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The Scottish Referendum, Hong Kong Umbrella and Taiwan Sunflower movements

October 16, 2014 by Ting Guo

An open discussion on the Scottish Referendum, Hong Kong Umbrella and Taiwan Sunflower Movement was held in Oxford last Sunday. Sponsored by Oxford Taiwan Studies Programme, this discussion was aimed for the deeper structural issues behind these three events, and the larger significance of cross-country activism (for instance, the concept of “occupy”) and universal values.


 A Scottish scholar who had be active during the Referendum shared his experience and reflections abut the event. According to him, once one uncovers the banalized ethnic nationalism at the heart of Unionism, the entire framing of the debate appears bizarre. UK politicians and their media chums, having convinced themselves that independence is a battle of ‘heart versus head’ – parse that dichotomy when you have a free weekend – accost themselves for not being atavistic and emotional enough. The result is the spectacle of the ‘No’ campaign being the Saltire-waving loons, and eversy Unionist address beginning with an unbidden affirmation of how patriotic a Scot the speaker is.

Another scholar, originally from mainland China, voiced that the Hong Kong students should reconsider their positions and actions. For him, what is at stake is the structural issue within Hong Kong itself, as well as the issue of identity. As he argues, like many prior “New Social Movements”, the Umbrella Movement has never brought up the idea of class politics, and has also never managed to engage with it. It has been a longstanding perception amongst the Hong Kongese residents that their society is a largely “declassified one”, especially since the 1967 workers’ revolt which was the most recent moment when class politics, and working class identity were pronounced. Hong Kong is declassified not in the sense that it is a society without a working class, which exists nowhere in the world, but that the political spectrum of the city spans from pro-establishment to pro-democracy rather than left to right.

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It was probably the first time a student-led discussion specifically on democracy, civil society and nationhood in Europe and Asia has been arranged, that brought attendants from various backgrounds and research areas together. It was certainly not been an easy event to organize and achieve. Many students from the mainland (and Hong Kong for that matter) did not dare to speak about politics in public, and their courage to participate was appreciated.

One of the organizers later remarked that she hoped that the discussion on the Scottish Referendum and Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution may open up various future potential for dialogue and initiatives of change – which is much needed at this time. When governments are so closely involved in their invested interest, as citizens it would be difficult to limit our concerns only to a regional scale, if we wish to achieve any social progress. In addition to the sharing of certain resources, the sharing or at least mutual understanding of values is more important. As academics, students and ordinary citizens, the configuration of our voices may not have “power” per se, but it can definitely be empowering, in enabling a language that can recognise and negotiate with that which has been dispersed and even repressed. It is the organizers’ genuine hope that more and more constructive discussions could happen among different groups of people; instead of “unfriending”, it can be a start of new friendships and effective communications, much like what had begun unfolding at the discussion.

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