Feeling the Miracle of Faith through Political Activism
An Interview with Benny Tai




The Motivation for the Umbrella Revolution

Benny Tai

An initiator of the 2014 Hong Kong Protests and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

Benny Tai was one of 4 people who initiated the 2014 Hong Kong protests. As the Beijing Government continues to pressure Hong Kong, we interviewed him on his thoughts on the 2014 protests and how he is trying to protect freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. He spoke of future activities to demand democracy in opposition to China’s threats.

Interviewer (I): You are one of the initiators of the Umbrella movement. What compelled you to become a leader of the political activists?

Tai (T): I was born in Hong Kong and I love Hong Kong very much. We really see Hong Kong as our home. I think there’s still a lot of unfairness in the present system, and only if we can put more pressure on the Chinese government, will we be able to establish a true democratic system in Hong Kong. So in 2013 we started this non-violent, civil disobedient movement of “Occupy Central”.


I: Do you think the Umbrella Revolution was successful in bearing fruit?

T: If you look at the results, we still could not change the system, so we still do not have a true democratic system in Hong Kong, but I think we have awakened a whole new generation of Hong Kong people. Most Hong Kong people would care more about making more money, but after the Umbrella Movement, the democratic dream became the dream of a lot of Hong Kong people, especially the younger ones. The Chinese communist party is a giant we are fighting, so we must have a strong determination. And I can see it among a lot of our young people.


The Personal Costs of the Revolution

I: Could you tell us your experiences in the Umbrella Revolution?

T: Since the time I started the movement, I suffered a lot of attacks from pro-Beijing people and sometimes I felt like giving up. But I am a Christian, and I think I got strength from my faith to continue the journey. I saw many miracles in countless critical moments.


I: What kind of miracles?

T: When we proposed Occupy Central, the Chinese government suddenly announced that they held rights to govern Hong Kong. This would diminish our government even further. In organizing a political referendum against this breech of promise by the Chinese government, we needed a proposal of political reform with public endorsement to put forward to them. Problems arose when the electronic voting platform we set up fell prey to cyber attack on a scale like never before in history. But miraculously 800,000 people voted in the end.
When I announced the Occupation, early morning of the 28th of September 2014, we asked for 10 000 people to occupy, but the police enclosed the area and we could only get around 1000, not allowing other people to enter. We thought the Umbrella movement might end very fast, but a lot of people began gathering outside the police line. It looked like the Israelites walking the parted Red Sea.
Even when the police fired tear gas, the people continued the struggle in the name of democracy for 79 days.


Furthering Freedom Through Students & Education

I: You wrote in the New York Times that you only have a 40% support rate in Hong Kong, and you want to raise it to at least 50%.

T: It will not attract much media reporting, but I think education is very important. One project that I’m doing now is that we train our University law students, to develop some teaching activities on the rule of law, on democracy, and we arrange for them to go to the High Schools to conduct those teaching activities. In 2015, we had about 20 University law students teach around 1,000 high school students about the importance of democracy. In five or ten years time, I think we will be able to get more than half of the population supporting democracy in Hong Kong.


I: You think the pro-Beijing camp is gaining strength as you do this?

T: I believe that we have a better chance of getting the support of the younger generation because of the ideas. It’s just like selling products: we have a much better product. Surely people will like Japanese TV sets better than one produced in Africa, because it’s a better product. Democracy is better to the younger generation because it will respect their rights more, and it will allow them to have more room to express their views and also to realize their own goals – than just some meeting the goals of authority. China is trying to sell a much less attractive product. So, again, time is on our side.
Hope for the Future


I: How do you see Hong Kong’s future?

T: What happens in Mainland China will surely affect what will happen to Hong Kong. China may fall into civil war and then Hong Kong will have to face a much more difficult situation. We have to prepare ourselves for any changes in the future and worst-case scenarios. If we Hong Kong people chose to walk our own path, I think this should also be respected and supported by the international community.


Democracy & Apathy: The Need for Participation

I: While people in Hong Kong are actively participating in politics, Japanese young people are indifferent, and many refuse to vote. What do you think about that?

T: Now that’s actually the challenge of a democratic system. In Japan and many other democratic countries, democracy is just about voting: but democracy is more than voting. It is about participation, it is about deliberation, and whether you can actually influence the policy, and therefore your future. I believe Japan also needs democratic reform. We need to engage the people together to work out what they actually want, and then they should join hands together to fight for that. I think this is the democratic spirit that I hope to cultivate in the Hong Kong community.


China’s Threats to Hong Kong’s Freedom Increase

I: Do you feel pressure from the Xi Jinping government increasing?

T: Yes, I think Xi Jinping might be one of the strongest leaders after Mao Tse-tung. We could see the Chinese government interfere into Hong Kong matters more and more, especially after the Umbrella Movement. How long and how far we can maintain, is always a question mark.


I: There was a case where the Booksellers were abducted.

T: Yes, I think the bookseller incident raised some alarms for a lot of Hong Kong people. In the past, we still believed that we would be safe in Hong Kong. The people now worry whether the Chinese government is to be trusted to honor the promise of “One Country, Two Systems”. Now we have to care more about whether we breached some Mainland China laws, and if we had, we might disappear, and that worries quite a number of people.


I: Xi Jinping announced in the media for all political parties to pledge their allegiance to China.

T: Yes. Although Xi Jinping might have consolidated his power, that does not ease the concern about the crisis that might be faced by the Communist regime in the coming years, because the economic growth has slowed down and globalization might change the Chinese people’s views or expectations in their own government.


Awakening a Freedom Mentality in Mainland China

I: Do you think you can awaken Mainland people’s mind to democratize their own country?

T: In the Law School here we have students from Mainland China, and so they will be able to understand more about the things happening in Hong Kong. And if we look back through history, Hong Kong is always the place where people got inspiration for changes in Mainland China – like the revolution in 1911. They see things we are doing in Hong Kong and inspire the people in Mainland China to seek for something similar.

I’m not saying that China could introduce full-scale democracy immediately, but at least that could inspire more people to go along that path.

I: Thank you. I really appreciate your time today.

Feeling the Miracle of Faith through Political Activism
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