The violent clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok District at the start of the Lunar Near Year sent shock waves to other parts of the world, as people tried to make sense of the scale of violence and what it means for the future of Hong Kong.

The incident began when Hong Kong police planned to clamp down on unlicensed street food vendors and were met with a group of angry protesters, most of them from the localist movement, which advocates for further political independence for Hong Kong.

The ordeal ended with around 60 arrests and more than 100 people injured. On top of that, police fired two warning shots after midnight in order to control the situation. Pictures of bloodied protesters and rioters on top of a deserted cab went viral on the Internet. According to Quartz, the violence is believed to be an extension of the mistrust about Hong Kong’s future under the pro-Beijing government. It is widely believed to be associated with the Umbrella Movement in 2014, as well as the recent abduction of five bookstore owners who were brought to China for questioning.

Rising localist sentiment and concern over Hong Kong’s identity

Two groups, Hong Kong Indigenous and Civic Passion, are believed to be behind the unrest on Monday and Tuesday. Their members, typically young people, have staged multiple demonstrations and remained active in political races since the end of the Umbrella Revolution in 2014. What distinguishes these two groups from others is their tendency to directly confront authorities. They strongly believe that the government has not seriously tackled many social issues, including income disparity, which directly involves street hawkers.

According to the BBC, street hawkers have long been the “symbol of income gap” because their specific business is long considered the gateway out of poverty for poor Hong Kongers. However, after the government stopped renewing their licenses in the 1970s, illegal street hawkers have been facing constant crackdowns. The vicious cycle of poverty leads many localists to conclude that the government has failed to recognize street hawkers as a significant part of Hong Kong culture, and further reinforces their beliefs that the government is out of touch with the real desire of Hong Kongers to protect their Hong Kong identity and freedom. According to experts, the Hong Kong government has overlooked the significance of socio-political environment, and if the current situation continues, it will lead to some unpredictable results.

 

 

While it is no secret that the current government is pro-Beijing, its continuous adoption of controversial policies has further widened the gap between itself and Hong Kongers. Experts predict that the riot in Mong Kok may just mark the beginning of a series of violent incidents. Additionally, in the eyes of many localists, the failure of the Umbrella Movement means more direct action is needed to bring the government to the negotiating table. To leaders of Hong Kong Indigenous, radical action is justified to protect themselves from police brutality. Two founders of Hong Kong Indigenous, Edward Leung and Ray Wong, were at the riot on Monday and Tuesday, with Leung among dozens of those being arrested.

Fishball Revolution and 228

Soon after the Mong Kok riot broke out, a possible comparison between it and the 228 Incident in Taiwan seemed to surface. However, a closer look at both events reveals both similarity and differences between the two. Each event started with a crackdown on local vendors and was indeed partly driven by the rise of people’s dissatisfaction with the regime and their oppressive ways of ruling. Additionally, the motivations behind both movement are tightly connected to the people’s awareness of their identities and freedoms at risk.

However, the scale of confrontation escalated soon after February 28, 1947, whereas it is still hard to conclude whether the violence and confrontation will escalate for the Fishball Revolution as things seem to have returned to normal in Mong Kok. So far, it is only fair to predict that the Fishball Revolution may be another page in Hong Kong’s socio-political transformation.

Regardless, social unrest seems to have become an increasingly common way for Hong Kongers to voice their dissatisfaction and showcase their civic awakening. If the government continues its current hardline approach, it is only a matter of time for things to escalate, because this time, Hong Kongers have no interests in backing down quietly again.

(Feature photo of Mong Kok “Fishball Revolution,” by Donald Chan, on Wikicommons)

 

William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.