On October 15, the US-Asia Law Institute and the NYU Asia Law Society held a panel discussion on the Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign (known as the Umbrella Movement) in Hong Kong. Professor Jerome A. Cohen (NYU Law), Professor Carl Minzner (Fordham Law School), Alvin Y.H. Cheung (NYU Law), and Madeline Earp (Freedom House) approached the topic from different angles, including Professor Carl Minzner’s very interesting eco-sociological perspective.
Instead of regarding the Umbrella Movement as merely a democratic issue, Professor Minzner introduced two eco-sociological stimulations that he thinks deserve more attention in the United States.
The first one is the economic tension building up within Hong Kong’s society. Many of the protesters are 17 or 18 years old. Their anger may stem from the difficulty of finding jobs, an inability to buy houses, and the challenge of soaring living expenses. Substantial inequality in wealth distribution, which is demonstrated by the high Gini index, aggravates young people’s discontent with the government.
The second is an identity issue. Back in the late 1990s when Hong Kong returned to China, people in Hong Kong had patriotic feelings. They were proud to identify themselves as Chinese. But now, you can sense people’s fear of losing their unique identity of “Hong Kongese,” evident in the protest against “patriotic education,” people upholding Cantonese, and aversion to tourists from the Mainland.
If you look at many political events, you may often find underlying eco-sociological factors. I can still remember a pig’s-head figure wearing a Monopoly top hat with “CEO” on it during the People’s Climate March in September. Resentment toward tycoons resulting from the issues of poverty, climate change, and the financial crisis can be interpreted as a result of a widening wealth gap that intuitively triggers people’s moves toward political action.
Of course, there is also criticism suggesting oversimplification in eco-sociology’s interpretation of political issues. (Please see Alvin Cheung’s opinion.)