On Wednesday the Hong Kong Police Force held a closed-door ceremony to commend many of its officers who took part in the Fishball Revolution. Interestingly, noted for special recommendation is Wong Hing-wai, who infamously fired his gun into the air to apparently control the spiralling situation in Mongkok during Chinese New Year.

Society is split on whether Wong’s actions were the right thing to do. Some would argue that it was a gesture of last resort to save his downed colleague. Others would argue that it was the firing of the gun that directly led to the much more violent clashes that followed.

Photo: TVB Screenshot.

There is much confusion about the timeline of the riots. Most people have seen the various videos, but don’t know how they all fit together chronologically. So, it’s hard for them to decisively make up their minds; was the firing of the gun a brave act that prevented further escalation? Or was it the spark that spread the flames of riot across Mongkok?

If only there was some way to know.

Directly after the riots, I conducted many interviews with people who were in various parts of Mongkok that night and there is one key incident that no citizen cameras recorded, but was incredibly significant in how the night spiralled into violence and directly relates to Wong Hing-wai’s firing of his gun.

In order to understand what really happened in Mongkok and, more importantly, what could happen again in a fresh round of government-citizen conflict, it’s necessary to reveal the untold story of the Fishball Revolution.

During the clearing of Portland Street, protesters were, for the most part, split into two groups. A large group were aggressively pushed north up to Argyle Street by a large phalanx of riot police. With nowhere to go, the angry crowd spilled onto Argyle Street and some members entered into the violent confrontation that led to Wong Hing-wai’s shots.

At this point in the night, despite what certain media outlets and the police might say, no bricks had been thrown. It can also be clearly seen from the many videos that the majority of the items that were hurled at the small collection of traffic police left to hold Argyle Street were items initially intended to block the road.

I have great sympathy for this small band of unlucky police, who were basically put into a precarious and dangerous situation by the myopic incompetence of the senior officers, whose goal seemed to be to clear Portland Street without any regard to what the crowd would do next. This elementary mistake would repeat itself many times during the night.

Significantly, many other protesters on Portland Street were not pushed north to Argyle Street but instead moved south and then east onto Nathan Road. Just like on Argyle Street, a handful of traffic police were left to keep Nathan Road clear.

Having, for the most part, escaped the full frontal attack of the riot police pushing down Portland Street, this group of protesters weren’t nearly as agitated as those on Argyle Street and began playing the penny game at the large traffic light junction of Nathan and Argyle. The penny game consists of dropping pennies on the road or zebra crossing and taking an unreasonably long time to cross – it was extensively used during the Occupy protests of 2014. It is a low intensity, half-jovial way to annoy the police.

There were about four policemen manning the zebra crossing on Nathan Road and doing their best to keep the crowds and traffic moving. The firing of the gun had already happened and no one on Nathan Road had either witnessed it or heard it. But, the information that the police had shot at the crowd began to filter through via people’s phones.

By the third cycle of the zebra crossing turning green, the crowd on Nathan Road turned angry at the news of the gun being fired and they spontaneously attacked the traffic police holding the road. All of the traffic police at the zebra crossing were seriously assaulted and literally had to run for their lives from the scene. With the traffic police gone, the crowd occupied Nathan Road.

Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Of course, these assaults do not fit into the police narrative that Wong is a hero who saved his fellow officers from further violence because, as can be seen, his firing of the gun directly led to the assault of even more of his colleagues. Whether it was morally right to do this or not is not the point here. What is salient is what motivated these protesters to act, and it was unquestionably Wong firing his gun.

Unfortunately, this incident was not filmed, but I have it from reliable sources that this incident did take place in the way I have explained. The significance of this event cannot be understated, as it directly contradicts both the police and the government’s narrative that the firing of the gun helped to quell the anger of the crowd.

In reality, the direct opposite is true. Protesters who neither saw or heard the gun being fired, but only read about it on the internet shortly after, then turned to violence and began assaulting police in an entirely different part of town.

All of those I spoke to who were there said their feelings were: “well, if the police are going to shoot us, then we’re going to fight back.” And this is exactly what happened. On top of this, it was only after – and not before – the firing of the gun, did people start to pull up blocks to prepare to throw at the police.

Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Since then, and as can be seen by the award ceremony today, the police and government haven’t learned any lessons from Fishball Revolution. Their mode is to persistently and thoroughly isolate themselves from any public criticism. Meaning their opinions and conclusions rattle around in an echo chamber of self-validating ignorance.

The accepted wisdom seems to be that in any future confrontations with the public, which is certain to happen, more weapons sooner will be their recourse. The police now regularly tout that they will consider pepper grenades and plastic bullets much quicker. Ignoring the fact that every kid that threw a stone at them that night did so because they believed the police were going to kill them.

I asked everyone I interviewed: “did you believe the police would use plastic bullets or live rounds?” And without exception, they all said yes. The threat of lethal force did not deter them or make them leave the streets. In fact, it enraged them to defend themselves further. Imagine the confrontations of tomorrow, where we could have one hundred Wong Hing-wai’s, all keen for recommendations, pulling their guns and sending the violence into the stratosphere.

Recently the police took stock of a large cache of weapons at the airport, leading many netizens to speculate; are the police preparing for war? The unfortunate reality is that both the police and government are incapable of accepting that more weapons on the street will lead directly to the precipice of all-out violence. It is now only a matter of time before someone dies and the consequences of that will be…

Richard Scotford

Richard is a freelance writer and long term resident of Hong Kong. He has a Master's Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and describes himself as a noisy muser on all things China. He has travelled extensively in Western China and once owned a trekking lodge high on the Tibetan border. He has a raw style of Opinion Journalism, with special interests in the South China Seas and deciphering Hong Kong's Localist/Independence groups.