The so-called Umbrella Revolution (September 26-December 15, 2014) marked a turning point in the progressive erosion of liberty in Hong Kong. After those dark days it was clear for everyone that Hong Kong was no more. Just one year after these events, five booksellers from Hong Kong who had been editing and publishing books critical of senior Chinese leaders disappeared: Lui Bo and Cheung Ji-ping went missing in Shenzhen and Dongguan on October 15; Gwai Man-hoi, a Swedish citizen, disappeared from Thailand just two days later; Lam Wing-kei was last seen in Hong Kong on October 23; and Lee Bo, a British national, went missing on December 30. Although the authorities were unable to find out the whereabouts of the five missing booksellers that had been illegally kidnapped by zealots of the Chinese Communist Party, during this Lunar New Year the police felt it was a matter of utmost urgency to deal with the street hawkers who were selling fish balls in the streets of Mong Kok.
Thus, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, street hawkers and members of different localist groups clashed with the authorities, resulting in warning shots being fired by the police. Recordings from pedestrians showed police brutality in different forms, using batons and pepper spray even against peaceful bystanders. On Wednesday, a member of the student group Scholarism, Derek Lam Shu-hin was also detained and police attempted –unsuccessfully– to search his house without a warrant. This has been labeled the “Fishball Revolution”, and it is the next step in the long fight for civil liberties in Hong Kong.
More Than Fish Balls
Although Hong Kong authorities stopped issuing licenses to street hawkers in the 70s because of health concerns, vendors had kept this Lunar New Year fish ball tradition alive for over forty years without incidents. As restaurateur Alan Yau puts it:
It is the quintessential Hong Kong street food and –culturally– it represents the Hong Kong working class like no other institutions can. Street food, and the fishball represent the values of entrepreneurship. Of capitalism. Of liberal democracy. Anthropologically, they mean more than a $5 skewer with curry satay sauce.
For many Hongkongers Lunar New Year’s fish balls are an intrinsic part of their character and their cultural identity, and this is why localist groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線 Buntou manzyu cinsin, lit. “Native Democracy Frontline”) and Civic Passion (熱血公民 Jithyut gungman) are struggling to preserve the traditional values of their society. Many may argue that localism is anti-libertarian (sorry, it is not), but these changes in Hong Kong are happening without the people’s consent. Hong Kong’s local values, from Cantonese language to fish balls, are not endangered because people are giving them up freely, but because a foreign government (the People’s Republic of China) is trying to impose their own authoritarian policies. Localist groups in Hong Kong are giving voice to individuals, and are defending individual liberties –such as speaking the language your prefer or selling fish balls on the street– against a totalitarian state. They are the last stand against an oppressive government.
The Threefold Road to Liberty
There are not many pragmatic discussions among libertarians about how to change an authoritarian society into a more free one. As Murray Rothbard explained in his epilogue to The Ethics of Liberty, an “exposition of a theory of strategy for liberty has been virtually nonexistent” (1998, p. 257). Yes, there are theoretical approaches about what should be changed but we libertarians rarely speak about how to implement those policies. And this is important in the case of Hong Kong, where citizens are not allowed to elect their leaders or reject their government policies (same as China) but are clearly discontent with the current administration (unlike China). What should they do when the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the police are not there to serve the people?
– The first step is education, and education on liberty. The values of freedom, libertarianism, and capitalism should be promoted against authoritarianism, socialism, and statism, both privately and publicly, through social media, TV programs, educational institutions, and so on. This is the road most Western societies should follow, because they already have freedom of speech and the adequate channels to promote these values. This road, however, has already been dismantled by the Chinese government: to talk about freedom is not enough when you cannot even talk freely.
– The second step is general dissent. Libertarian groups should violate the laws of tyrants and riot against the authorities. In the 16th century a Huguenot pamphlet published in France, entitled Le France Turquie (1575), advocated the association of towns and provinces for the purpose of, for instance, refusing to pay taxes to the State. Countries like Greece in Europe should take the road of dissent if they want to change things. A similar movement could easily be organized in Hong Kong to publicly fight its lack of intellectual, political and economic freedom –distributing books and pamphlets forbidden in China, electing their own local leaders, or refusing to pay excessive taxes for their businesses–. This could only work, of course, if an important number of people do it at the same time –and thus it is very unlikely that dissent will go beyond local riots and a few detentions.
The Third Road: Sic semper tyrannis
When the first and the second road fail, there is only one possible outcome: tyrannicide, or tyranny.
Tyrannicide –to kill the tyrant– is not only an important doctrine within Libertarianism, but it has also been defended by almost every important philosopher, both in Western and Eastern traditions. Mencius, the Chinese philosopher, believed that tyrannicide was permissible against kings whose rule was injurious to their subjects because a king who behaves like a tyrant could no longer be considered a king, but an actual criminal. The Greek historian Plutarch detested tyranny to such an extent that he not only approved tyrannicide, but thought that the assassination of a tyrant was a brilliant and praiseworthy accomplishment. Likewise, the Roman philosopher Cicero spoke of tyrannicide as a civil duty legitimized by natural law –a right of every individual. Christian authors were also very sympathetic. For instance, Thomas Aquinas writes in his commentary to the Sentences by Peter Lombard that
when what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted […] not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants. […] In such a case, one who liberates his country by killing a tyrant is to be praised and rewarded.
Juan de Mariana, a Spanish Jesuit priest who had an important influence on Classical Liberalism, wrote in his treatise De rege et regis institutione (1598) that any individual citizen could individually assassinate a tyrant without the consent of other citizens:
both the philosophers and theologians agree, that the prince who serves the state with force of arms, and with no legal right, no public civil approval, may be killed by anyone and deprived of his life.
Juan de Mariana, who believed that a tyrant was also he who violates the laws of religion and imposes taxes without the people’s consent, praised the assassination of such a monarch:
It is salutary reflection that princes have been persuaded that if they oppress the State, if they are unbearable on account of their vices and foulness, their position is such that they can be killed, not only justly but with praise and glory.
But modern societies are no longer dictatorial monarchies. Killing a tyrant could hardly resolve the issue –especially for Hong Kong, since the Great Tyrant is sitting far away in Peking. In modern dictatorships the whole apparatus –its executive and legislative authorities and the organ which monopolizes violence, the police– should either be dismantled or understand that “their position is such that they can be killed,” as Juan de Mariana once said. Nick Roberts, a modern libertarian, has devised a possible solution to this problem.
In his article “In Praise of Jackals: Assassination and Moral Defence,” Roberts proposes the creation of an Assassination Squad funded by voluntary public subscriptions, in order to hire professional assassins to get rid of dictators. Because the assassins would always be unknown, and because the funding web would be international, it would be virtually impossible for tyrants to protect themselves from a possible attack. They would either complain with the public needs or be killed.
Of course, this would be automatically called terrorist, right? Oh, wait, they already did that: according to Starry Lee, Executive Councillor, Legislative Councillor, and many other PRC-founded titles, Hong Kong Fish Ball revolutionists are now ISIS-like terrorists. So why not go ahead and rip some heads off?
While people in Hong Kong keep waiting for a better tomorrow, the words of Japanese journalist Yamamoto Hideya should not be forgotten: “When peaceful demonstrations fail, you can only resist with violence.” The third road is about to start.