Monthly Archives: February 2016

Fishball Violent Protest and the Call for Independence –Why Not “Forceful Nonviolence”?

[Updated on May 6, 2016 ]

See also “We are all localists

[for an abridged version, see Voice of Hong Kong ]

Protestors threw bricks and glass bottles etc during clashes with the police on Feb. 8-9 (the first and second days of the Lunar New Year).

The premise of this blog post: the focus is on what methods are more effective (called “pragmatic nonviolence”); the issue if the use of violence is morally right or wrong (called “principled nonviolence”) is set aside.

Painstaking research shows that nonviolent resistance is far more likely to succeed than violent resistance.  See, most of all, Chenoweth and Stephan’s award-winning research which shows a success rate of 53% for nonviolent struggles v. 26% for violent struggles: “Peaceful Protest is Much More Effective Than Violence for Toppling Dictators“; Chenoweth’s TED talk; the Freedom House’s report on how nonviolent resistance is the path to durable democracy; Col. Bob Helvey’s conversion to nonviolence as a force more powerful.  (More references under “after occupy” and “The fallacy that nonviolence has not worked”, some are pasted below.)

Edward Leung Tin-kei of HK Indigenous is plain wrong in asserting that “a bloody path of violence is inevitable during the pursuit of democracy, as seen in the history of every democratic place around the world.” Those who advocate violence have the burden to do thorough homework. 

Other pro-democracy groups debate the effectiveness of the turn to violence. See 激進派本土派辯抗爭策略 袁彌明:堅持非暴力 梁天琦重申無底線Meanwhile, new HKU student union chair also disavows violence (孫曉嵐形容自己現時的抗爭底線是不傷害他人身體,亦不會用學生會的名義帶領同學這麼做。) 

Long Hair may be out of favor with “localists” now. But he is right that violent resistance could not be effective in HK. Listen to Long Hair on Commercial Radio (社民連 梁國雄).  On the same program, Centaline’s boss Shih Wing-ching admits that he had thrown rocks during the 1967 riots. However, in general, Hong Kong people would not support violent struggle unless they are pushed to the cliff. (See 施永青:中國人逼到走投無路先會革命)  This argument is supported by scholarly research.

One of my favorite books in teaching contentious politics is Jeff Goodwin’s No Other Way Out. The title is self-explanatory. Fishball protestors clearly saw that they had no other way out this time. (See 抗爭者的眼神告訴我 他們在絕地求生A ‘rioter’ is born in Mong Kok) However, it is noteworthy that a book  that examines armed revolutionary movements in the 20th century draws this conclusion: “As both a repertoire of contention and a motivating ideal, [armed] revolution seems to have lost much of its popular appeal and influence.” [p. 298]  “Perhaps the central reason for the increasing prevalence of nonviolent or unarmed protest, however, is the general expansion of most states’ infrastructural power.” [p. 296] Infrastructural capacity refers to a state’s “institutional capacity to penetrate its territories and logistically implement decisions.” [p. 38]

Indeed, violence has a slim chance only when resisters are confronted with an infrastructurally weak state that cannot patrol every inch of its territory (as when the CCP was fighting against the KMT during the civil war). Violence has next to zero chance in the face of an infrastructurally strong state.  Although Che Guevara succeeded in Cuba, his efforts to spread armed struggles elsewhere failed miserably. More recently, a long list of armed struggles have transited to nonviolence. (See Journal of Peace Research-2013-Dudouet

Some commentaries draw analogies with the Arab Spring and Taiwan’s 228 incident. Ominously, both are cases of failure. (Never underestimate the little guy: What the Mong Kok clashes have in common with the Arab Spring)

The fishball protest represents radicalization in the aftermath of the nonviolent umbrella movement. When nonviolence is seen as having failed, it is not surprising that some people are radicalized.  (年輕人對武力抗爭看法改變】戴耀廷公開信:暴力抗爭在香港沒有出路 : “當「和平、理性、非暴力之路」不通,有些人「理性地」選擇走上「暴力之路」”. But note Hong Kong’s unrecognised mini-victories) This dynamic of perceived failure leading to radicalization and marginalization of moderate voices is again thoroughly analyzed by Goodwin. (See The ‘Third Way’ To Nowhere)

However, did the umbrella movement fail to achieve its goal (genuine universal suffrage in 2017) because the movement was nonviolent? See my analysis of why the umbrella movement failed in the Journal of Democracy (also “The fallacy that nonviolence has not worked”). 

Is nonviolence inherently weak (“和理非非”) so that protestors have to resort to what they call “forceful resistance”? (旺角衝突後,進步民主派的集體失語從改良到革命)  This is ignorance of what nonviolence is about.  NV is “a form of warfare — the only difference is you don’t use arms.” (Rosenberg 12)  Nonviolence is “a method of political conflict, disruption, and escalation.” Around the world, nonviolent resisters call themselves “warriors”.  As Kurt Schock explains what nonviolence is and is not (NV Schock):

  • It is active; not inaction, submission, passivity, not passive resistance
  • It is nonviolent; but not anything that is not violent
  • Not limited to legal actions
  • Not limited to negotiation or compromise
  • Not James Scott’s everyday forms of resistance/weapons of the weak/disguised resistance
  • Not pacifism; it is pragmatic/strategic nonviolence, not principled nonviolence
  • Not spontaneous people power: it takes planning, organizing, strategizing 
  • (See “Peaceful protest has failed us?” (“after occupy“–scroll down)

It is also a mistake to think that the “forceful” approach succeeded in reducing the number of mainland tourists in 2015. The radicals claim credit and the conservatives blame them. In fact, the situation has not seen much improvement in areas close to the border, see「一周一行」實施近一年 上水居民稱水貨客問題仍存在. Jewellery stores in Mongkok have suffered more. Yet, the decline in mainland visitors was overdetermined by a whole string of economic factors: mainland tourists’ interest in other destinations, the strength of the HK dollar at a time when other currencies were depreciating, and, most of all, China’s slowing economy. One only needs to look at Macau and see dramatic reduction in mainland tourists without anti-mainland protests. (See Hung Ho-fung’s China Boom.) 

Although the official narrative charges that the protest involved a premeditated plan, post-mortem analyses suggest that most protestors were acting spontaneously, out of anger after one police officer fired two shots. (Ambrose Lee labels Mong Kok protesters as ‘beasts’ who have lost their sense of rationality 97後首次定性「暴亂」,旺角示威者:「這是第一次,但不會是最後一次 ) Here is another scholarly insight: No form of resistance could be effective if it is spontaneous. The lack of organization is also the real cause for the umbrella movement’s failure. (See “what went wrong“.)  Nonviolent action requires more than occupation of busy streets; it takes planning, organizing, and strategizing.

Why violent resistance tends to fail? Because of the simple logic of balance of firepower: The state enjoys the comparative advantage in violent confrontations. In contrast, even the most armed security forces could be confused when confronted by disciplined nonviolence. (It is like 以柔制剛.)

One key reason why violent protests are more likely to fail than nonviolent protests is that violence backfires on those who wield it. HKI’s Edward Leung recognizes that the violent protests have backfired. (梁天琦 見到民情好大反彈,示威者都要思考,針對國家機器的同時,如何減少對無辜市民的影響,但覺得難指導每一個示威者。) People Power’s Erica Yuen notes that the police use of tear gas against nonviolent protesters motivated more people to arrive to show support on Sep 28, 2015, but few people turned out in Mongkok this time. (袁彌明指雨傘運動警方發射催淚彈後金鐘擠滿人群,而旺角當日則沒有大批群眾支援。In this episode, protestors’ violence has backfired more than the police’s use of excessive forceIt is particularly unwise to attack reporters.(See “police and thug abuses–the lesson of backfire” and “escalation by protestors can also backfire“.)  (Freedom of the press only way to protect protesters’ rights, says Journalists Association梁天琦指不認同示威者襲記者但不會「切割」示威者可打壓記者?梁天琦:真係好難答黃之鋒撐傳媒:排拒客觀報導只會令警更暴力記者採訪被警察盤問「如何看港獨」 律師:市民可保持緘默). 

Another key reason is that success is more likely when those who wear blue jeans can neutralize those who wear blue uniforms. How do unarmed protestors have a chance against the regime’s full coercive might? Only when those who wield the gun defect to your side or at least refuse the order to shoot. This is why nonviolent movements are often symbolized by protestors handing out flowers to police officers. Attacking police officers, even those who are abusive, only helps to rally support for the regime. (Former Law Society chair goes so far to suggest shooting protestersA police officer who suffered injuries still expresses concerns for young people (“雖然今次俾年輕人打,但不會放棄對年輕人的工作,希望大家多關心年輕人的問題“) Many police officers complain about why only a handful of traffic police were assigned to the protest site (旺角騷亂警隊新貴引爆前線怨氣 ) , which triggered one of them to fire 2 live shots, which then angered protestors who escalated their actions. (There is unconfirmed report that the authorities made such an arrangement on purpose to serve as a bait to provoke protestors, following the script of “Ten Years.” See 那夜旺角是不是政府的陰謀,還重要嗎?)

There is still some chance to win over the police. Let me copy from the post “HK risks descending into a police state“:

It is also worth considering Srdja Popovic’s advice–focus the ire on the CY Leung government and try to win over police officers, even one at a time. … Popovic’s message:

“we, together, are the victims of the system. And there is no reason …to have war between victims and victims. One victims are in blue uniforms, other victims are in blue jeans, but there is no reason for that blood in the middle of those two columns. So we picked up four or five headlines in the news with that message, and we know that it produced results within the police.” (A Force More Powerful)

“From the beginning, Otpor had treated the police as allies-in-waiting. Otpor members delivered cookies and flowers to police stations (sometimes with a TV camera in tow). Instead of howling at police during confrontations, Otpor members would cheer them.” (Tina Rosenberg, “Revolution U,” Foreign Policy, 2/16/2011)

Most of all, nonviolence is a force more powerful because success depends on the extent of popular participation. In this game of winning hearts and minds, nonviolence attracts while violence repels.As Long Hair points out in the radio program, Che Guevara was turned in by the very peasants he wished to liberate. This insight is even more relevant in the HK context. I have long observed that even Gandhi would look like a radical in very conservative HK. Recall that Occupy Central once wondered if they could mobilize even 100,000 supporters as of early June 2014. Given what I have been hearing from family and friends and strangers during the Lunar New Year week, the turn to violence has significantly alienated the less-than-committed, driving even those who hate the CY Leung regime to support the crackdown. (See survey results by The Third Side 新思維發表民調「旺角警民衝突.」The best outcome from this episode is the radical flank effect: if democracy supporters are prepared to take more forms of nonviolent action to avoid further descent into violence.  The danger is that radicals may be convinced that it is futile to mobilize popular support and pursue what they think is right(「勇武」真的不需要民心?— history shows that the “vanguards of revolution” with no basis in popular support could only perpetuate dictatorship (see the Freedom House report). (梁 天 琦 : 出 身 與 本 土 無 衝 突: 本民前相信「以武制暴」,但社會輿論仍反對暴力,梁天琦隨即反駁:「輿論有用咩?」更以美國獨立做例子,指要帶來真正改變往往靠少數人「喺前面衝」。他指香港獨立值得一場公投,但被問及公投理念與「少數人帶領」相違背,梁就指「所以我咪走出嚟參選」,出選是為希望強化香港人主體意識。)

Director Chow Kwun-Wai of “Self-Immolator” in the film “Ten Years” says: Violence could be counterproductive (“幫倒忙”、“好心做壞事”) and that would lead to tragedy. (新聞透視 本土與港獨 at 13 min.)

See Almost 70 percent of Hongkongers still support peaceful protests, according to CUHK poll

It is worth noting that Chin Wan, who now advocates “forceful resistance,” once promoted “joyful resistance” :快樂抗爭就是懷抱歡喜心,直面痛苦,啟發思想,集結龐大民眾,以人民總量令到壓迫者畏懼,宣揚民眾的快樂生活方式而使到壓迫者愧疚而信服,從而達致彼此的解放。」 See also 杜耀明书评:在文化战场上快乐抗争–介绍陈云著《终极评论,快乐抗争》

Hong Kong’s future looks increasingly grave. (The blog post on the erosion of freedoms has grown to be intolerably long.) However, the way out is not to resort to violent acts in the next protest, but to think about other forms of nonviolent resistance that have been proven to be effective in other difficult cases. (See “Civil Resistance: A First Look“; see also “after occupy” and “the fallacy that nonviolence has not worked”. )

It is not too late to think about “forceful nonviolence.”



People Power issues a pamphlet advocating class boycott, work strike, and general boycott《從舉傘到三罷》

[May 5, 2016] Dalai Lama urges Hong Kong not to quit democracy fight, says pro-independence activist after visitThe Hong Kong Indigenous member, who previously stated his group had no boundaries in its protest methods, said the Tibetan activists tried to persuade him to adopt non-violent means. Also 4港青年印度演讲 向流亡藏人介绍香港政情

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