Without skipping a beat, Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho, dissident artist Badiucao, Hong Kong human rights activist Johnson Yeung (楊政賢) and Chinese dissident Yang Jianli (楊建利) launched into stories of solidarity, resistance, and civil disobedience from Hong Kong’s summer of dissent at an Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) panel on September 13. They recounted the ways Hong Kong’s anti-extradition protests have flourished into a pro-democracy movement through creativity and resilience.

Yeung said Hong Kong protesters have learned a very important lesson from the 2014 Umbrella Movement: the absence of a central leader figure prevents the movement from being directly decapitated by the opposition, while allowing participants to express themselves more creatively and effectively. This includes examples of volunteers rescuing protesters who were stranded near the airport, people gathering outside to watch a laser pointer show for comic relief, designers and musicians creating works to boost protester morale, and so on.

While pundits have likened Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, the panel discussion provided a sharp contrast of the two movements and how the world has changed drastically since 30 years ago. Today, the internet provides us with global, real-time news coverage, methods of creative and anonymous dissent, and untraceable private communication, but we should also keep in mind that 30 years ago, autocracies outnumbered democracies by a ratio of two to one. There was simply far less global understanding of what democracy meant in 1989.


Compared with millennia of authoritarian, religious, monarchical, and oligarchical rule, liberal democracies are still nascent in history. It wasn’t until after World War II that many countries transitioned to democracies, some with more success than others. Most of these democracies are found in Europe and the Americas, leaving Africa and Asia as a mixed collection of regimes. Despite its flaws, India is the world’s most populous democracy and second-most populous country, showing the world that democracy can be implemented regardless of population.

Today, less than half of the world’s population lives in a democracy. Despite the infancy of our liberal democratic ideals, democracies around the world have proven themselves to be generally wealthier, healthier, and more educated than their undemocratic counterparts.

Although Hong Kong, a former British colony, has never implemented a fully democratic government, many protesters are still fighting for universal suffrage in an attempt to defend their civil liberties. By showing up and making clear their five core demands, they hope to have a voice in maintaining their city's autonomy.

"Hongkongers know that while democracy isn’t the complete solution to their problems, they recognize that the lack of democracy is the cause of their problems,'' said Holmes Chan, a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press.


Democracies also tend to do a better job at protecting human rights than authoritarian regimes, but democracies are young and far from perfect. Winston Churchill once described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all the others.” The newest political system on the block still needs legislators, activists, journalists, and organizations challenging and improving political institutions, in democracies and non-democracies alike.

At the 2019 OFF, Taiwan’s first digital minister Audrey Tang said that although 21st century tools are being used by authoritarian regimes to monitor and surveil their citizens, they can also be particularly effective in improving democracies by making “the government more transparent to the people instead of making the people more transparent to the government.”

Many activists at the OFF acknowledged that Taiwan has gone through a democratic transition and yet is still fighting a similar battle against authoritarianism. The tactics being used by the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong are likely the same tactics they will try to use in Taiwan. Today Hong Kong, tomorrow Taiwan.

Events in Hong Kong have also alarmed many Taiwanese politicians, who have come out in solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters. And as Taiwan heads into a presidential election season, the Taiwanese will have the chance to exercise their own hard-won freedom at the ballot box with impressions of Hong Kong fresh in their memory.

READ NEXT: Oslo Freedom Forum Calls for Hong Kong-Taiwan Unity Against Tyranny

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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