason?

There is no extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hence, the Hong Kong police can only charge him with money laundering charges from using the woman’s credit card.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s wanted to use this case as a basis to justify an extradition bill with China. This sparked off a whole load of unhappiness and fear among the Hongkongers because the extradition bill would allow Beijing to seize fugitives for political or commercial reasons. For example, there was a case of the Hong Kong book sellers disappearing overnight. So for the people of Hong Kong, the fear is real.

Hong Kong Protest

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

The protest was intense. More than 1 million people joined historic Hong Kong march against extradition bill. This forced Carrie Lam to suspend the bill indefinitely. Unfortunately, the mass rally continued and the people demanded the government to retract the bill and not just putting it away indefinitely.

Many Chinese in China are also unsympathetic to the Hong Kong’s protestors. A number of them felt that Hongkongers are too spoiled for their own good. Technically, the one-country-two-systems process will end in 2047, which is less than 30 years from today. So for Beijing, the wise thing to do is to wait patiently. In 2047, the outcome will still be the same – China’s Socialism for Hong Kong.

And so? What has life got to do with the Hong Kong Protest?

Hong Kong Protest 2

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

Here’s the paradox – why do people of Hong Kong do what they do? Is freedom more important than stability?

I think there is something important to learn from the people of Hong Kong and we can draw psychological insights at individual level. That fundamentally, we are meaning making creatures. Once the goal of filling our stomach and ensuring basic safety are met, other psychological needs will eventually take priority.

This is a pretty intuitive idea. For example, once you passed the struggle of being able to pay off your basic expenses and experienced economic surplus, your consumption pattern will evolve. Just think about the people around you (or yourself) and you will discover that this is often true.

I just dined at the famed Lobster and Burger at Jewel Changi. The Lobster roll set me back by a whooping $40 each.

Lobster & Burger

In the past, the consideration for meal purchase used to be strictly economical when I was a student. $40 for a set meal was an impossible purchase. But now, the quality of food may matters more than price. I am not saying that cost are immaterial. What I am just saying is that price isn’t the only consideration when it comes to purchase decision. Other dimensions are equally as important.

As a disclaimer, I don’t eat like this every day. Just an occasional indulgence once in a while, especially when work gets little annoying or I have an anniversary to celebrate.

One could perceive that this is natural progression of human nature. Once existing needs are satisfied, we look to satisfy other needs. However, it will be extremely hedonistic if our existence is merely about satisfying needs and what we can receive from this world. Hence in the long run, we become empty and soulless. Upon realising this route of absurdity, one would start to wonder about the other path. About one’s grand purpose beyond just surviving physically.

The idea of life goes beyond just physical survival. It comprises of what makes the person who s/he is.

And the absence of it – the idea of death.

Hong Kong Protest 3

Photo by Erin Song on Unsplash

Survival is not just Physiological

For the people of Hong Kong, democratic freedom is heavily linked to their identity. This is just as important as survival need. Or rather, this is survival. Political assimilation is no difference from identity annihilation.

This is the reason why dementia is such a painful disease. It does not kill you instantly. It slowly robs you of who you are as a person by transforming your personality and disintegrating your cognitive function.

Internally, you become a different person, even though you may still look the same externally.

With regards to the Hong Kong protest, someone made a comment.

Why fight so hard since everything will end by 2047 anyway?

Many people try to live their lives to the fullest, despite knowing that we are going to die someday. Just because we have death awareness does not mean that we should be idling and let nature take its course with a defeatist attitude. Similarly, just because the basic law guarantees only up to 2047, that does not mean that the people of Hong Kong are resigned to this destiny. 

Life is not just about the absolute outcome. It is the journey leading up to the finale that makes the trip meaningful. People feeling empowered and believed that they can make a change in society or leave a mark in history. That idea, no matter how convoluted, has always been dangerously sexy.

Take away the geopolitics. Take away the conspiracy. The people of Hong Kong will fight to retain what is granted to them under the Basic Law. Specifically on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, granting freedom of speech and assembly – among other things.

And at end game, how would you finish life? Would you finish strong?

Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. – Erich Fromm

Featured photo by Han Min T on Unsplash