02 May 2017

That Bumpy Road to Growth 難走的成長路

“Demosistō’s anniversary celebration is officially activated!” announced the master of ceremony. It was a tongue-in-cheek parody of Benny Tai, the law professor who had used a similar battle cry when he launched Occupy Central nearly three years ago.

At the microphone was Derek Lam (林淳軒), a core member of one of Hong Kong’s youngest political parties. Lam has recently been arrested for unlawful assembly outside the Liaison Office and faces months in prison if convicted. But the 23-year-old is unfazed. Ever since he beat leukemia a decade ago and became a loyal sidekick to Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) – like Sancho to Don Quixote, he has prepared himself for whatever his government throws at him. The duo, along with fellow party members Nathan Law (羅冠聰) and Agnes Chow (周庭), are all expected to be charged for their roles in the occupy movement. Jail time or not, the student politicians are taking it in their stride.

Song and dance at the first anniversary soiree
From left: Joshua Wong, Issac Cehng and Derek Lam

Stride – that happened to be the theme of their first anniversary dinner that took place to great media fanfare one Saturday evening last month. “As new kids on the block, we’ve tried not to overpromise and under-deliver,” Chairman Law half-joked in his opening remarks. “It’s been a year of personal growth.”

And it’s been a year of false starts and setbacks. Their first press conference to announce the party’s establishment 12 months ago was an episode they would rather forget: the venue was too small, audiovisual equipment malfunctioned, and reporters were kept waiting for over an hour. The botched launch – and their inexperience that had caused it – was red meat for radical localists who pounced on the blunder and jeered in schadenfreude delight.

The party’s unusual name didn’t go unnoticed either. The Greek-Latin concatenation quickly became a subject of constant ridicule on social media – both for its unpronounceability and pretentiousness. The name in Chinese provided fodder for rude puns and biting zingers.

A year later, however, those angry localist groups have all but vanished from the social media echo chamber. Their young ringleaders have either quit politics or left the city for graduate schools, and the internet trolling has ceased. It bears out the political adage that if you wait long enough, you’ll outlive your enemies. 

Localism, all but gone

Demosistians had barely recovered from their rocky start when they found themselves going full steam ahead in preparation for the Legislative Council election. Because Joshua Wong was too young to run, Nathan Law had to fly solo in his bid for an elected seat. In the end he swept up over 50,000 votes and, at age 23, became the youngest ever Legco member in the city’s history and the only politician in Asia to enter the legislature as a student. But like a star-crossed lover in a Cantonese soap opera, the newly-minted lawmaker saw his honeymoon cut short as soon as it began. The political firestorm known as Oathgate – in which two young pro-independence Legco members, Baggio Leung (梁頌恆;) and Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) lost their seats for insulting China during their swearing-in ceremony – spread to the rest of the opposition camp. The government, having successfully ousted two thorns in their side in a single move, swiftly initiated similar legal actions to unseat Law and three others for straying from the oath.

The court is due to hand down a verdict in the coming weeks. If he loses, he will not only have to give up his hard fought seat but also face millions in counsel and court fees, not to mention months of salaries and expense disbursements he will have to pay back the government. Bankruptcy will be inevitable. Until the dark cloud is lifted over his head, Law is reluctant to make any long-term plans for his party. Proposals to open a second office in his constituency and hire more staff have been shelved pending the fall of the gavel.

Nathan Law (second from left) may lose his seat in the coming weeks

Then there are personal safety issues. Last January, Law was attacked by pro-Beijing protesters at Hong Kong International Airport when he and Wong returned from a pro-democracy forum in Taipei. Hecklers threw water bottles at Law and ripped his shirt. He slipped and fell down a flight of stairs and was treated at a nearby hospital. So far no one has been arrested or held accountable for the assault. Three months prior to the incident, Wong was denied entry to Thailand and detained at the Bangkok airport for 12 hours. Based on that and a similar run-in with the Malaysian government, there are now only three countries in Asia to which the two feel comfortable traveling: Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The ersatz travel ban has hamstrung a party that has put “international connection” on its marquee.

If legal action and physical violence are overt forms of political clampdown, then there are more subtle but no less effective weapons of oppression. To date, Demosistō still hasn’t been able to register itself as a “society” with the Hong Kong Police, a requirement under local law. Attempts to open a bank account have been repeatedly denied, which makes everything from managing donations and crowd funding to hiring staff and paying bills a daily struggle. The irony of not being able to even write a check in the world’s freest economy is not lost on them.

In the meantime, the party continues to be hemorrhaging people. Out of the seven founding members who addressed the press at the party’s inauguration, only three (Law, Wong and Chow) are still around. The other four have bowed out for one reason or another. Fermi Wong (王惠芬), a long-time defender of minority rights, was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the launch. Vice Chairman Oscar Lai (黎汶洛), who took flak for sidling up to Civic Party during a by-election last autumn for his own political gain, stood down from party elections earlier this month. The vice chairman position remains vacant today.

Of the original seven founding members, only three left
From left: Agnes Chow, Joshua Wong, Shu Kei,
Nathan Law, Oscar Lai, Fermi Wong and Ng Mei-lan

To call the past year “eventful” would be an understatement for Demosistō. The young activists have long lost their teenage innocence. Local politics have toughened them up and taught them lessons that no textbooks can. Among them is voters’ priorities. It has taken them a bit of time to figure out that most constituents are less interested in big ticket political items like universal suffrage and freedom of speech than smaller, more immediate matters affecting their neighborhoods.

That means community outreach and grassroots issues are just as important as filibustering a bad government bill on the Legco floor or leading a thousand-man rally on the streets. Wong and Law, both having achieved international fame, now find themselves increasingly rolling up their sleeves over everything from rerouting bus routes to preventing teen suicides. Recently, the party launched a neighborhood initiative to look into why a popular shopping arcade that serves thousands of local residents has been turned into an international school for a privileged few from outside the district. To look more down-to-earth, they have finally decided to drop the macron – the little bar above the letter “o” – from their name.

Demosisto (now spells with two regular o’s) has been actively growing their membership and grooming new leaders. Their latest recruit on the executive committee is 16-year-old Isaac Cheng (鄭家朗), a high school student with Wong’s signature bowl haircut. The party has also drafted an army of university students and fresh graduates to tackle an ambitious research project. The newly-launched Archival Research on the Future of Hong Kong aims to study, digitalize and compile a report on declassified documents concerning the handover negotiation between Britain and China in the 1980s. The party believes that these documents, housed in the National Archives in London, hold the key to not only understanding the past but also analyzing the path forward come 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework for Hong Kong will expire.

Poster for the Archival Research on the Future of Hong Kong

At the end of the evening, after the music had died down and the Chinese petit four had been served, two dozen active party members came on stage for a final curtain call. They shook hands with their guests and posed for endless selfies in every combination. And then they would be back to the grindstone the next day. Demosistō would join a handful of opposition parties and advocacy groups in a protest against a stew of political and social issues. They would continue to make strides, whatever is thrown at them.


A shorter version of this article appeared on SCMP.com under the title "Hong Kong’s youngest political party Demosisto undeterred by a year of false starts and setbacks."

As posted on SCMP.com

31 December 2016

Past Events: 2016



Book Launch of Hong Kong Future Perfect (2016 Anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Venue: Art and Culture Outbreak Bookshop, Wanchai
Date: 15 December
Time: 7:00-10:00pm

Guest Speaker at 2016 Graduation Ceremony of St. James' Settlement's "Read, Write, Fun" Program to Help Dyslexic Children
Venue: St. James Settlement Jockey Club Social Services Building, Wanchai
Date: 10 December

Hosting a corporate annual ball with Kelly Cheung

Interview with Bloomberg News
Article: "Hong Kong Gets Chance to Heal Division as Leader Steps Aside" by David Tweed and Ting Shi
Publication date: 9 December

Umbrellas in Bloom Featured in Los Angles Review of Books
Article: "Some China-related Holiday Gift Book Ideas" by Jeffrey Wasserstrom
Issue: 7 December

Interview with CNN
Publication date: 25 December

Featured in Rights Review of University of Toronto International Human Rights Program
Article: "Umbrella Movement: A popular uprising predicated on the 'naive' belief that anything is possible" by Karlson Leung
Publication date: 30 November

Interview with BBC
Presenter: Tina Daheley
Broadcast date: 27 November

Interview with CNN
Article: "Hong Kong's banned lawmakers aren't backing down" by James Griffiths
Publication date: 22 November

Umbrellas in Bloom Certified No.1 New Release on Amazon.com (Hong Kong History Category)
Date: 22 November

HONG KONG State of Mind Certified No.1 Bestseller on Amazon.com (Hong Kong History Category)
Date: 22 November

Interview with South China Morning Post
Article: "Author of book on Occupy protests criticises localists as distraction" by Elaine Yau
Publication date: 18 November

Moderator: David Bandurski
Venue: Main Library, University of Hong Kong
Date: 17 November

Guest Lecture at Centre for English and Additional Languages at Lingnan University
Topic: "Developing a writing career in Hong Kong"
Moderator: Dr. Marshall Moore
Venue: B.Y. Lam Building, Lingnan University
Date: 16 November

Interview with Agenzia Giornalistica Italia (AGI)
Article: "Hong Kong: Jason Y. Ng, neovescovo Yeung sconfitta per democrazia" by Francesco Palmieri
Publication date: 14 November

Interview with Hong Kong Free Press
Article: "Relaunch of writers group PEN to defend freedom of expression in Hong Kong" by Chantal Yuen
Publication date: 14 November

Book Talk with Kellett School Book Club
Venue: Eaton House, Central
Date: 14 November

Interview with South China Morning Post
Article: "Hong Kong writers relaunch literary group in face of unprecedented threat to free speech" by Peace Chiu
Publication date: 13 NovembeR

Moderator at Official Launch of PEN Hong Kong in Collaboration with Hong Kong International Literary Festival
Speakers: English lecturer Tammy Ho, writer Mishi Saran, publisher Bao Pu and journalist Ilaria Maria Sala
Venue: Foreign Correspondents' Club Hong Kong, Central
Date: 13 November

Ng speaking as President of PEN Hong Kong

Moderator at Book Launch of Sarong Party Girl at Hong Kong International Literary Festival 
Featured author: Singapore novelist Cheryl Tan
Venue: KEE Club, Central
Date: 12 November

Interview with Bloomberg News
Article: "A Controversial Hong Kong Security Law Is Back on the Table" by David Tweed and Ting Shi
Publication date: 11 November

Interview with Globe and Mail
Article: "Legislators challenging China’s grip on Hong Kong barred from office" by Nathan Vanderklippe
Publication date: 7 November

Guest Lecture at Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Title: "Umbrella Revolution - Two Years On"
Venue: Flavell Hall
Date: 27 October

Guest Lecture at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Title: "Umbrella Revolution - Two Years On"
Venue: Ignat Kaneff Building
Date: 24 October

Moderator at Inaugural "Neighborhood Series" Sponsored by Grosvenor HK
Speakers: Journalist Vivienne Chow, museum curator Aric Chen, restauranteur Jenn Wong, district councilman Paul Zimmerman and architect Christopher Law
Venue: Liang Yi Museum
Date: 17 October

Interview with Le Monde
Article: "Le camp démocrate de Hongkong défie le pouvoir chinois" by Harold Thibault and Florence de Changy
Publication date: 12 October

Interview with Sunday Times
Publication date: 9 October

Contributed to Full Translation of Joshua Wong's Essay for Guardian
Publication date: 7 October

Two Interviews with Guardian
Article: "Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong attacks Thailand after being barred at China's request" by Tom Phillips, Eric Cheung and Oliver Holmes
Article: "Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong detained in Thailand at China's request" by Tom Phillips and Bonnie Malkin
Publication date: 5 October

Moderator at Corporate Screening of Documentary She Objects in Collaboration with Women's Foundation (TWF)
Speakers: Director Nicola Fan and TWF Vice Chair Angelina Kwan
Venue: IFC II
Date: 3 October

Interview with Bangkok's Voice TV - World News
Broadcast date: 29 September

Article Published in Guardian
Publication date: 28 September

Topic: "From blog to bestsellers: (part of Stay Young, Dream Big" series)
Venue: Jockey Club Student Village III, University of Hong Kong
Date: 26 September

Interview with CanalMacau
Topic: "Os Localistas de Hong Kong"
Broadcast date: 25 September

Book Talk with Hong Kong Literary Group Book Club
Venue: Mahalo Tiki Lounge, Central
Date: 24 September

Interview with China Daily
Article: "Maids of Honor" by Basu Chitralekha
Publication date: 22 September

Panel Discussion at Young China Watchers
Venue: Bar Six, Wyndham Street
Date: 21 September

Appointed President of PEN Hong Kong, Local Chapter of PEN International
Date: 20 September

"Umbrellas in Bloom" cited in Guardian
Publication date: 19 September
Topic: "Hong Kong's politics: post-election and the Umbrella Movement"
Moderator: Professor Pirongrong Ramasoota
Venue: Chulalongkorn University, Pathumwan, Bangkok
Date: 16 September
Topic: "Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong's largest social movement explained"
Moderator: Professor Janjira Sombutpoonsiri
Venue: Thammasat University, Prachan, Bangkok
Date: 16 September

Panel Discussion at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand
Topic: "China: an ever-growing footprint"
Moderator: Jerome Taylor
Venue: Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, Lumpini, Bangkok
Date: 15 September

Talk at Raffles Institution (visiting from Singapore)
Topic: "Student activism and the Umbrella Movement"
Venue: Fairmount House
Date: 12 September

Interview with French Newspaper Libération
Publication date: 5 September

Article Published in Guardian
Publication date: 5 September

Interview with Guardian
Article: "Hong Kong elections: anti-Beijing activists gain foothold in power" by Tom Phillips and Eric Cheung
Publication date: 5 September

Interview with South China Morning Post
Publication date: 4 September

Interview with Los Angeles Times
Publication date: 2 September

Option Pricing Article Published for Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School
Publication date: 1 September

Featured Author in A Hundred Readers《百人閱讀》by Muji 無印良品 x City Magazine 號外
Release date: 17 August

Panel Judge at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program Co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Aeteno University
Venue: Migrants Empowerment Resource Center MERC, Central
Date: 14 August

Speaker at Department of Journalism, Chulalongkorn University (visiting from Thailand)
Topic: "Role of new media in the Umbrella Movement"
Venue: Tamar Government Headquarters
Date: 4 August

Interview with Associated Press
Publication date: 22 July

Featured in Beijing-based Literary Site Five Books
Publication date: 7 July

Interview with Epoch Times
Publication date: 20 June

Interview with Guardian
Publication date: 17 June

KEE Club Book Talk Presented by Hong Kong International Literary Festival
Title: Umbrellas in Bloom
Moderator: Nick Thorpe
Venue: KEE Club, Central
Date: 7 June

Interview with Epoch Times
Publication date: 7 June

Singapore Book Launch of Umbrellas in Bloom Presented by Select Centre
Moderator: Professor Ian Chong
Venue: TheatreWorks, Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore
Date: 2 June

Featured in Stand News立場新聞
Publication date: 30 May

Umbrellas in Bloom Featured in Southside magazine
Issue: May 2016

Featured in Books4You《讀書好》
Issue: 104 (May 2016)

Lunch Talk Hosted by Latham & Watkins
Topic: "Reflections on the Umbrella Movement"
Venue: One Exchange Square, Central
Date: 10 May

Talk at Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC), University of Hong Kong
Topic: Tips on feature writing
Moderator: Professor David Bandurski
Venue: Eliot Hall, Pokfulam
Date: 24 April

Second printing of Umbrellas in Bloom
Date: 24 April

Book Talk with Serious Book Club
Venue: Blue Place Cafe, Wanchai
Date: 20 April

Featured in South China Morning Post
Publication date: 16 April

Interview with Guardian
Publication date: 10 April

Commencement of Spring Term at Faculty of Law of University of Hong Kong, LLM Program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Cheng Yu Tung Tower, Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 8 - 29 April

Hong Kong Book Launch of Umbrellas in Bloom
Venue: Bookazine, Lyndhurst Terrace
Date: 6 April

Interview with D100 Radio
Show: "Running the race 對沖人生路" with presenter Edward Chin
Broadcast date: 5 April

Interview with RTHK Radio 3
Show: "123 Show" with presenter Noreen Mir
Topic: "Umbrellas in Bloom"
Broadcast date: 5 April

Featured in Portuguese News Agency Agência de Notícias de Portugal, SA (LUSA)
Publication date: 3 April

Featured in New York Times
Publication date: 24 March

Featured in Hong Kong Free Press

Publication date: 13 March

Featured Author at 2016 Bookworm Literary Festival
Panel 1: "Future of Hong Kong" moderated by Guardian reporter Tom Phillips 
Panel 2: "Umbrellas in Bloom" moderated by Los Angeles Times Beijing Bureau chief Julie Makinen
Venue: Sanlitun, Beijing
Date: 12 - 13 March

Release of Umbrellas in Bloom
Date: 9 March

Guest Speaker at Rotary Club
Topic: "Writing about Hong Kong -- A Decade On"
Venue: Hong Kong Bankers' Club, Landmark
Date: 1 March

Interview with TimeOut HK
Publication date: 24 February

Joined EJInsight as a Contributor
Date: 22 February

Featured in TimeOut Beijing
Article: "8 must-see talks at the Bookworm Literary Festival" by Helen Roxburgh
Publication date: 12 February

Article Reproduced in Wall Street Journal
Date: 10 February

Interview with Radio France Internationale
Publication date: 10 February

Interview with Los Angeles Times
Publication date: 5 February

Volunteer Lawyer for Helpers for Domestic Helpers

Start date: 3 February

Master of Ceremony at a 1,500-guest Corporate Annual Ball

Co-host: TVB actor/present Kelly Cheung
Venue: Hong Kong Convention Centre, Wanchai
Date: 23 January

Shooting of Hollywood/UK documentary
Venue: Pokfulam
Date: 22 January
Release date: end of 2016

2008 - 2012

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If you would like Jason Y. Ng, bestselling author of Umbrellas in BloomNo City for Slow Men and HONG KONG State of Mind, to speak at your school or organization, please contact him at info@jasonyng.com.