The Hong Kong Protests and Political Theology
Series: Religion in the Modern World
- ISBN: 9781538148709
- Published By: Rowman & Littlefield
- Published: February 2021
The revitalized field of political theology has explored a variety of ways the theological intersects with the political in today’s post-secular setting. One locus constantly revisited is what Charles Tilly calls “contentious politics”—aspirational and conflictual politics that involves collective action—which has been manifested through grassroots organizing and popular uprisings worldwide. As part of the series Religion in the Modern World, The Hong Kong Protests and Political Theology edited by Kwok Pui-Lan and Francis Ching-Wah Yip focuses on a particular case of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, which serves as a crack through which one can glimpse many issues and fault lines existent in modern Hong Kong’s religious and political lives.
Kwok’s guiding essay sets the tone of the volume. According to Kwok, the goal of this volume is to offer “insights on the Hong Kong protests and theological reflections of the protests by Hong Kong contributors and international scholars from diverse vantage points” (9). Delineating the political landscape of modern Hong Kong since the 1970s, Kwok briefly canvasses the topics that will be covered by other contributors: coloniality, the role of Christianity in social movements, human rights and democracy in East Asian countries, the use of social media and of violence, globalization and economic inequity, and so on.
The rest of the volume is segmented into three parts. Part 1 contains essays that offer historical and social backgrounds as well as analyses of some key issues that arose during the Hong Kong protests. While Ben Siu-pun Ho describes the unfolding of the movement in chronological order (chapter 1), Alex Hon-ho Ip’s essay analyzes the structural problems behind the protests, such as deep-seated poverty and housing inequality (chapter 2). Hung Shin-fung and Lai Tsz-him’s essays are respectively focused on the “leaderless” nature of the protests led by youth groups (chapter 3), and the use of violence (chapter 4). Lai’s essay stands out in that he proffers a nuanced account of the role of both nonviolent and violent means of resistance to the dominant regime.
Part 2 presents more explicitly theological reflections. Philip Chia’s essay interprets the protests through the lens of biblical narratives (chapter 5), and Yip uses Paul Tillich’s notion of “the demonic” to analyze the oppressive political structures (chapter 6). Kung Lap-yan draws upon theological concepts such as crucified people and messianic time in his reflection on the youth in protests (chapter 8). The most notable essay in part 2 is Jessica Hiu-tung Tso’s chapter on sexual violence, titled “Hong Kong ‘Freedom Cunt’” (chapter 7), which is the only essay that deals with gender politics of the Hong Kong protests.
Part 3 contains the works of international scholars and activists who have committed themselves to various social movements and struggles. Here, readers are exposed to a wide array of voices coming from diverse historical, geographical, and political contexts from South Korea’s Minjung theology (chapter 10), to Palestine’s anti-occupation movement (chapter 11), to Armenia’s Velvet Revolution (chapter 12), and to the Irish anti-colonial struggle (chapter 13). Each essay in part 3 helps readers to understand the Hong Kong protests within a broader context of the worldwide struggle against politico-economic domination. Sharon Welch’s final essay circles back to the question of nonviolence, connecting the philosophy and practice of nonviolent direct action to the formation of democratic citizenship.
The question of (non)violence amid political turmoil is the one that keeps resurfacing in many other essays in this volume (especially, chapters. 1, 4, and 11). While Welch stresses a largely nonviolent character in both the umbrella movement in 2014 and the protests in 2019, Lai in chapter 4 sees the distinctiveness of the 2019 protests as “the coexistence of using both nonviolent and violent resistance” (75). Invoking the case of civil rights movement in the United States, Lai challenges the standard view that sets violence and nonviolence in opposition. Another crucial topic brought to the fore by multiple contributors is the role of religion in the protests. Contributors commonly suggest that when compared to the 2014 umbrella movement, in 2019 the Christian church in Hong Kong was more actively in solidarity with the protestors. Interestingly, in the early stage of the movement the Christian hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” became “the anthem of the protests” (149). Yet, as Albert Sui-hung Lee (chapter 9) points out, political participation of the church also engendered an intrachurch division and conflict, which raises a question about the proper role of religion in the midst of social unrest.
For all its contributions, there are some missed opportunities in this volume. One of them is a dialogue with the established (but evolving) canons within the field of Western political theology, which includes Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, G.W.F. Hegel, Carl Schmitt, Reinhold Niebuhr, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone, William Cavanaugh, and so on. To be sure, embedded within a concrete and fast-changing context of struggles against domination, the spirit of The Hong Kong Protests is prophetic, postcolonialist, contextualist, intercultural, praxis oriented, and based on lived experiences—and rightly so. Yet, it would also have been beneficial to some readers if the essays had conversed with “canonical” political theologians, examining, interrogating, and contesting their thoughts in light of the Hong Kong protests. Another possible but missing avenue is theoretical interventions from political theorists. Given that many essays revolve around the topics of violence and civility, conflict and dissensus, democracy, peoplehood and identity, and globalization, the absence of political theorists’ contributions may well come as a surprise to some. Political theology cuts across the disciplinary boundaries.
Despite these minor complaints, this collection of thought-provoking essays is the product of an outstanding collaborative work between scholars and activists, Hongkongers and non-Hongkongers. Some chapters can be useful resources for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students. Also, the suggested further readings on Hong Kong politics at the end of the volume is immensely helpful for those who want to study more on this topic.
Keunwoo Kwon is a PhD candidate in integrative studies in ethics and theology at Loyola University Chicago.Keunwoo KwonDate Of Review:January 29, 2022