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Hong Kong can teach Britain’s students a thing or two about student activism

By Christopher Jutting Oct 21, 2014
Copyright: Pasu Au Yeung/Flickr

Photo: Pasu Au Yeung/Flickr

In case you’ve been living in an airlock for the past month, here’s a brief reminder of the current international news: Hong Kong’s people are engaged in an ongoing street-level struggle for their right to democracy and independence from their parent nation of China.

It’s a fight we’ve seen repeated over and over again in Asia and beyond in the past 50 years. Burma, South Korea, China – all have seen protests in the name of democracy, and all have had one thing in common. The demonstrations have all been led and populated primarily by students.

The story here is the same. Student activism has been an integral part of the significant majority of protest action in this country, from the miners’ strikes of the 70s and 80s to the protests against the bombing of Iraq in 2003. In these protests especially, young people were ready to take on issues that did not directly affect them.

Where standing up for your own rights is expected, standing up for the rights of others should also be morally obligatory for us as citizens in a rich western country.

One would think, then, that Britain is due another decent student protest movement. The tuition fee protests of 2010 utterly failed to stop politicians from lifting the fee cap. The Occupy Protests boosted sales of cheap tents and Guy Fawkes masks without causing the one per cent to even break a sweat. The protests over Mark Duggan’s killing were completely overshadowed by the actions of a bunch of freeloaders who decided that, rather than push a salient point about race and ‘stop and search’ laws in this country, they would prefer to loot shops, burn people’s property and mug innocent bystanders.

To put it mildly, the state of student activism in this country is dire. Are young people really that content with having limited political power while government after government neglects their interests?

The university fee increase is a case in point, but other issues like the slashing of teaching budgets and the skyrocket in house prices should be things that we as young people care about – they will affect all of us.

Kingston students took part in a picket last October over the planned introduction of a zero-hour contract for lecturers and staff. Further protests were organised after the announcement of the closure of the School of Planning and Surveying. Both were poorly attended – those blocked from using the front entrance by the picket had to take a whole half-minute detour round to the side door. The thought was there – the participation was not. Is it too much to expect from a university of 20,000 plus students plus staff members to stand up for their own?

While these issues probably pale into insignificance next to a country-wide plea for democracy, Hong Kong’s resolute, unwavering and relatively peaceful revolt against a government that is refusing to respond to the cries of a nation is something we can relate to on a microcosmic level and learn from.There are will always be injustice to fight against in any society.

Choose your cause – whether it be your own or that of another party – and get involved. Not for personal gain, not for the sake of a punch-up, but for the sake of making a difference.

By Christopher Jutting

Outgoing editor of The River's newspaper team. Interested in foreign affairs, classical music and good coffee. Dresses in clothes your dad might wear. Contact me at if you'd like to talk to me directly, or use for general enquiries.

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