The Taiwanese Sunflower Movement, which saw protesters occupy the island's legislature in March over a secretly negotiated trade deal with China, demonstrated to world how technology and information can win public support and facilitate a mass mobilization against authorities.
Can this be duplicated in other Chinese communities? Two Hong Kong tech teams, Resistance Online and Code4HK, are working with their Taiwanese counterparts to do just that.
During the July 1 rally in Hong Kong, which gathered a half a million people to protest for universal suffrage, democracy and autonomy from China, the teams tested a set of tools that were used earlier in Taiwan including mapping, live-streaming and Hackfoldr, an information hub that allows different files and formats to be organized and shared easily.
Code4HK engages developers and citizens who advocate open-source coding, open data, and transparent government. The group makes use of maps or graphics with data to report and put all the links of live streams to hackfoldr as archive. The map above was the group's contribution to the July 1 rally.
Resistance Online, on the other hand, focuses on instant reporting and live-streaming from the protest scene. They archive all the live-streams and reports in a Hackfoldr with the support of Code4HK.
Initially, Resistance Online approached Taiwanese activist “indietaiwan” to help set up the live-streaming system for the protests against the Hong Kong government's Northeast New Territories development plan back in June. Leo Yiu, a member of Resistance Online, explained the background of the Taiwanese-Hong Kong collaboration an interview with Global Voices. He was inspired by the live-streaming of occupation of Legislative Yuan and wanted to see the same effect in Hong Kong:
Live-streaming is so important for those who cannot attend the protests. It can also expand the influence of movements. We collect texts and videos in both English and Chinese and organize the information into a Hackfoldr. We need to engage those who do not know Cantonese/Chinese into protests.
We noticed that Code4HK had set up Hackfoldr before, so we asked them for more information. Now Code4HK helped us to maintain the infrastructure of Hackfoldr, while we fill in the content. Code4HK provides more advanced skills, such as how not to embed video in the Hackfoldr.
Eventually “indietaiwan” travelled to Hong Kong for the July 1 rally and led a live-streaming team. With the help, Leo learned how to send digital videos to a computer and get access to the Internet through a mobile router.
So far, several thousand netizens have visited Resistance Online's July 1 Hackholdr, mostly from Taiwan.
After the march, Code4HK has continued to recruit developers who are willing to engage in social issues with their data-mining and programming skills. Resistance Online, has prepared for live-streaming and building up a hackfoldr for the mobilization against the Northeast New Territories development plan.
The driving forces between the Taiwan-Hong Kong collaboration, in addition to the growing influence of Beijing in the two regions, is the formation of a cross-border Chinese activist community. For Leo, the tie between Taiwan and Hong Kong is more related with the exchange of popular culture and activist experience:
The strong link between Taiwan and Hong Kong, I think, is not due to the so-called China factor. It is a complex story. For me, I watch Taiwanese films, listen to Taiwanese songs, read Taiwanese books. I work for the rights of sex workers and gender equality. I have good Taiwanese friends. That is why I have a strong attachment with Taiwan. The long-term cultural exchange. I like Taiwanese culture. Therefore, I am concerned about the Sunflower Movement, the Wenmeng Building issue [the protest against a real-estate investor’s plan to evict sex workers], the sovereignty issue, and indigenous people. I hope I can support cultural movements in Taiwan from Hong Kong. It has affected me a lot.
As for Ted, who is a Taiwanese student in Hong Kong and also a member of Resistance Online, he wished that the cross-border collaboration could help the activist communities from the two regions to learn from each other:
I want to let Taiwanese see Hong Kong in different ways. For example, some Taiwanese friends contended that Hong Kong was following in Taiwan's footsteps when protesters in Hong Kong attempted to force their way into the Legislative Council [on June 20 and 27 against the Northeast New Territories development plan]. Such a view obviously neglected the effort of various groups in advocating the idea of “land justice” in development. We should protect the lifestyle of residents in the Northeast New Territories. The government and property developers join their hands to reap the profits from land development. This should be stopped.
The 614-hectare development plan in the Northeast New Territories was put forward by the Hong Kong government in the chief executive's policy address in 2013. Opponents fear that if the government refuses to reduce the size, the project will destroy Hong Kong's remaining farming communities in the New Territories. While the government argues that the project will provide new homes for the Hong Kong people, opposition groups points out that only less than 96 hectares (16 percent) of the land is allocated for residential purposes.
Some argue that the new development area is intended to be a border city to serve mainland Chinese tourists or the cross-border business sector. A series of protests against the development plan started in June when the government tried to pass the budget plan in the Legislative Council and more protests will follow as the government moves forward and acquires the land with force.
The Taiwan civil society is a step ahead of Hong Kong in the advocacy of land justice, in addition to the use of technology and tools, so there will certainly be more exchanges among activists in the future.
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