“Great willingness to sacrifice for higher values”
Hong Kong Protest Interview: Democracy Activist Joseph Cheng


The fight for freedom in Hong Kong is ongoing.

On Oct. 1 when China celebrated its 70th anniversary of communist rule, the Hong Kong police used a real bullet and shot through the left chest of a male high school student. On the 5th, the Hong Kong government invoked a new emergency law, banning face masks and other coverings by protesters.

While the protesters are being subjected to increasing pressure day by day, their momentum doesn’t seem to slow down. What inspires them? We directly spoke with Joseph Cheng, Hong Kong democracy activist and former professor at the City University of Hong Kong (as of September). (Interviewer Kotaro Baba)


–The Hong Kong government has been increasing pressure on the protesters.

Cheng: Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam and her administration believe that if they make more and more arrests, then they can dry up the strength of the protesters. Now, more than 1100 people have been arrested (as of September 2nd). There is a certain intention to arrest all the important leaders. The government wants young protesters to understand that there is a high possibility of being arrested to make [young] protesters lose their strength.

It is a psychological warfare, as well as a war of public opinion.

The Hong Kong government is trying to wait for the tide of public opinion to turn. During the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella movement, the protesters got exhausted and came to think that it was better to go back to a normal life rather than keep protesting. The Hong Kong government is waiting for that to happen again.

However, Hong Kong people are angry over police brutalities and they still support the protesters strongly.

Basically, Hong Kong people are rather pessimistic about the future at least in the short term. We understand that Beijing will not make concessions to Hong Kong citizens as a Marxist regime. The [Beijing/Marxist] regime is also concerned about the influence of the Hong Kong protests on mainland China. Since Xi Jinping is struggling with U.S.-China trade negotiations and the bad condition of his domestic economy, [Xi] is very reluctant to act weak toward the protesters. He doesn’t want to show his weakness to the world anymore.

The general opinion of the Hong Kong public is like, “I can go to a protest and join a march today. I can demonstrate my stance and articulate my demands today. I may not have this chance [to protest] tomorrow.”

We cannot protect our law, our freedom, our lifestyle and our core values if we don’t fight strongly.

In addition to [the sense of urgency to fight stronger], protesters feel encouraged by each other.

On June 9th, more than 1 million people marched on the streets. One week later, two million people marched on the streets. Even [after 2 months] in August, at least 1.7 million people marched. They know they are not alone, and this feeling of mutual support has been empowering them.

Beijing is much stronger than Hong Kong. And in order to realize their policy objectives, central leaders of China are willing to pay the price to suppress opposition. Hong Kong people understand [that China will do anything to suppress them].

However, in the long term, high pressure will not win the hearts of the Hong Kong people. Hong Kong has returned to China, but the hearts of the Hong Kong people have not returned to China. Young generations especially don’t regard themselves as Chinese, but “Hong Kongers.” Their identity as Chinese has been weakening. High pressure tactics can be very counterproductive.


–Protesters found a camera containing hardware from manufacturers connected with China’s “Skynet” surveillance network.

Cheng: Central leaders of China as well as some business leaders like Jack Ma(馬雲) of Alibaba suggested that a planned economy may integrate with Big Data, and placed an emphasis on developing various technologies surrounding Big Data. Today, they deploy what is called a “social credit system” to monitor the entire population of China. Every individual has a social credit score and if the Chinese government finds someone with “incorrect” political views, that person can lose the opportunity to buy an airline ticket or high-speed train ticket.

Hong Kong people are aware of that reality. For instance, younger people avoid using PayPal because their activities will be monitored by using its system. If we were to enter mainland [China], our mobile phones will be monitored and examined at customs. Hong Kong people are very concerned about this Chinese surveillance.


–What can we do to support Hong Kong?

Cheng: As a pro-democracy activist, I understand that we cannot ask other countries to sacrifice their interests to help Hong Kong. It’s not realistic.

However, we believe that Japan is a democratic country and that Japanese people support a fight for democracy anywhere in the world. We strongly hope that the Japanese government will show and offer moral support for Hong Kong at the very least.

We expect more from the civil society and media in Japan because they are less restrained than the government. We strongly hope that people in Japan will become interested in what is happening in Hong Kong, and express their support for Hong Kong people who are fighting for democracy.

What Hong Kong people need is not economic support, but [moral] support for their fight for democracy and the rule of law.


–Since we have heard “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” during the marches, it seems that many protesters believe in Christianity. Could you tell us the relationship between the pro-democracy movement and religion?

Cheng: There are many pro-democracy activists who believe in Catholicism. I think that those people with any faith believe in the afterlife so life in this world exists to secure a better afterlife for them. With mindsets like that, they expect to suffer more in this world. They pay less attention to the material welfare in this world and value what will happen in the afterlife. This means that they have great willingness to sacrifice themselves in this world for higher values.

They know they are going to face a lot of danger by joining the protest. They could be arrested and get a criminal record, which will be a serious liability for their future career. The police are becoming more and more brutal, yet, protesters are still willing to sacrifice themselves. This attitude [of self-sacrifice] has won support from others. Most Hong Kong people don’t support violent tactics by protesters, but they support the protesters’ bravery.

A lot of adults and elderly people are ready to help young protesters, and quite happy to help them in various ways. I myself have been involved in a fundraising activity and within two to three weeks, we managed to raise over 50 million Hong Kong dollars.

When people found out that young protesters could not afford food, they immediately bought McDonald coupons and distributed them to young protesters. When people protested at the airport on September 1st and public transport was stopped, protesters had to walk a long way from the airport to the town. However, Hong Kong people mobilized approximately 5,000 cars to drive protesters between the airport and the town.


–We will report the reality of Hong Kong so that Japanese people understand why protesters keep fighting.

Cheng: Hong Kong is facing a crisis. Hong Kong people are fighting for their dignity, for their political rights and for democracy. [Hong Kong people] hope that all people who enjoy democracy and respect the rule of law will articulate their moral support for them. By supporting Hong Kong, we can show our solidarity and mutual support in the pursuit of peace, democracy and the dignity of every single human being in the world.


–Thank you very much.

“Great willingness to sacrifice for higher values”
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