Skip to main content

What's Next for Joshua? 黃之鋒去向

A lot has happened in Hong Kong in the two years since tens of thousands of student protesters occupied the city’s major thoroughfares to demand a free vote. 

The so-called Umbrella Movement, which began on 28 September 2014 and went on for 79 days, was followed by a period of protest fatigue, polarization of society and increasing intervention by the Chinese government.

But for Joshua Wong, a mainstay of that movement and a household name both at home and abroad, the past 24 months have been a chance to reflect and reassess.

Boy wonder

Earlier this year, Wong disbanded a student group he set up in 2011 and co-founded a political party with fellow protest leader Nathan Law

In the general election three Sundays ago, Wong, who at 19 was too young to run for office, took a back seat. He campaigned for Law in a bid for one of the 40 democratically elected seats in the city’s legislature. Law went on to win the election and become one of six fresh-faced lawmakers elected on a platform of increased autonomy from China. 

And so, for the first time since was catapulted to international fame – after successfully thwarting the Hong Kong government’s attempt in 2012 to introduce a patriotic curriculum in primary and secondary schools – Wong was not the center of attention. 

The day after his election win, Law appeared in major newspapers around the world. It was him – and not the much more famous Wong – who took live interviews with CNN and the BBC. In one telling photograph taken at the vote counting station, a jubilant Law was pictured cradling a bouquet of flowers while surrounded by cheering supporters. Standing next to him in the image was Wong, whose face was all but eclipsed by the oversized bouquet.

Law (center) and Wong (blocked by flower bouquet)

Wong appeared unfazed by how the spotlight had shifted to his friend.

“I don’t mind being Nathan’s sidekick,” said Wong, in a sit-down interview at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a short walk from the main protest site in 2014. “In fact, I’m relieved that someone else is in the limelight for a change.”

“During the general election, I made sure that Nathan took center stage so that voters chose him because they knew him and not because they considered him my surrogate.”

Being in someone else’s shadow seems hardly cold at all, especially if you were named one of the world’s top ten leaders by Fortune magazine – as Wong was in 2015. The teenage student leader takes three to four interviews each day and holds daily meetings with like-minded activists and politicians. His jam-packed days begin at 9am and end well past midnight. 

Wong’s schedule has not changed much since he graced the cover of Time magazine shortly after the Umbrella Movement erupted. The foreign press frequently compares him to that other teenage activist, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, in terms of charisma and name recognition.

His fame notwithstanding, Wong said he considered Law an important – and equal – partner. “We have so much on our plates: policy proposals, press interviews and community outreach. Neither of us can do it alone. As a lawmaker, Nathan will fight inside the legislature. I’ll continue my fight on the streets.” 

Part of that fight is to garner international support for the city’s pro-democracy movement. Before the recent election, he and Law toured Britain and the U.S., giving speeches at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford. With Law now focusing on the upcoming parliamentary session, Wong will take up the bulk of the overseas speaking engagements. The next couple of months will see him travel to Bangkok, Washington D.C., New York and Miami. 

Wong addressing students at Oxford

Wong now appears less fidgety than at the height of the 2014 protests when he spent nearly three months camped on the streets outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters. He smiles frequently and no longer checks his smartphone every 15 seconds. What hasn’t changed is his signature bowl haircut and heavy-framed spectacles. His denim shirt and cargo pants are those of a typical Hong Kong teenager.

But Wong won’t be a teenager for much longer. He turns 20 in a few weeks and will lose his status as a student leader when he graduates from university in 2018. And if he doesn’t manage his career carefully, the comparison may shift from Malala Yousafzai to Macaulay Culkin or other failed child stars.

Wong knows that time is his biggest enemy. That’s why he filed a judicial review prior to the general election to overturn the minimum age requirement for election candidates – a fight he ultimately lost. The next election is four years away.

In the meantime, his prospects remain murky. 

Wong currently attends Open University, which ranks last among the nine universities in Hong Kong. While he does well in his political science classes, his grade point average has been pulled down by non-core subjects with which he struggles, such as statistics. 

A lackluster transcript aside, Wong’s main career hurdle is perhaps his name. Being a high profile political activist who was recently convicted for his role in starting the Umbrella Movement means that – in the long term – a career in politics may be his only option.

Jobs in both the public and private sectors are out of reach. No bank, telecom company or property developer – by far the largest employers in the city – would want to associate its name with a thorn in Beijing’s side. 

University ranking 2016

Still, friends like Matthew Torne, the British director who shadowed Wong for months while filming a documentary that chronicles Wong’s campaign against the patriotic curriculum, have urged the teenager to think long and hard about whether a career in politics is the right move.

“I’ve told Josh on more than one occasion that he needs a backup plan, such as a solid education from a reputable university overseas,” Torne said. “Josh is smart enough to know that voters are fickle and that he needs to think beyond politics.”

Wong appears to be listening to his friends’ counsel.

“I want to wipe the slate clean with a master’s degree aboard,” Wong mused. His ever-growing rolodex, which boasts professors at top postgraduate programs around the world, will come in handy when he is ready to take a hiatus from public life. 

“I haven’t made up my mind about what I’ll do after spending a year or two overseas,” he confessed. “Outside politics, I suppose I can work for an NGO or do some freelance writing. I may even consider academia.”

For now, the protest leader gets by on a modest monthly allowance from his parents, with whom he and his brother share an apartment in a middle class neighborhood. 

When he doesn’t eat at home, his meals are paid for by politicians and reporters. Foreign trips are funded by institutions that invite him to speak.

“My biggest expense is cab fare,” the teenage activist said almost apologetically. “I’m always running from one place to the next, and I don’t have time to take the bus or the subway.” In Hong Kong, taking taxis instead of mass transit is considered a luxury for students. 

“Other than that, I’m a pretty low maintenance guy.”

Director Torne (right) and Wong
____________________________

A shorter version of this article was published in the 28 September edition of The Guardian.

As published in The Guardian

Popular Posts

Book Review: "Generation HK" 書評:《香港世代》

Unpacking the young generation in Hong Kong is a tall order, not least because a singular, archetypical “Hong Kong youth” does not exist. The cohort is as diverse and divergent as it comes, from socioeconomic background and upbringing to education and exposure to the wider world, to values, ideals and aspirations. It defies stereotypes and generalisations.

Ben Bland, a British correspondent for The Financial Times, is in a unique position to take on that ambitious project. Whereas Bland’s extensive experience reporting in Asia—including stints in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar—has given him a broad field of view, his relatively short tenure in Hong Kong—just over two years—allows him to look at its people through a long-range lens.
It is that unadulterated objectivity and his unquenched curiosity that make Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow a discerning and refreshing read. Released last summer under Penguin Book’s inaugural “Hong Kong series” to mark the 20…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

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…

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

As You LIKE It 人人讚好

Social media are the greatest invention of the 21st Century, not least because they provide ready fillers for life’s many dull moments. The virtual world is the perfect antidote to our real life drudgery. Bring on the mile-long taxi line, the interminable Monday morning meeting and even the deadly silent treatment from an upset spouse. All we need to do is whip out our phones, drop our heads and, with a flick of the thumb, wade through stream after mind-numbing stream of news feeds and tweets. In the parallel universe of restaurant check-ins, vacation selfies and baby videos, we are the celebrities and we are the groupies. No one wants to admit it, but many of us have started to reorganize our lives based on how the status update would look on our carefully manicured timeline.

It is therefore all the more important to observe proper online decorum and protect our virtual image. The idea that anything goes in Cyberspace, or that a random post is as consequence-free as tossing a bottl…

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…