Tue, Oct 29, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The ‘auntie’ of Hong Kong’s protest movement

Hailed by young Hong Kongers as a champion of the movement, Sharon Hom talks protest strategy and the endgame

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Sharon Hom, a legal academic and executive director of Human Rights in China, has struck a chord among young Hong Kongers with her passionate defense of the protest movement.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Sharon Hom (譚競嫦) can’t decide whether to laugh or cringe at how young protesters in Hong Kong, part of her unofficial “fan club,” have turned her into an Internet meme.

The legal academic and executive director of Human Rights in China (HRIC) — a non-government organization based in New York and Hong Kong — has been adjusting to online fame since her forceful defense of Hong Kong’s ongoing protest movement at a US congressional hearing on Sep. 17.

In her testimony, Hom painted a picture of the “David and Goliath” standoff between Hong Kongers and Beijing, detailing China’s rule of law deficits and efforts to discredit the protest movement, as well as the erosion of public confidence in Hong Kong’s administration.

“President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) takeaway from the current political crisis in Hong Kong hits the nail on the head,” Hom told the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “Not only is ‘one country, two systems’ not a viable model for Taiwan, but the Hong Kong example proves that dictatorship and democracy cannot co-exist.”

On popular online forum LIHKG, Hong Kongers have taken to calling her “Sharon E E,” a romanization of the Cantonese word for “auntie.” The term of endearment captures their affection for Hom, 68, and their perception of her as protector, mentor and friend.

Unlike her comrades, Hom was born but did not grow up in Hong Kong. At the age of five her family left for New York, where today she directs the China and International Human Rights Research Program at the New York University School of Law and serves as Professor of Law Emerita at the City University of New York.

In town last week for the congress of the International Federation of Human Rights, Hom spoke with the Taipei Times about her views on the endgame for Hong Kong’s protest movement.

IMPERFECT MOVEMENT

Hom’s congressional testimony, targeted at an international audience, struck a chord with many Hong Kongers who lauded it as a fair account of the protest movement. But the message she bears for that movement is one of tough love.

“For the young Hong Kongers, particularly at the front-line, the message they need to hear is: It’s a huge mistake to view mainlanders as a monolithic mass, as an enemy,” Hom says.

In a report by the Central News Agency earlier this month, several Chinese college students in Taiwan said that they supported the protests, but had kept silent about their views for their safety. One Chinese student criticized the “blind patriotism” of her fellow students.

Despite differing views held by some Chinese nationals, there is a growing impression that parts of the protest movement are evolving into a nativist crusade, after incidents in which Chinese immigrants or visitors appeared to be targeted.

Earlier this month, a Mandarin-speaking JPMorgan employee was filmed being punched by a black-clad protester outside the bank’s offices after he had told a gathering crowd, “We are all Chinese.”

In August, protesters at the Hong Kong International Airport restrained two Chinese men, one of whom was a reporter for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece The Global Times. Images of the incident showed their hands bound with cable ties. Some protesters returned to the airport the next day to express remorse, holding signs that read: “We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions.”

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