If you happened to check out my Twitter feed on the weekend, you’ll know that I attended a pair of dueling rallies outside a train station in central Vancouver. On one side, a crowd in black supporting the Hong Kong protests; on the other a red-clad flag-festooned squad bringing Beijing’s message. I was dressed in black and took pictures of the other side.
The issue · It’s a no-brainer. Hong Kong isn’t perfect but it’s a civilization, with laws and with access to the world. China is a big hulking cut-off-from-the-world prison for the mind, built on systemic brutality and corruption. I admire the Hong Kongers’ courage and fear for their future. I can’t protect them from the PRC but at least I can show where I stand, and who knows, it might even make a difference if enough other people do too and the Beijing bastards decide that crushing HK might be bad for business.
People in red · I didn’t take pictures of the pro-HK side because you can bet the other side wouldn’t hesitate to use such things against them. It was probably superfluous since the Beijingers were loaded with cameras.
Now you’ve seen all the signs they had. It was all very uniform and organized on the Beijing side, everyone was waving the same thing. On the HK side there was an explosion of hand-lettered signs among a scattering of HK and Canadian flags. In the picture above, I particularly liked the worried-looking dude looking left through glasses, and got a nice picture of him when the sun came out.
He didn’t seem to be having much fun, but that’s probably a little misleading because there were definitely people on that side who were into it.
These two dudes were definitely full of that old school spirit, mind you one of them had his little camera rolling non-stop.
And you have to ask who these people were? I suspect they fell into three baskets. First, committed pro-Party people, maybe from the Consulate, maybe with less official standing, genuinely on the tyrants’ side — the rewards are good. Second, Chinese folk here in Vancouver who’ve stayed inside the Party-line bubble, there are media offerings to help. Third, people who don’t like the Party or (more likely) don’t like politics, who’ve had effortless-but-irresistable family or professional pressure applied.
Let’s just call them all puppets, because that’s how the people pulling the strings think about them. Here’s the puppeteers’ infrastructure:
Through the crowd, you can see the table where puppets can get their placards and posters and flags. I’d just love to know who organized that table and paid for the printing.
The shouting contest · That’s what the demonstrations turned out to be. The size of the red and black crowds was roughly equal — maybe a few more on the black side? — and the police did a good job of keeping space between them; it helped that nobody I saw apparently wanted to start a fight.
Disclosure: I thought how satisfying a sudden charge across the open space at the puppets would have been, but fortunately I’m grown-up enough to keep my fantasy life where it belongs.
In terms of faces and if you ignored the colors, a lot of the people on either side could have been transplanted to the other without anyone noticing. But the black side was a little older and more grizzled and a whole lot more spontaneous and cracked better jokes and the signs were better and by the way were on the side of freedom.
Coda, with hot cars · I was kind of in the middle of the black demo and noticed that every few minutes, there’d be a roar of approval from the puppet side, countered by a thunder of booing from ours. By watching where people were looking, I traced the source to the road going by. What was happening was that a few bright Beijing sparks were driving their expensive sports cars round and round the block waving PRC flags.
Which I think kind of underlines the key point. Like Orwell said, the object of power is power. A chief pleasure of power is showing it off, and driving around in Lambos and McLarens and Ferraris is a pretty satisfying way to do that. Particularly when you can soak up applause from the plebeians on your side and jeers from your enemies.
It’s pretty simple · The people of Hong Kong don’t want to be censored, tortured, imprisoned, and killed by those whose asshole kids are driving supercars around West Coast cities across the Pacific. I’m with them.