Queering the Valiant – an alternative perspective on the Hong Kong protest movement

Through the lens of queer theory, Petula Sik Ying Ho considers the ‘Valiant ideology and strategies’ embraced by the Hong Kong protest movement and asks important questions about the movement’s philosophy and its future


Brian Leung Kai Ping (梁繼平), has been called ‘the face of protest in Hong Kong’. Thanks to Stand News, I was offered a welcome great opportunity to chat with him on 17 August 2019 (1).

Brian, a graduate student, was involved in the siege and assault on the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) on 1 July 2019. On that night, as protesters broke windows and sprayed graffiti on LegCo walls, Leung climbed onto a lawmaker’s desk, removed his mask and asked others to stay behind. He was the only protester to remove his mask and reveal his identity. He also made an important speech, accounting for the siege that has given HK and the world a new look at the anti-extradition movement that embraces Valiant strategies (勇武), as opposed to Pacifist strategies, beyond the “peaceful, rational and non-violent” (和理非) actions characteristic of the Umbrella Movement in 2014. It was seen as a brave gesture of solidarity with a group of protesters whose actions amounted to a declaration that, for this Protest Movement of 2019, there was ‘no return’ and no simple de-escalation of the conflict with Hong Kong’s government.


HONG KONG, HONG KONG – JULY 1: Protesters smash glass doors and windows of the Legislative Council Complex on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)


Brian obtained a dual degree in law and politics at the University of Hong Kong, where I teach, and was the former chief editor of the Undergrad, a magazine published by the student union. A publication called Hong Kong Nationalism under the magazine was criticised by then chief executive Leung Chun-ying as promoting Hong Kong’s independence. But Brian insisted that he was not promoting the city’s breaking away from mainland China, merely advocating for a “Hong Kong identity”. I had heard his name but now we see his face more clearly and remember what it stands for.

Following this incident, Brian left Hong Kong. Some people said that he went to Taiwan and then on to the USA, where he has been undertaking doctoral research at the Political Science Department of Washington University.

On 16 August 2019, Brian gave a speech via video link as part of the ‘Stand with Hong Kong, Power to the People Rally’ at an event co-organised by Hong Kong IIAD — Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation (香港大專學界國際事務代表團). I was very glad to see him again. His speech was a comforting voice to my frightened self, especially after all the online harassment that I have experienced since the Tin Shu Wai Incident (2).  His voice, like a ray of sunshine, penetrated the dark room where I was hiding. So I decided to register for a seminar for Stand News bloggers, with the hope of speaking with him. The seminar was supposed to be a dialogue between Brian and Joseph Lian Yi-Zheng, a political commentator on HK and Chinese politics. I asked a few questions and was able to talk to Brian to learn more about his experiences and his definition of a few key terms of the movement, including: (1) what is a Gong Tong Ti (community), (2) the meaning of violence and (3) the new-found solidarity between the Valiant and the Pacifists. I submitted my record of the incident to Stand News and raised a few questions associated with the main issues in the movement at that time entitled “My love affair with the Anti-Extradition Movement”.

Since then, I have continued to ponder those questions, especially as things have changed so much in the past few months and the city is more divided than ever on the escalation of violence. I hope to share some of my reflections with Brian at the beginning of 2020 with a view to continuing this dialogue. Hopefully, our reflections on the changing definitions of these terms will be useful to the on-going struggles of Hong Kong people as the first anniversary of the movement approaches.

What is a 共同體 (Gong Tong Ti ) (community)?

I told Brian, “It’s been a long while since I heard something so moving. Can’t believe there’s still people who speak this gently.” Then I asked, “I’d love to hear more from you. What’s this community? And what underlies this community of Hong Kong?” He said, “It’s our shared despair and indignation. Whether you’re a Valiant (勇武) or a Pacifist (和理非), we share these same emotions deep down. This despair connects us all.”

“A community,” he said, “is a group of people who can empathise with each other in suffering, and who are willing to share such a fate … Only when we perceive the pain others endure as our pain, only when we cherish the sacrifice others make as our sacrifice, and only when we take every struggle of resistance as recognition, and ratification, of those who marched on this path before us in hardship, will a true community emerge.”

“It’s queer theory right on,” I replied, intending to give his perspective a queer twist, a more creative and irreverent reading that may elucidate the structures of power that might have gone unnoticed. Brian smiled, hinting that he understood my intellectual inclinations. As a gender/sexuality scholar inspired by queer theory, I wanted to find out if I can queer Brian’s views on what valiance is and what constitutes a community by emphasising his affective turn in redefining a Hong Kong identity that goes beyond being tied to place, nationhood, ethnicity or the Cantonese language. Has queer theory not taught us to transcend identity politics? (3)

Identity politics often leads to oppositions among identities and standpoints. Sexual minorities achieve solidarity, on the other hand, only through shared experience and memories of oppression, without protecting merely our own identity, standpoint, or interest.

Brian’s political ideal of a community forged by empathy sounds to me like another form of big love and that is why it echoes in my heart.

I asked what he thought about the online abuse some women like myself have experienced in the movement and how the community should take care of people who are wrongly accused, bullied, and criticised. He said that he could not comment on personal pain and such complicated relations. However, he did try during this whole time to encourage me to sympathise more with the Valiant and the repression they had faced. This dwelling upon (unresolved) anger lives only in the humiliation people have experienced in the past. He suggested:

“Do you still remember that a black bloc [a group of protesters] attempted to break into the LegCo Building in November 2014?(4)  In the end, they were distanced by the movement. They felt afterwards just like you do, excluded and unheard. Perhaps try reorienting these feelings, and you might then get more understanding from others, or better, you might be able to finally let go of the anger.”

I laughed immediately. Not as some kind of comic relief, but then we both laughed. I knew that he was humorous without being sarcastic, like a devoted Christian. Because I knew he seldom made jokes, I could laugh. I was glad that he didn’t say: “Remember how you treated them? You deserve this hell, bloody lefty.” No sarcasm, because I clearly felt his honest empathy with my suffering right now, and how he aspired to associate my feelings with those of the valiant radicals who were distanced. It was his genuine belief that, if I could be more understanding towards their experience, there would be relief for me.

Since then I have tried, without much success, to forget about the differences between these two forms of suffering – the Valiant radicals who have emerged as the dominant voice of the movement and the suffering of a woman activist who is just a Pacifist. Worse still, I have come to see more clearly that there is a shared understanding among people in the movement, including many comrades from the Umbrella Movement who used to be Pacifists, that there is more terrible suffering in a time of war and one should never dwell on one’s own pain and struggles like a victim, regardless of whether these sufferings were inflicted by fellow protesters or whoever. One cannot help but remember what Butler (2009) said in Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?

“One way of posing the question of who “we” are in these times of war is by asking whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable. We might think of war as dividing populations into those who are grievable and those who are not. An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all. We can see the division of the globe into grievable and ungrievable lives from the perspective of those who wage war in order to defend the lives of certain communities, and to defend them against the lives of others—even if it means taking those latter lives!” (p. 38)

A community forged by empathy, but only to the “deserving poor”

What is empathy and who deserves to be sympathised or empathised with? Obviously, our empathy should go to protesters, especially those who were themselves victims of police violence or have witnessed different forms of violence and have nowhere to vent and no time to heal except to lash out at others, especially our enemies and women whose views they have never liked or whom they believe have committed crimes against the movement. There is a hierarchy of “grievability” (Butler, 2010, 2011)! Some of my women friends have been upset to see how some women (including the wives and daughters of the police) are treated and positioned at the bottom of the hierarchy (Sham, 2020), or even outside it, because they have either a different political stance or different views on violence. Worse still, if they are elites or seen to have more resources and social status than other protesters, they are expected to just “suck it up” even when they are being treated unjustly by comrades.


A woman is seen wearing a rain coat and holding a photo of an injured protester while standing in front of a banner place on the ground inside a tunnel in Hong Kong, China. 17 June 2019 (Photo by Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


Who can define this hierarchy of grievability and say who are the “deserving poor”? There are people who are seen as useful to the movement and those who are not, especially those who have independent or unconventional views and who may not be able to say the right thing to defend the movement and its dark side. Do they deserve empathy? Are they part of this Hong Kong community or the social movement community? With the Valiant ideology, those who are on the front line and have suffered police brutality (including sexual violence) and been arrested on rioting charges are most deserving of empathy, especially if they are useful to mobilise new energies to sustain the movement. Those who use the same language of hatred against the police, the pro-establishment camp and the authorities, are the main characters or what people call “Hands and feet” (手足). Others are less useful for sustaining the movement and, worse still, some are critical of it. Do we care how they feel?

Brian has tried to move beyond identity politics with a sense of empathy grounded in our common suffering and despair as Hong Kongers in our fight against authoritarianism, but in reality, it is the same kind of friend/enemy dichotomy at work. If you are not one of us, you are an enemy and your feelings do not count. I am not sure if this is the kind of logic Brian or anyone from the Valiant camp has used, but I know that what they care about most is the hard-won solidarity between the Valiant and the Pacifist. They will treasure it and preserve it at all costs. Very often, this means that Pacifists are not allowed to sever the mat that we both sit on, as in coercively controlled relationships. Some sufferings are too trivial to mention, especially in the face of a bigger mission and a higher goal – the revolution of our times! They may even be seen as a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things. By the extension of that logic, some people’s suffering is irrelevant if these people are no longer useful to the movement!

Brian repeatedly stressed that the rupture within civil society in the Umbrella Movement had achieved miraculous reconciliation in the current movement. “If the Umbrella Movement was a thesis, then the Fishball Revolution (the Mong Kok civil unrest) would be an antithesis, and then, the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement is a synthesis!” he said. Brian believes that the Valiant and the Pacifist have reached reconciliation, at least to a significant extent.

Protesters have classified themselves into two groups: “the Valiant,” on the front lines who clash directly with police, and “the peaceful, rational, nonviolent” Pacifists, who support tactics such as rallies and marches, describing an approach which has been promoted by the pan-democracy camp in Hong Kong in recent years. As this camp is firmly believed to have made no contribution to democratisation for years, the abbreviation is always used sarcastically. Brian believed that something good has happened in the current movement, and it should inspire us to be proud of it. This precious achievement should teach us to have faith, and to seek the bright side of the movement. The slogans all read very well. Brothers and sisters, each climb his/her own hill! We are one body bound by our common fate! However, I could not help but ask, how did this reconciliation take place? By suppressing how many voices, how much dissent, by demanding how much sacrifice, did this synthesis grow into a form of coercive solidarity or even become pathological? How much effort have we made to normalise the sins we committed so that we finally see them not as sins but only as norms in wartime? I always thought that, among protesters in the resistance, there was a fundamental duty to care for our wounded fellows. This duty has gone unfulfilled.

A pathological solidarity as in coercively controlled relationships?

With a new emphasis on solidarity – the integration of Valiant and Pacifist – there may be more space for collaboration rather than struggles competing for leadership. People with different political stances are supposed to join hands. What cannot be talked about is what this new solidarity really means. In fact, it means there is only one thing we should all do, which is to protect the young protesters, the Valiant. The Pacifists must defend the movement at any cost. Otherwise, we will lose the battle against authoritarian rule. How is this solidarity possible? We are not allowed to talk about issues that will divert attention away from the broader movement.

As the Chinese saying (忍辱負重) goes, we should all endure any disgrace to bear the heavy burden, even if it involves swallowing humiliation in order to carry out an important mission – to liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times. Does this sound like what women are expected to do in coercively controlled relationships (as described by Stark (2007))?

How correct was Brian, when he said, “as soon as we start on this path of resistance, it’s destined that we be exiled and condemned by this city. Every protester must withstand misunderstanding from their family, the withdrawal of their friends, and curses from the Pro-Beijing camp.” What about being wronged and criticised by your fellow protesters? Condemnation or redemption? What about the rights and well-being of the visually impaired when most of the streetlights are damaged? What about the Mainlanders? If the ultimate enemy is the Beijing government, why would we extend our racialised hostility towards individual mainlanders, leading mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong to fear for their safety? Even if vandalising Chinese-owned businesses is important to send a message to Beijing, the way we treat individual Mainlanders, with private executions of provocateurs and beating them up, seems to be going too far. Using sexist and sexual slurs against political opponents and policewomen has become almost routine. Is it acceptable for the justifiable anger towards the police to extend to threats against the wives of policemen? Do we just pretend that we do not see the bullying of their children at school?

There is so much more suffering since the movement that we have chosen not to see. These undeserving ones are never part of that community because their sufferings are never recognised. They are people who deserved to be punished and so their sufferings do not count? What is the “common” suffering and despair that we have talked about as constituting us as a community? Why is there such a clear boundary between those who are deserving and those who are not when it comes to love, care and concern, as well as empathetic understanding? What is this common despair about? How can we discover who is really “yellow ribbon” and thus shares the same feelings about power, police brutality and the five demands of the movement? In an unequal society like Hong Kong, while all animals are equal, some animals are more equal than the other, as Orwell said. Even if we experience the same tragedy or face a common destiny, our sufferings are still very much our own and perhaps no one else is willing to understand what constitutes our pain! In this world, as we know, lives are not equally valued. Our claim against being injured or being killed is not always registered. And one reason for this is that some lives are not considered worthy of grief, or grievable (Butler, 2020).

Were these issues, I wonder, not important in Brian’s grand framework of community, as long as they took place in the glorious social movement? We did what we believed was right. Were these important enough for the movement? What more would it require to be counted as valiant? Who has the right to define or question it? The moment Brian decided to break in, he said, was his moment of truth, the moment he acted on his convictions. And each and every one of us could all have our moments of truth, whether to donate to the movement, to participate in a hunger strike or to fight at the frontline. But who is to judge which action is truly revolutionary, and which is the supporting one? Or which is in vain, and which is counterproductive? Who is to rank our contributions to our beloved movement? I couldn’t help wondering why the role of judge was assumed by the LIHKG forum and the Valiant. Is this really a leaderless movement? What are the inequalities and injustices underneath its apparent glamour?

Queering the Valiant

Some might object that a leftist feminist like me has no right to tell Brian, or anyone else, that my sacrifice is also for them, for everyone in the movement, to learn more about gender issues, and to learn more about empathy. I recall what the late Lin Yi-han, author of Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise, said at her own wedding. Being a newlywed, she said, is a form of rebirth, to become someone who is able to imagine others’ pain, and to help destigmatise patients with mental problems. She and Ellen Joyce Loo, the late singer, both aspired to help us understand others’ suffering, and respect others’ choices. They saw it as a crucial element of civil society. It’s an honour to know Brian. He’s an empathetic person, and he invited me to be more empathetic towards the Valiant. I hope, if I may, that Stand News can also organise a meeting for me to talk to students from CUHK. This masked student, in full gear, said to Vice-Chancellor and President, Prof. Rocky S. Tuan:

“We are armed, and it looks valiant indeed. But actually, valiance is not what the suit of armour represents. It represents fear: the mask is the fear of lethal weapons, and the black dress fear of white terror … Courage is simply that you have done something others are too afraid to do. Being courageous is overcoming fear, and valour is its external manifestation. Being valiant, to me, is not about power or violence, but action. To be valiant is to overcome your fear, and take action.”

He and Brian are valiant. But he believes that others (who are willing to put into action what they believe in) are also valiant.

“I believe that those who take to the street are all valiant. President Leonard Cheng of Lingnan University is also valiant.” He was the only one among the eight university chancellors who was willing to show up at the Yuen Long protest! (5)

“Being valiant is not a show of political standing, not a symbol of power (physical force), but an expression of love.”

Brian and I aren’t queer enough when compared to this masked student. He deconstructs what we conceive of as being the Valiant, young radical protesters. He confesses his vulnerability, without a hint of pretence. He confronts the powerful, and announces publicly a brand-new conception of being valiant. It is inclusive, in that other ordinary protesters receive recognition for their contribution. It is parodical, in that he drags in the Vice-Chancellor and President, demanding bravery. It is inspirational, in that he hopes to bring together every Hong Konger from different positions along the spectrum, to reinvigorate the movement. He re-presents President Cheng and President Tuan, uncovering the repressed truth (of the incident about them). By subverting our imagination (of these characters), he allows us to re-evaluate the contributions of others, including the marginalised. Queer he is indeed.

This is exactly how queer theory conceptualises identity: no identity, including that of the Valiant, is a constant, complete, or static entity. It possesses much more fluidity than we imagine. It should be like water, yet, sadly, more often than not, we solidify it. An identity is not defined in opposition to others only. Identities complete each other. They are mutually constitutive. That’s why being Pacifist and being Valiant are mutually visible and salient, defining each other by articulating what the other is and could be. In an intense movement like ours, this unfortunately attracts less notice than it should.

What is it to be Valiant? Brian has his definition, and the masked student has his, as has every other protester. Edward Leung Tin-kei, the young activist who is seen as the face of Hong Kong’s marginalised independence movement and who created the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times!”, was jailed for six years for his role in one of the city’s worst outbreaks of civil unrest in decades. Prosecutors painted him as a central figure in the clashes between police and a violent mob that began with a scuffle between street hawkers and municipal staff in Portland Street on the night of 8 February, the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday in 2016. Leung and a localist comrade were accused of playing a leading part in the violence and inciting the angry crowd to attack police officers outside the popular Langham Place shopping mall. He defined Yong Mo (valiance) as follows: Yong is bravery. Mo is not submitting to force, being firm and unyielding in defying all brute force. It is not about physical violence at all. It is also about overcoming our fear and not bending to power. Only when this conception, as well as all the others, is open to challenge, will our identities ever be fluid, not solidified, and become plastic.

Edward Leung is in jail. Brian will probably be exiled overseas for a long time. They are young people I sincerely respect. I was humbled to talk to Brian, and I thanked him for what he had done, what he had sacrificed. Still, I couldn’t help posing these questions again, after going through the past few months of protests and witnessing the escalation of violence. I saw Brian’s interview on Stand News on 18 October 2019. I was amazed at how he described his experience of the siege of the LegCo in relation to his embodied experience of violence, which has given me new inspiration for re-thinking the meaning of violence in the Hong Kong protests.


University of Washington student Brian Leung Kai-ping poses for a photo after an interview with AFP in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2019 (Photo by ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)


How can violence be exonerated?

Brian’s account of the 1 July incident was vivid and insightful (6). That night, he followed the crowd into the Legislative Council. He felt excited about regaining the people’s legislature. But when he got to the main chamber, he saw people roaming around.

“People didn’t know what they were doing, there was no purpose, no agenda. The energy was drifting around, but it wasn’t converging,” he recounted.

“The violence created a profound moral vacuum and a strong sense of meaninglessness – after all, what is this siege for?”

Brian thought to himself: It can’t end like this. He could almost hear the “peaceful, rational, non-violent” (Pacifist) and Valiant protesters’ finger-pointing, infighting. If that occurred, then everything would fall apart just like it did in the Umbrella Movement. In that moment, his mind was free of any thoughts of the risk of rioting charges, ruining his academic career, lawsuits, going into exile. All he knew was that if that night’s actions ended in the violent venting of blind anger, then not only would the resistance movement be finished, but the whole of civil society would go down too. It could not end this way.

“The momentum of history was slipping away…I felt a great burden and a very powerful calling.”

After a short prayer, Brian climbed onto the table, took off his face mask, and raised his hands to quiet the protesters.

“Out of two million protesters, 1.9 million didn’t support the break-in. They thought it’d kill the movement…I wanted to morally appeal to them. It was the movement that summoned me at that very moment: someone had to reconcile the irreconcilable.”

In the end, it was his devil-may-care boldness that cemented the imminent cracks that would have fragmented the movement.

He concluded: “When you cannot justify violence, you can only try to exonerate it.”

When asked why he stormed parliament and why the protests were becoming more violent, Brian had to explain that it was done out of self-defence, that the violence was only targeted at inanimate objects, that protesters showed great restraint.

“If you have to use physical force to suppress, or to bring someone to heel…doing away with moral justification means you’ll never be able to persuade anyone, but only overpower them with sheer force. That kind of violence is something the movement cannot withstand.”

Brian felt that if he didn’t give his speech and explain the siege, the public might only remember the vandalism and point fingers at us as a mob. That would also hand the government a convenient reason to prosecute all of us, which would mark yet another setback to civil society, like in the 2014 Occupy movement. He was right. If we are to rescue these actions, at least on a moral level, we need ethical justifications and discourses. That is so for every action we take, but particularly where the action involves violence (or supporting violence) of any sort, even if we do not want to go so far as to question the instrumental logic behind it.

What can we do to exonerate the extent of our violence and the cruelty of the vandalism targeted at all red capital, blue capital and fresh targets of attack, including anyone who has a different view or refuses to give their unconditional support to the movement? The whole anti-extradition movement has forced the regime to unveil its true façade – one that is rotten to its core. We cannot submit again to the past rotten order rooted in lies and injustice. Unfortunately, we are no better when “we take off the mask of peace, rationality and justice to reveal this brutal regime” if we fail to exonerate what we do and produce the result that Brian would like to see – “that our protest will gain more support and eventually succeed”. Last but not the least: What do we mean by success? Who dares to pose this question?

Some in the audience proposed that the movement needed a new agenda. True, but who here dares to say that: “Five demands, not one less” also needs adjusting? No way. We chanted every night only those we dared to chant, those we believed others dared respond to. We silenced ourselves because of the hegemonic discourse that would not allow us to say what we wanted to say and define our own moments of truth.

Wait until after the revolution?

I appreciated that Brian never interrupted me but listened patiently that night when we had our dialogue. He admitted that there are things we have not done well, and that we should evaluate our actions. He concluded, “We didn’t learn from the Umbrella Movement. I hoped we could reflect and review better after this movement.” Hearing this, I couldn’t help being emotional. “When will this movement end? Will it ever end? If not now, why would we learn afterwards?” Should reflection and review not be part of an ongoing movement? We participated passionately in a movement that somehow made us so afraid we had to think twice before voicing any opinion. We did not dare to counter the mainstream views on LIHKG and other online platforms. Was this good for the movement?

The other panellist on that night, Joseph Lian, said that the robustness of our character and mentality was vital to this movement. Although correct, it begged the question: how can we achieve this robustness? Again, the personal is not just personal. We protect each other, as we speak the truth in love, in friendship, and in the movement. Only through this can we build around us what is needed for this robustness inside ourselves to thrive.

Our views of the movement reflect the darkness in our hearts and the wounds in our lives. We march on, then we might be hurt; we keep marching, then we might be wounded. It happens in the movement as in life. This despair and pain, however, will not rationalise the sins we commit. The gender, ethnic and other hierarchies defining who is in and who should be out must be questioned. We must be aware of the ongoing inclusions and exclusions that these hierarchies create which will make it difficult for most of us to be the perfect protesters or the ideal victim. We have all been injured in the face of authoritarian rule and we are all vulnerable and injurable – especially in the time of the coronavirus. We must learn to imagine other people’s suffering and treat every life as worthy of respect, regardless of their status or political stance. As we move to 2020, something else may be spreading in Hong Kong amid coronavirus outbreak and anti-government protests – ‘xenophobia’ against mainland Chinese (7). When a Hong Kong police officer was confirmed as infected with the coronavirus on 20 February 2020, social media was inundated with messages from netizens vowing to mark the occasion by drinking champagne. Once again, our interdiction against violence always fails to include lives that are regarded as ungrievable or unmournable (Butler, 2010, 2011, 2020).


Sadly, queer politics has often come to be seen as a sort of identity politics – while non-binary, it is still seen as an identity (and a politics) of sorts. What we have learnt from Brian Leung and the masked student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is that we need to restore a queer perspective to help us move beyond identity politics with its emphasis on the friend/enemy dichotomy. It is urgent and important that we re-define valiance and go beyond seeing it as the use of physical force or specific forms of fighting or a certain type of war mentality related to a hegemonic or toxic form of masculinity.

I hope to invite Brian Leung and people who think differently about what counts as valiance to a further dialogue. Let us hope that this may help us re-define who are the protagonists of this movement. If we continue to position the young Valiant camp at the forefront, how can we ever recognise or be able to mobilise the efforts and contributions of people of different ages, gender, class, sexual preferences and social backgrounds, not to mention people with different political stances who also care deeply about Hong Kong and are too afraid to speak up.

Worse still, by encouraging young people to stay on the streets to fight the police, we are sending them to jail, especially those charged with rioting, or even to death by giving them the burden of the revolution which demands huge sacrifices, when we should all be part of this long-lasting struggle. As of 9 December 2019, more than 6000 people had been arrested, 40% of them students, 340 younger than 16. The youngest is 11 years old. Many young people were involved in overseas escapes. Many were seriously injured. There were political suicides and mysterious deaths, too. Should we keep on producing discourses that will send them to a “righteous social movement” and a glorious revolution by privileging one form of valiant protest as if this is the only option?

Moreover, we need to move beyond seeing the most deserving poor, the ungrievable or the perfect victims as those who have suffered police brutality or whose sufferings are helpful to sustain the movement. We need to embrace an ethics of care that will enable us to imagine other people’s suffering as our own as we struggle to fight against authoritarian rule. If we have to sell our souls to the movement, what do we have left to carry on the democratic revolution? (Ho, 2019) Is this still a democracy movement? What kind of revolution is this, really?

Petula Sik Ying Ho (Professor, Department of Social Work & Social Administration, The University of Hong Kong).

References and Endnotes

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (2009). Frames of War: When is life grievable? Paperback ed. London; New York: Verso.

Butler, J. (2011). Remarks on “Queer Bonds”. GLQ, 17 (2–3), 381–387.

Butler, J., (2020). The force of nonviolence: The ethical in the political. London: Verso.

Epstein, S. (2002). A queer encounter: Sociology and the study of sexuality. In K. Plummer (Ed.), Sexualities: Sexualities and their futures (pp. 191–211). New York: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality, Vol. 1: An introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon

Ho, P. S. Y. (2019). Where is feminism in the Hong Kong Protests? Issues in the context of the anti-extradition movement. GenderIT.org. Retrieved from

Sham, P. (2020). Who deserves compassion: A hierarchy of suffering in Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement. Medium. Retrieved from:

Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control: The entrapment of women in personal life. Oxford, New York: Oxford UP.

(1) See Ho, P. S. Y. (2019). 我和反送中運動的一場愛情 (My love with the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement), Stand News. Retrieved fromhttps://www.thestandnews.com/society/%E6%88%91%E5%92%8C%E5%8F%8D%E9%80%81%E4%B8%AD%E9%81%8B%E5%8B%95%E7%9A%84%E4%B8%80%E5%A0%B4%E6%84%9B%E6%83%85/?fbclid=IwAR171BCYKJa7eZsLrFbbgOW-Nb-c0wdNBgnjcMfsGTwPf6W6W9kG9ws-wnY

(2) See Ho, P.S. Y. (2019). Being in and Against of the Crowd, Discover Society. Retrieved from:

ON THE FRONTLINE: The Hong Kong protests – On being in and against the crowd

(3) The major intellectual currents influencing queer theory are social constructionist theories of gender and sexuality and poststructural feminist thinking (Butler 1990; de Lauretis 1991; Foucault 1978). Queer readings typically involve reading and interpreting a literary work to illustrate unmentioned themes of power, gender, or sexuality, to subvert norms and elucidate structures of power that go unnoticed (Epstein 2002).

(4) On 19 November 2014, eight weeks into the occupation, a group of masked people, many of whom appeared to be teenagers, used metal barriers and other objects, including broken bricks, to try to crack open the glass doors outside the canteen at the Legco complex. Lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who had arrived at the scene earlier, tried in vain to stop them. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3016839/protesters-storm-and-vandalise-legislative-council-anarchy

(5) On 28 July 2019, President of Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon, took the unusual step of attending the march in Yuen Long as an “observer” for about half an hour, two hours before police officers fired tear gas at protesters. Cheng, who said he was worried about the dangers facing students and staff, became the first incumbent university president to show up at a major protest since the Occupy movement of 2014.

(6) An interview of Brian Leung on Stand News
(Original version: 〈【專訪】屬於每一人的共同體 梁繼平:真正連結香港人的,是痛苦〉)
The English version is called Hong Kong Belongs to Everyone Who Shares Its Pain: the Vision of July 1st’s Only Unmasked Protester
Published on 2019/11/17
Retrieved from:

(7) See Li, Minnie (2020, Feb., 2). 疫情恐慌與公共話語生態:一個批判性的觀察 (Epidemic panic and the-ecosystem of public-speech, Facebook English version publishedon Lausan: Retrieved from:

Epidemic panic and the ecosystem of public speech