Wukan!: Democracy, Illiberalism, and Their Vicissitudes
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Hong Kong’s democracy, localist, and nativist movements (and assuming these are indeed three groups rather than one), before and after their opening up by the umbrellas, arrived at the same old dead end of political impasse, which is to say at a status quo victory for the property-owning class. This may have even been the point: the point is to participate in the ‘civil society’ and demand that which you cannot have, while waiting for the implosion or liberal-democratic convergence of the mainland, or you at least wait for the next opportunity to do it all over again. (This statement reflects my own response to the closing argument of Prasenjit Duara in his excellent chapter, ‘Hong Kong as a Global Frontier: Interface of China, Asia, and the World,’ in Hong Kong in the Cold War, eds. Priscilla Roberts and John M. Carroll (Hong Kong University Press, 2016).) The earlier, 2011 ‘Wukan Uprising’ that took place 120 kilometers to the east makes for an interesting, resonant comparison in the analysis of impasse, and the limits and failures of liberalism and economism, or in other words the de-politicization of politics through the market and ‘growth’ as much as by sheer force or repression. This chapter presents a basic narrative of the rise and fall of the Guangdong villagers’ protests over land seizures and for justice and ‘democracy,’ before turning to an attempt to mine their meaning for politics more generally. There are two political bottoms lines right now, in effecting political change and contesting or bending the government in some reformist or otherwise progressive way. But these exist, as in Hong Kong and as in much of the world, in a context of impasse, or a political conjuncture defined in no small part by the triumph of de-politicization and the power or rule of capital and money. But if this is a dark period for politics around the globe, it is—contra liberalism old and new—in some ways still more, not less, promising in China as compared to other places such as the USA and even Hong Kong.