Joshua Wong is a Hong Kong activist and politician, a founding member of political party Demosisto for more self-determination for Hong Kong, but not independence. Activists Nathan Law and Chow are other founders of the pro-democracy party, which demands that Hong Kongers should get to decide their city’s fate, not Communist Party officials in Beijing. Wong was previously convenor and founder of student activist group Scholarism. Wong’s life as an activist began just at the age of 13 when he joined protests against China’s plans for a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and the mainland. He later campaigned against a pro-China “National Education” program, which was eventually dropped by Beijing. Chow of Demosisto was last year disqualified from running for legislative elections because of her party’s demand for self-determination, which Chinese authorities have interpreted as support for independence.
Internationally known for his prominent role during the 2014 Umbrella Movement, he was convicted and jailed for six months for it on August 2017. His major influence on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement resulted in his inclusion in TIME magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2014 and nomination for its Person of the Year 2014, recognition by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s greatest leaders in 2015, and, in 2017, plans for nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Like the teenagers experiencing their first taste of street protests over the divisive extradition bill, Mr Wong was just 17 when he became a high-profile leader of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement”, which locked down city streets for two months in a demand for fully free elections.
“After the end of the Umbrella Movement we claimed we would be back. Finally, five years later we did it,” said the self-assured young activist.
“It’s lucky that Beijing and Carrie Lam transformed a whole generation of youngsters from normal citizens to dissidents. That’s the price that Beijing must pay,” Mr Wong said.
Mr Wong remains a headache for mainland China, with his tale narrated in the 2017 Netflix documentary ‘Teenager vs Superpower’.
Joshua Wong Biography and Profile
Joshua Wong was born on 13 October 1996 in Hong Kong to middle-class Christian parents Grace and Roger Wong, eight months before control of Hong Kong was handed over from the UK to China. Wong spent most of his adolescence and all of his early adulthood fighting for the city’s rights against what he and others say is increasing encroachment by Beijing. While the handover was peaceful, Hong Kongs citizens lost their right to fully democratic elections. Joshua’s leadership as an activist came to international attention in 2014, during pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The protest became known as the Umbrella Movement. Although Joshua and his student organization called Scholarism promoted peaceful protest, he was jailed for his participation. Undiscouraged, Joshua continues to advocate for full and free elections in Hong Kong. He has been the subject of a documentary called Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, and has been recognized for his work with many awards including TIME magazines 25 Most Influential Teens.
It is well known that Wong was raised in a devout Christian family, with his father, Roger Wong Wai-ming, often making headlines for himself as the convenor of an anti-gay group, the Family School Sodo (Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance) Concern Group. The documentary reveals how thoroughly Christian their lives are. An early scene, captured in 2012 when Joshua was 14, provides a glimpse into the Wong’s family life: one shot of their bookshelf shows a row of nearly 30 books – all faith-based titles – while the next sees Wong Snr reading one on the sofa next to Joshua.
When Wong was recruiting members for Scholarism, the student activist group he founded, he knew he could count on Derek Lam Shun-hin, whom he had already met in a Christian fellowship in their secondary school. Lam would become a member of Scholarism and, later, the party Demosisto. “China is a rising darkness that destroys the things in Hong Kong. But if you want to defeat Darth Vader, then you have to train some Jedi,” says Lam in the film. He also says: “We are totally not Chinese people. We are unique. Hong Kong people is Hong Kong people. Bruce Lee is Hong Kong people.”
In March 2012, Wong participated in a Facebook event for which the most-liked post would guarantee the user a chance to meet Hong Kong’s then chief executive-elect. “I just shared the post to my Facebook, and shared to Scholarism’s Facebook page,” Wong recalls. “And finally, I get around a few thousand likes and I can meet CY Leung and ask him, ‘Why do you still need to implement the national education?’” Wong adds that he was then a Form Four student who still had an exam the day after he met Leung.
Wong says: “I remember that I visited a poor family when I’m 13 years old. While I visited them, we would preach the gospel and also pray for them because I’m a Christian. And one year later, I went back to that family and visited them again. During that moment, I just realised that just trying to pray for them would not bring the change. It’s necessary for us to change by action.”
It was an integral part of his Scholarism duties to raise public awareness of the pro-Beijing “moral and national education” curriculum, and Wong recalls being approached frequently by police when he was handing out flyers. “The attitude of the police forces is quite negative towards the activists,” he says. “The policemen will come and ask a lot of questions. It’s really ridiculous for the policemen to come and to tell the activists, ‘We want to protect you. That’s why we keep our eyes on you.’ Because what they want to do is just to protect the ruling class instead of the grass roots in Hong Kong.”
In an interview conducted after Scholarism led demonstrations that forced the government to retract its decision to make “national education” a compulsory subject in Hong Kong public schools, Wong’s mother is shown going over news clippings of her son. “If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says proudly. “We are a low-profile family. We don’t want to be famous. Joshua is not trying to be famous. We all said, ‘This is a miracle.’ So amazing. How could this really happen? They say it’s the first social movement to achieve its goal since the handover in 1997. And it was the only one initiated by high school students.”
It is a common view that Wong and his fellow student activists changed the nature of the Occupy Central campaign on the eve of the “umbrella movement”. In the film, Wong insists that “we are not trying to hijack the Occupy action. We are just trying to mobilise people to join the civil disobedience. The problem is: Benny Tai planned the Occupy action to be a formal, organised activity – just like holding a concert or a ceremony. But the participants of a social movement are quite organic. You can’t force them to directly follow your rules and regulations. Social movement is social movement.”
Demosisto president Law says of Wong: “I think he was not the only person – I was not the only person – of Occupy Central. But I understand the logic. Having a person as an icon is easier than having a group of people. His reputation can help broadcast our message.” Wong sounds comfortable enough with the spotlight, however, saying, “Being famous is just part of my job. If you need to increase your influence, if you need to let people support your idea, the first thing you need to do is to let others recognise you.”
Wong shows great composure throughout the documentary, so much so that he’s labelled a “robot” by his colleagues. In one rare moment of candour, however, he does admit about his Occupy experience: “Some days I have cried and I think that I can’t continue and I was really tired and I want to stop, but it’s not the time to cry. Because I have commitment in this movement.”
After he stormed the government headquarters on the eve of the Occupy protests, Wong had to face the legal consequences. “The maximum penalty is to be put into jail,” he says in the film. “Mentally, I already expected to face the penalty – maybe put into prison. But I’m not really ready for it, actually.” Wong was subsequently given 80 hours of community service for his convictions for unlawful assembly and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly; Wong has since lodged an appeal.
Joshua Wong demands have been both consistent and fairly simple: that Hong Kongers should get to decide their city’s fate, not communist party officials in Beijing.
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