Responding to Hong Kong’s Political Crisis: Moralist Activism amongst Youth
Discourses of morality are prevalent in contemporary Hong Kong youth activism. This paper suggests that this moralist disposition is the product of youth frustrations towards Hong Kong’s political crisis, whereby the power gap between civil society and the government renders the former incapable of exerting substantial influence over the governance of the city. Rather than ascribe the cause of this power imbalance solely to government policies, this paper reveals that civil society also contributed towards the making of this political crisis. By reviewing the citizen-led pro-democracy movement throughout the decades, it is shown that civil society has been ineffective in implementing political reforms because its actors and organisations harbour a political subjectivity that prioritises economic considerations over democratic aspirations, and are thus inclined to compromise with the government to preserve economic stability than to demand for political reforms. As a result, contemporary youth activists describe Hong Kong civil society as “uncaring” and lacking in moral commitment towards realising democratic reforms that will facilitate the development of a just society. Seeking to reconfigure such political attitudes that currently prevail in civil society, youth activists refashion themselves into political actors embodying a form of moral personhood that embraces notions of responsibility and of wanting to do good for the city, to show that another way of being politically engaged in Hong Kong is possible.
Hong Kong; youth activism; civil society; political subjectivity; moral personhood
Sonia Lam-Knott is a postdoctoral fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. She was awarded a DPhil in Anthropology from the University of Oxford for her research on the emergent political subjectivities of youth activist in contemporary Hong Kong. She continues to examine the socio-political ambiguities and tensions in post/neo-colonial Hong Kong through the lens of heritage and nostalgia, aesthetics, vernacular experiences of everyday life, and urban contestations.