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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

How could pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and China learn from the legacy of Martin Luther King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (The 2020 MLK Day). As the pro-democracy protests with the large-scale demonstrations continue in Hong Kong, I would like to point out some similarities between the U.S. civil rights movement and the Hong Kong/China pro-democracy movement, and find out some potential inspirations from Dr. King's legacy.

Photo courtesy of Brian Kraus/Unsplash

As an iconic figure of civil rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King lead over 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Washington Monument, made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech which called for an end to racism, fought for justice and equality of African-American, and contributed to the signature of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.


The achievements and legacy of Dr. King have profound implications for all the peaceful movements for people's rights and freedom, including the ongoing pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and China


From boycotting unfair laws to gaining civil rights victories


The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong was triggered by the introduction of a Fugitive Offenders amendment bill by the Hong Kong government, which made people in Hong Kong fear that the city would open itself up to the long arm of mainland Chinese law, putting people from Hong Kong at risk of falling victim to a different legal system. Likewise, Dr. King grew up in Atlanta at a time when Jim Crow laws made segregation and discrimination a daily reality for blacks in the South. Dr. King started his lifelong campaigns against discrimination and segregation by boycotting local unfair laws such as organizing the Montgomery bus boycott and leading the Selma march.


Without those early victories at the local level, the ultimate ban on discrimination in employment, public accommodations and other aspects of life would not accomplish at the national level. On 4 September 2019, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, meeting the first of the protestors' "five demands" and signaling an early victory of the pro-democracy movement. The early victory, though small, is necessary to boost the morale of the long-term pro-democracy movement.


"I have a dream," the permanent campaign slogan


Every successful campaign needs a good and influential campaign slogan. The "I have a dream" speech of Dr. King has made a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.


Hong Kong protestors also figure out some influential slogans for the pro-democracy movement, such as "Bewater," "Restore Hong Kong, revolution of our times," "Five demands, not one less," and "There are no rioters, only a tyrannical regime." Those slogans directly take on the wrongdoings of the Chinese and Hong Kong government and keep inspiring people to fight for freedom and democracy.


Fighting prejudice


Dr. King declared that all people should be judged not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Hong Kong protestors are also fighting prejudice in its unfair electoral system. Under the current electoral system, the chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member committee, rather than by popular vote. The Chinese government broke its promise of granting universal suffrage in Hong Kong, which led to massive protests that became known as the "umbrella movement" in 2014. Now the fifth demand of the protestors is the "Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive."


What's worse is the electroal system in mainland China. The Communist Party congress picks its leaders, representing billions of people, through a 200 members committee. Without solving the core issue of electoral "prejudice", people in Hong Kong and in China are likely to become more underrepresentation (Check my proposal of an Electoral College system for China).


Revolutions do not happen overnight


It took decades for Dr. King to lead civil rights movement from Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to his death in 1968. Since the 1960s, many laws have been passed to guarantee civil rights to all Americans. But the struggle continues. Today, not only blacks, but many other groups — including women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, people with disabilities, homosexuals, the homeless, and other minorities — are waging civil-rights campaigns. In today's China, there are so many social, economic, environmental, and human rights problems stemming from its non-democratic political system. The protests in Hong Kong should not be ad hoc events in the region, but the start for the widespreading pro-democracy movements in China.


Dr. King’s generation did their part in the U.S. civil rights movement. Now, it’s time to do ours in the pro-democracy movement in China. The next generation needs us to fight against the authoritarian government and promote democracy in China.





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