“Leader” by Vinton Poon

by Vinton Poon

Edward Leung

During this movement, apart from “five demands, not one less” (五大訴求,缺一不可), citizens also chant the slogan “liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our time” ( 光復香港,時代革命). This “liberate Hong Kong” slogan was first introduced by Edward Leung 梁天琦during his Legislative Council campaign in 2016. He probably did not expect that his slogan would be taken up by millions of people from 2019 on.

Even though he is currently in jail, this slogan seems to have made him the spiritual leader of a leaderless movement. Around September 2019, people started to circulate the campaign debate he participated in with two other candidates: Christine Fong 方國珊, and the eventual winner of the seat Alvin Yeung 楊岳橋. Netizens were surprised by how ahead of his time he was, proposing ideas that were seen as too radical then, but reasonable now. 

A snippet of his exchange with Alvin Yeung summarises this point.

Yeung asked, “As a leader, do you agree that you should set a bottom line for protest, in order to protect your followers?”

Leung answered, “I agree, but I do not lead the crowd. I am one of the crowd, and I walk amongst them.”

Very often, when we discuss the notion of “leader”, and explain why someone can be a leader, we identify the qualities she possesses. We frequently see books about success that detail the personalities that make one a leader, or highlight the features that a certain leader possesses. But what’s interesting is, if we compare these books, we will see that authors have very different opinions when it comes to what makes a person a leader. More interesting is the fact that, when analysing the same leader, authors might come up with very different opinions. One book may say that Jesus was a leader because he was low-key; while another might say that Jesus’s success relied on his active self-promotion.

In the book The New Psychology of Leadership, the authors S. Alexander Haslam, Stephen D. Reicher, and Michael J. Platow propose a new way to understand leadership. They argue that instead of looking at personal attributes, to understand a leader, one needs to look at her followers. This is because, for a person to be a leader, she needs to show that:

  1. she is one of us: she possesses the same attributes as members of the group;
  2. she does it for us: what she does, she does for the group;
  3. she crafts a sense of us: she highlights what marks us as a group, and allows us to realise our group identity;
  4. she makes us matter: not only does she express our ideals, she works on turning these ideals into reality.

If we take a look at Edward Leung, we will see why what he said and did in 2016 makes him a spiritual leader today. Four years ago, the ideal he expressed, and the actions he took may not have been accepted by people, but because of the change of circumstances, we have started to agree with his ideas, and he has become the spiritual leader of the crowd today. First, as Leung said, he belonged to the group and marched with the group, he was one of the Hong Kong people; second, epitomised by the “Fishball Revolution” (魚蛋革命), he fought against the authorities for Hong Kong people; third, he emphasised localness, and stressed the local Hong Kong identity and, last but not least, he worked to turn what we believe in as a group (freedom and democracy) into reality.

Of course, each Hong Kong person has a different ideal, but whether you support the rule of law; whether you want Hong Kong to maintain the One Country, Two Systems paradigm for the next thirty years, or whether you want Hong Kong to be independent, you will find something from him that echoes with you. A good leader is the stereotype ascribed to his followers. If what Edward Leung believes in has not changed since 2016, then it is we who have become more like Edward Leung in 2020.

On the other hand, the woman who is supposed to be the leader of Hong Kong does not fulfil any of the aforementioned criteria. She may possess certain outstanding personal qualities (e.g. performing well at school and at university, and climbing up the career ladder in government), but not only does she lack the four qualities listed above, she has the opposite attributes: 

  1. she doesn’t show that she’s one of us. She didn’t even know how to use an Octopus card to get through an MTR turnstile; 
  2. as she confessed in a closed-doors meeting, she worked not only for the Hong Kong people, but also for Beijing; 
  3. she hasn’t promoted Hong Kong identity. She instead encouraged us to integrate with the so-called Greater Bay Area;
  4. she did not respond to people’s demands, and insisted on passing the extradition law. And when enacting the law failed, she did nothing when Beijing later bypassed the Hong Kong legislative system altogether to imposed the National Security Law. Far from raising any concerns, she gave the law her full support, as did all members of her government.

What made it even sadder is how this woman has given up on leading Hong Kong, and turned herself into a mouthpiece for the Beijing government. This political zombie may be talented, and highly intelligent. But even if she could fly, she would never, never, be the true leader of Hong Kong people. At the moment, the Hong Kong people’s true leader may in actuality be the guy who shouted “Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our time”, and who is now unfairly detained in Shek Pik Prison.

(Header image: “Police on Sai Yeung Choi Street South”, 2016. Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.)

Vinton Poon is interested in teaching languages. He taught Chinese in Scotland, and English in Hong Kong. He was a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University from 2013 to 2019. Now immigrated to the UK, he researches linguistics and communication as an independent scholar. His new favourite hobby is gardening.

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