The Cruelty is the Point: Hong Kong Edition

Illustration by Ah To @ah_to_hk

Since the weekly mass protests broke out in Hong Kong last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the social conflicts in my hometown, Hong Kong, and my current home, the United States of America. While the causes of the social divide are not the same (or are they?), I keep thinking there is something very similar in the way people behave. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—until the violence started escalating very rapidly over the last two weeks: gangsters clad in white attacking anyone in their path in Yuen Long a couple of weekends ago, police firing tear gas inside the Yuen Long train station Sunday night when protesters were simply trying to take the train home, while numerous rounds of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired around the same time on the other side of the city in Sheung Wan. It finally dawned on me that the excessive force employed by the police, gangsters, and other pro-establishment groups all point to one thing: cruelty.

I’m instantly reminded of an article by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic, titled THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT. In the article, Serwer argues that what brings Trump and his supporters together is the shared joy of seeing “the suffering of those they hate and fear.” One striking example is the collection of photos in the Museum of African American History and Culture: white men in different times and locations all smiling happily in pictures of black men being tortured. According to Serwer, the horrific act, and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they’re doing it together, creates a special bond between them.

In the case of Hong Kong, maybe it’s not so much smiling faces, but more of smirks and sneers. The cruelty, however, is the same. After repeatedly criticized for violating international code, police kept firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets directly at protesters, knowing full well that this would induce maximum damage. This is beyond crowd control. This is aiming to hurt, or even kill.

When legislator Junius Ho shook hands with gangsters in Yuen Long, congratulating them for a job well done after a night of violence, it was a sign of comraderie. They’re basking in the joy of achieving a common goal. It’s the same sentiment expressed when, during a pro-police rally last month, a couple of men destroyed the makeshift memorial that protesters set up for the young soul who fell to his death in Admiralty. It’s the same reason why medical crews were not allowed to give necessary treatments to injured protesters. They want to see the other group suffer, emotionally and physically. These acts of cruelty are a bonding mechanism.

Many wonder why such hate exists. The answer is simple. It’s a tactic that has been employed by the wealthy and the powerful around the world for centuries. They knew that if they throw a wrench between two groups, there will be a fight. And when people are busy fighting each other, no one would paid attention to them.

There’s a Chinese saying, “When the crane and the clam fight, the fisherman reaps the benefits,” because now that they’re both injured, the fisherman can just scoop them up as his catch of the day.