Part two of reflections on meetings with organizers and activists in Hong Kong and South China.
The first thing I noticed about Hong Kong was its enormous public housing high-rises. It is probably one of the densest urban areas I have visited; as my partner pointed out, there are malls everywhere, which people hang out in because they can't relax in their own apartments. Living conditions for workers are often cramped or worse -- activists with Caritas described a range of sub-standard housing problems ranging from sub-divided apartments (in which an already small apartment is subdivided into 3 or 4 even smaller ones), to 'coffin homes' (where you literally only have room to lie down), to cages (which is exactly what it sounds like, thankfully now being regulated).
I would not have guessed that Hong Kong contains important pockets of rural and agricultural areas, a reminder that before the handover the local elites were worried about food self-sufficiency. Land struggles are some of the most interesting, visionary, and dynamic movements within Hong Kong today. From 2008-2010, Hong Kong activists were galvanized by a struggle in Choi Yuen Chuen, a village that was threatened with destruction in order to build a high-speed rail line. It was a focal point for local outrage because it symbolized a confrontation between Hong Kong residents' desires to control their city and Beijing's intention to subordinate the city's future to its own plans. It did not help that many of the un-elected legislative councillors stood to benefit financially from the project.
Although the movement was unable to stop the project, it represented a significant cresting of political mobilization, as members of Choi Yuen Chuen and their supporters blockaded the government building as voting and debate on the project proceeded inside. They did not prevent the vote, but almost forced the legislators to stay overnight.
The Choi Yuen Chuen campaign opened a new front in the struggle for social justice and democracy. It linked politicized students with long-established and tight-knit rural communities. Years after the movement has left the streets, some of the students continue to work with the villagers. They are in temporary housing provided by the rail company, and have used money from the compensation fund they won as well as other resources to purchase land, and have gone through a collective planning process to rebuild their community. While they continue to battle utilities companies over the cost of providing infrastructure, and construction has not yet started, they have also begun communal farming using organic and other environmental methods. It is a community that seems much more determined than defeated.
Other students who participated in the movement decided to do research into future development plans in Hong Kong's hinterland, the New Territories, which borders Shenzhen. These students have integrated with communities to oppose the government's developments that would destroy the remaining agricultural areas and replace them with businesses and luxury housing. Working with local residents, the students have set up an organic farm and produce market, called MaPoPo Farm. The farm serves as a means to build a community institution and positive identity. They have linked with other local communities to form the Land Justice Alliance -- a political project that carries a vision of a different Hong Kong, which integrates rural and urban environments that complement each other.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
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