Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 6 News List

HONG KONG PROTESTS: Hong Kong’s teen protest leader

The Guardian, HONG KONG

Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old who heads the group Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong on Sept. 26.

Photo: Reuters

With his floppy hair, baggy shorts and stripy T-shirt, accessorized with a yellow ribbon around each skinny wrist, the only thing distinguishing the 17-year-old from the other teenagers on Wednesday was the bank of television cameras facing him.

Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) is too young to drive or buy a drink in a bar, let alone vote, yet as cofounder of Scholarism has become the face of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and an inspiration to citizens, many three times his age.

He is already a veteran activist. At 15 he battled against plans to introduce “national education,” which critics said was Beijing’s “brainwashing.”

Scholarism’s campaign brought more than 100,000 people on to the streets in protest over that issue and the proposals were shelved. Wong became something of a celebrity — and probably the first mass-protest leader who had to call a press conference to discuss his exam results (he met the university entrance requirements).

His 40-hour detention, from Friday last week, along with others who stormed into the blocked-off government complex at Admiralty district, kick-started large-scale protests and catapulted him to global attention.

The arrests galvanized those previously indifferent to the student protests and sparked the wider civil disobedience movement that has focused on downtown Hong Kong.

The sudden fascination with Wong’s role is not entirely to his satisfaction.

“If a mass movement turns into worshiping a particular person, that’s a great problem,” Wong said in 2012, after the campaign against national education.

More recently, asked about his heroes, he said: “You don’t need role models to be part of a social movement as long as you care about the issues.”

Chinese state media have attacked Scholarism as being composed of extremists and a pro-Beijing Hong Kong-based paper claimed US forces had cultivated Wong as a “political superstar” — accusations Wong dismissed.

Despite his ardor and bluntness he is not a rabble rouser.

“He’s passionate, but measured — measured beyond his years. He’s so young, but so wise that you can’t help but have a lot of time for him... he is every mother’s son — filial, polite, principled, hard working,” said Michael Vidler, a human rights lawyer who acted for Wong after his detention.

Vidler described Wong’s parents, Grace and Roger, as “a very quiet, middle-class, ordinary family.”

Wong has said: “They are not helicopter parents and do not spoil me... they have given me freedom.”

However, the couple have taken part in protests, and in a blogpost Wong said his father took him to visit poor and suffering citizens when he was a child.

“He told me that I should care for the abandoned in the city. They... were living solitary and hard lives,” Joshua Wong said.

The couple have described their son’s detention as political persecution.

“We always brought up Joshua to be compassionate, caring, principled and loyal, and we’re very proud of all that he’s doing to make Hong Kong a better place,” they said.

While he has focused on democracy, Wong has also sought to bring more citizens into the fold by spreading the message that politics is about ordinary life, not a disruption to or distraction from it.

“Many issues are closely related to politics and I think Hong Kongers should pay more attention to politics,” he told the South China Morning Post.

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