Skip to main content

Baptism of Fire 炮火的洗禮

“Drop dead, traitors!” wrote one Facebook user. “Stop swindling money from gullible supporters,” said another. Further down the comment thread, the Photoshopped picture of a young man with a noose tied around his neck received dozens of likes. “Your corpse will rot on the street and we will celebrate!” the caption read.

The lynching victim depicted in the picture was Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), the once-idolized student leader who, at the tender age of 14, led tens of thousands of citizens to thwart the government’s attempt to introduce a patriotic education program. The darling of foreign news media appeared on the cover of Time’s Asia edition and was named one of Fortune magazine’s top 10 world leaders in 2015 alongside Pope Francis and Apple CEO Tim Cook. There were even whispers that he should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Yesterday's hero

But what a difference a year makes. Today, he is the prime target of what amounts to Cyber-bullying. Thousands of blistering comments plaster across Wong’s Facebook page and that of his newly-minted political party Demosistö (香港眾志). The trolling – the Internet slang for online harassment – is so relentless, and the name-calling is so vicious and disruptive, that you easily forget what the original post is about.

“My five-year honeymoon is over,” said Wong, who turned 19 last October, on the telephone yesterday. He was referring to the early years of his political career when he enjoyed a degree of immunity from criticism. “Now that I’m running my own political party, I expect the public to hold my feet to the fire,” he confessed, admitting that the halo above his head has slipped. “If the criticism is valid,” Wong added, “I take it to heart so I can do better in the future.” 

In reality, most of the online commentary is less than constructive. The trolls, who never fail to respond within minutes of a new update, go by aliases like Billy Bong and On Dog Joshua (“on” is an expletive in Cantonese meaning “moronic”). At the same time, there is no shortage of keyboard warriors who use their real accounts under their real names. The vast majority of them are diehard supporters of localist parties such as Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) and Civic Passion (熱血公民) – radical splinter groups that call on citizens to use “any means necessary” to resist the Sinofication of Hong Kong and ultimately declare independence from Mainland China.

When asked whether the troll army is an organized group mobilized by a political force, Wong explained, “We need to distinguish between localist sympathizers and localist parties, and not lump the two together.” Sympathizers are netizens, according to Wong, and they are uncoordinated and self-motivated. Political parties, on the other hand, are by definition organized groups. Most of the trolls belong to the first category. “Netizens take whatever I say out of context and sometimes put words in my mouth,” Wong protested. “You can reason with a political party, but it’s very difficult to reason with a netizen.”

Don't try to reason with him

Feeding time at the zoo

While Wong bears the brunt of the vitriol, he is by no means the only target. Fellow Demosistians such as Nathan Law (羅冠聰) and Oscar Lai (黎汶洛) also find themselves in the cross hairs of the ad hominem offensives. 

Last week, when Wong and Law embarked on a North American university tour – Wong was invited to speak at Harvard, Yale and M.I.T., among others, while Law focused on Stanford, Berkeley and other West Coast colleges – the attacks reached a fever pitch. The troll army sneered at their “paid vacation” and called it “shameless self-promotion” and an “embarrassment to Hong Kong.” “Who the f** gives you the right to speak for us?” one asked, before a chorus of assailants joined in for an online free-for-all.

“The purpose of the trip was to spread the word about our political situation and rally international support for the self-determination of Hong Kong,” said Law over the telephone, hours before his scheduled flight from San Francisco to Vancouver for a speaking engagement at the University of British Columbia, the final stop on his week-long tour. “We didn’t do any fundraising for Demosistö, and all travel expenses were paid by the universities that invited us,” he added.

When asked about the timing of the trip – less than a month after Demosistö was launched – Law explained: “Until now, Joshua and I had been very busy getting the new party off the ground. At the same time, we had to do the talks before the spring semester ends in North America. That was it – there’s nothing opportunistic about our schedule.”

Wong's and Law's university tour

How it all started

The spat between the student leaders and the localists goes way back. During the OccupyMovement of 2014, Wong and the Hong Kong Federation of Students (of which Law was a core member) had constant run-ins with various splinter groups. Four days into the movement, Wong held an anti-government rally outside the Golden Bauhinia Square where the National Day flag-raising ceremony was to take place. Wong and his Scholarism followers were accused of forming a human chain to sabotage the attempt by a legion of firebrand protesters to storm the square to disrupt the event. 

“That whole ‘human chain’ accusation was bogus,” Wong argued. “There were dozens of us staging a mass protest that morning. We had turned our backs to the Chinese flag in silent protest and formed crosses with our arms. We never physically stopped anyone from doing anything. It was a misunderstanding that has kept snowballing since then.”

And snowballed it has. The National Day ruckus was followed by similar incidents throughout the 79-day street occupation, in which localist groups challenged the legitimacy of Wong and HKFS leaders to make decisions for protesters and slammed them for standing in the way of escalation plans.

But it gets worse. In the eye of the localist sympathizers, the recent rebranding of Scholarism into Demosistö has turned Wong and Law from ineffective leaders to political rivals – and even election spoilers. That Demosistö and Hong Kong Indigenous will be going after the same voter base – the young, progressive vote – in the September general election has added fuel to the raging fire. That also explains why localist supporters have been going after the new party with more ferocity than they do their declared enemy: Communist China. 

Wong is accused of sabotaging other protestors' action during Occupy

Resistance is futile

Until recently, the trolling had been one-sided, and the Demosistians had not hit back. Two weeks ago, however, Wong made the mistake of responding to a supporter of Edward Leung (梁天琦), spokesman of Hong Kong Indigenous. The supporter had left a Facebook comment criticizing Demosistö’s $2 million fundraising campaign. Wong defended his solicitation of small online donations with a short reply: “We don’t want to court secret benefactors,” implying that Leung’s party is funded by a dubious financial backer. 

Wong’s regrettable remark was political red meat for the trolls, and the teenager was slaughtered on social media for leveling an unsubstantiated attack against Leung. The next day, Wong issued a public statement on Facebook apologizing for his gaffe. Not surprisingly, the apology was not accepted; it has fired up his critics even more.

“There isn’t much else I can say or do,” said Wong, sounding frustrated and exhausted. “If I am wrong, I stand corrected and I take responsibility for it. But if netizens continue their irrational attacks, I need to stand my ground and push back.”

Apology not accepted

As much as Wong and Law try to take the flak in stride, personal insults still sting. The phenomenon underscores the toxicity of local politics and the severe polarization of society in the post-Occupy era. Anger and frustration have boiled over, and once-political allies can become sworn enemies over the slightest of misunderstanding or disagreement. 

“[Criticism] comes with the territory,” Wong sighed. “I knew it would be bad, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad.”

Law, on the other hand, takes a more defiant stance. “I’m happy to listen to constructive comments and learn from them,” he said. “But for groundless, malicious attacks, all I can say is: what goes around comes around!”
___________________________

This article appears in the South China Morning Post under the title "Baptism of fire for Joshua Wong and his nascent political party."

As published in the South China Morning Post

Popular Posts

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK)
Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Review…

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

What’s Killing Hong Kong Bookstores? 誰令香港的書店滅亡?

Earlier this month, Page One unceremoniously announced the closure of its megastores at Harbour City and Festival Walk, ending the Singapore bookseller’s nearly two-decade stint in Hong Kong. The news came less than two years after Australian outfit Dymocks shut down its IFC Mall flagship and exited the city.
Reaction on social media to the loss of yet another bookstore chain was both immediate and damning. While some attributed Page One’s demise to competition from e-books and online retailers, many put the blame on the lack of a robust reading culture in Hong Kong. Still others pointed their finger at greedy landlords and the sky-high rent they extort from retailers.
But what really killed Page One? An autopsy is in order to examine the cause of death of the book industry’s latest casualty.

E-books
The technorati have long prophesized the end of paper. Portable and affordable, Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers are the physical book’s worst nightmare. But are they really?
After yea…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

2017 and upcoming events and speaking engagements


Keynote speaker at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program graduation ceremony co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Ateneo University Venue: TBD Date: 22 October Time: 9:00am to 1:00pm

Guest lecture at Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong Course: International and regional protection of human rights
Topic: Universal suffrage and free expression Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam Date:16 November
Time: 6:30pm

Legal workshop for foreign domestic workers at University of Hong Kong's Domestic Workers Empowerment Project (DWEP) Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture" Moderator: Dr. Michael Manio Venue: Ming Wah Complex, University of Hong Kong Date: 19 November Time: 1:30 to 4:00pm

Talk at Independent Schools Foundation Academy
Topic: No City for Slow Men
Venue: Telegraph Bay, Pokfulam
Date: 30 November
Contributor to HK24 (2017 Anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle) Release date: December

Guest speaker and prize prese…

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1 女傭在港-上卷

Few symbols of colonialism are more universally recognized than the live-in maid. From the British trading post in Bombay to the cotton plantation in Mississippi, images abound of the olive-skinned domestic worker buzzing around the house, cooking, cleaning, ironing and bringing ice cold lemonade to her masters who keep grumbling about the summer heat. It is ironic that, for a city that cowered under colonial rule for a century and a half, Hong Kong should have the highest number of maids per capita in Asia. In our city of contradictions, neither a modest income nor a shoebox apartment is an obstacle for local families to hire a domestic helper and to free themselves from chores and errands.

On any given Sunday or public holiday, migrant domestic workers carpet every inch of open space in Central and Causeway Bay. They turn parks and footbridges into camping sites with cardboard boxes as their walls and opened umbrellas as their roofs. They play cards, cut hair, sell handicraft and p…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. 
Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singi…