As the shadows of authoritarianism begin to creep into Hong Kong and deepen the unease of many who have enjoyed the freedoms of “One Country, Two Systems” for over 20 years, it’s time to reflect on the colour of politics which have gradually developed in the last ten years, Yellow, Blue and Red.

It would be naively idealistic to imagine that they could somehow be blended into a harmonious and beautiful rainbow, which in this context does not refer to the LGBTQ movement. However, it should never be forgotten that a rainbow is often witnessed in the presence of storm clouds.

Yellow ribbon tied to fence in Hong Kong

The main protagonists of Yellow and Blue have staged a somewhat hostile stand-off in which the popular demands of the people are rebuffed by the uncompromising stand of a weak government propped up by Beijing.

Indeed the protesters have upped their anti-government rhetoric by dubbing the movement “Hong Kong: Revolution of our times” in order to gain international affirmation and emphasise the threat to our freedoms from increased intervention by Beijing..

Revolution is a strong word and brings with it the connotations of being either a success or a failure, because there seems to be no alternative outcome. It requires a full commitment
to one side or the other.

It’s all or nothing. You are Yellow or Blue and there seems to be no margin for an in-between Green, which, in this context, does not mean environmentalism.

File photo: HKFP.

Melba Maggay in her recent book “Dark Days of Authoritarianism” in which she includes the frank and honest accounts of those involved in the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines, provides some deep and profound reflections on how a revolutionary movement affects those who have been involved personally.

The movement was particularly notable because there was significant involvement at the barricades of Protestant and Catholic groups who helped to prevent a bloodbath between rival military antagonists and enabled the outcome to be described as a “peaceful” revolution.

However, in the preceding ten years or so of Marcos authoritarianism there were many incidents of violence and destruction perpetrated by more radical groups, while the Christian groups tried to remain at the margins.

As the darkness of authoritarianism deepened in the Philippines the need for some form of uprising became more and more urgent, and some Christian groups committed themselves with others to working among the grass roots and middle classes towards social and political change.

The urgent need to make tangible progress towards a more fair and just society eventually precipitated their decision to commit themselves to the movement at the barricades. Their intention was to take an active non-violent stance while knowing that there were others who would not stop at violence.

There are obvious parallels and clear differences to Hong Kong’s “Revolution of our Times” but the important point to note is that there came a time when action and commitment were required.

The personal accounts of some who were involved, particularly as Christians, describes how the dramatic events affected their faith, spiritual lives and their families. Committing one’s faith in action to serve a political cause greater than oneself, over which there is no control and which already has momentum, is a bold decision which always involves risk and sacrifice.

In Hong Kong’s present terms it has meant taking on the colour yellow or blue, and being prepared take to the streets in support of one or the other while accepting that violent outbreaks may accompany it.

Chinese Methodist Church on Hennessy Road. File photo: Wikicommons.

There are many Christians who are committed personally to one political side or the other, most of whom would not support the violent and destructive expressions of the revolution.

And indeed “the church” as a whole would not support it. So what, if any, role might “the church” play as a united body of believers, as a civic institution, as a voice of influence?

Is there a “Green” role for it which might provide an active non-violent buffer between the hostile rhetoric and strategies of blue and yellow? One, perhaps, that respects both sides, which is committed to providing an interface, a space between for dialogue, a fourth dimension of spirituality, one that seeks the common good, a movement that
acknowledges the need for truthful accountability as well as reconciliation?

While a rainbow may be too optimistic under our present political arrangement, the colour green might at least provide a space in which to develop some form of interim working social compact.

This does not provide a final satisfactory political solution but it could provide the stability during which one could be worked out if there was enough political good will.

Melba Maggay points out in her book that although the People Power movement was a peaceful revolution it was not in the end a successful revolution. Although there were high hopes for radical changes in politics and a reshaping of society none of that actually took place.

Despite the reclaiming of their democracy there was still poverty. Corruption was still rampant, and authoritarianism has been allowed to rise again. Why was that?

In her words “most fatal… is the enemy within. Agents of change are just as subject to corruption as the despots they want to replace” and “battles between good and evil forces in society begin in the human heart and flow outward into the choices we make.”

A black banner reading ‘Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time.’ File photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Maybe the “revolution of our times” will never result in us having a significant say in determining our own political future. Maybe the colour Red will finally prevail and become the dominant political voice that will speak for Hong Kong post-2047 and there will be no choice.

Will the revolution be just wasted energy and hot air or is there a lasting legacy that will play a significant role in Hong Kong’s future and how might the “the church” be involved?

One thing the revolution has shown us is that we do have the ability and means to determine what sort of society we want and how to resist the creeping influence of authoritarianism over our Lion Rock spirit and social independence.

To this end the revolution will always serve as an important statement of the values we believe are integral to who we are and also provide an important historical reminder to any who would want to ride rough shod over Hong Kong that we have both the resilience and determination to resist.

These values are also those which most Christians in Hong Kong would espouse as being integral to the sort of society to which they aspire. Even if the colour Green has no lasting impact it will have at least demonstrated that ‘the church’ is concerned about society, is willing to serve the people, and has the ability to act positively.

There will always be a continuing role as cheerleaders and exemplars for those who would want to build a fair and more just society and develop resilience against authoritarian influence.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

It is tempting to see the present political inertia around the protests as a welcome respite among all the fears and public concerns in combating Covid-19. But this is the very time to start preparing a new narrative for Hong Kong that is not based on the old rivalries of party politics or the uncritical megaphone herding of social media but developed in quiet reflections on how best to strengthen social values and community relationships.

As Melba Maggay suggests, it starts with a revolution in the heart and flows outward into the choices we make. The early Christian missionaries have left a lasting legacy of hospitals, schools and social services for Hong Kong.

Now it’s this generation’s turn to add its own distinctive colour to make Hong Kong not just a centre of world commerce and finance but a city whose citizens know how to work together to be a strong diverse cultural force for good.

Tony Read

Tony Read is a pastor who writes on social justice issues in Hong Kong.