When I first saw a photograph of Joshua Wong holding up a peace sign on the cover of an article, I didn’t think much of him. Little did I know that he was the teenager responsible for a national revolution in Hong Kong.
A big crowd. Yellow wristbands. The Hong Kong police behind. And in the center, Joshua Wong, a teenager fighting for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
“Greeting my fellow citizens. I am Joshua Wong, founder of Scholarism.”
Headlines after headlines.
“Meet Joshua Wong, the Teenager Taking on Communist China.” “The Teenager who Defied China.” “Joshua Wong, the Teen who Shook Hong Kong’s Future”
July 1, 1997 is the day that marks the end of Hong Kong’s 156 years of British colonial rule. But the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China has also marked the beginning of a battle between the Hong Kong people and the gradually imposing Chinese government. While Hong Kong came under a 1 country 2 system policy, changes to the way China has maintained Hong Kong’s autonomous system has provoked challenges with the younger generations of Hong Kong who began to turn to resistance movements from their schools to the streets.
In 2012, Joshua Wong, a 14 year old student, began Scholarism, an activist group that tried to fight against China’s attempt to implement a nationalist education reform. Young Hong Kong students identify themselves solely as Hong Kongers, but when China insisted that they nationalize the curriculum of Hong Kong’s education to conform to the education of mainland China, Joshua Wong reacted.
The documentary, “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” depicts how one teenager became the face of a national movement. It traces Joshua’s story to the streets of Hong Kong, where he and his friends hand out fliers to people passing by. The screen quickly switches from Joshua in his school uniform to Joshua before a number of news reporters at the civic square, demanding Cy Leung, the selected Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to reconsider the implementation of national education.
What began as a small group of students on the streets reaching out to people on the streets quickly became a 120,000 rally protest in September of 2012, which forced Cy Leung to revoke mandatory national education. National education is not the only way that China has asserted its control over Hong Kong, however. In 2014, the Chinese parliament tried to change the system of Hong Kong’s elections, allowing the Hong Kong people to choose their chief executive, but only from a selected group of candidates screened by the China government themselves. “Democracy,” but not exactly democracy.
Since 2013, when Xi Jinping became the head of China’s communist party and the People’s Republic of China, tensions with Hong Kong have accelerated. The peak of tensions in 2014 contributed to the formation of Occupy Central, a movement that began under Benny Tai, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, which did just what it said: occupy central, an important commercial location in Hong Kong that could quickly grab the attention of the government. Joshua Wong, meanwhile, decided that Scholarism would reoccupy the civic square, an action that left him in the hands of the police.
It didn’t stop there.
When Occupy Central began to occupy Hong Kong’s highways, the government reacted with tear spray and pepper spray. Nevertheless, more and more people began to join the movement, using their umbrellas to protect themselves, and the umbrella became a symbol for resistance, one that was more powerful than the government’s use of violence.
This prolonged movement became a desperate fight for democratic rights. Joshua is still fighting today, but he still faces a number of challenges. He was recently found guilty of contempt of court, where he faces an unknown sentence. And while Scholarism has disbanded, Joshua and his friends have turned to their own party, Demosisto, one that continues to defy China’s authoritative control over Hong Kong.
When asked about what motivated him to start this movement, Joshua replied, “Before I was involved in politics I was just a normal student, a normal kid. I went to school, out effort in my studies, but those days are now gone. Why don’t we try to care about the city that we live and the city that we love?”
Indeed, Joshua’s outlook on life and success is very different from other students. While teenagers his age turn to school and the conformed idea of success, Joshua looks towards helping the future of Hong Kong.
Katy Oh '21 is an FAS Public Relations Associate studying Economics and East Asian Studies. Oh comes from Irvine, California, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org