Joshua Wong

Pro-democracy miracle worker

As a 17-year-old Hong Kong schoolboy, Joshua Wong was one of the leaders of an unprecedented popular uprising against Chinese interference. In 2016, he and others founded pro-democracy party Demosisto. Despite several spells in prison, Wong is determined to fight on. ‘Why do I see hope? Everybody’s on our side.’

‘It’s always about turning things that are impossible into the possible,’ Joshua Wong (21) said in a recent interview. ‘The enjoyable moment is creating the miracle.’ These are remarkably optimistic words, coming from someone who – at the time of the interview – was facing a prison sentence for his role in the pro-democracy demonstrations that shook Hong Kong in 2014. But as can be seen in the stirring documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, screened at the Movies that Matter Festival 2018, Wong isn’t afraid of chasing miracles.

In 1997, the British handed over Hong Kong to China after 150 years of colonial rule. A framework of ‘one country, two systems’ was agreed upon, whereby Hong Kong would maintain a large degree of autonomy. However, Wong says: ‘China has betrayed the joint declaration.’ This betrayal was the reason why Wong founded the organization Scholarism when he was 14.

Scholarism’s first main target was a pro-Beijing school curriculum which the Hong Kong government put forward in 2012. ‘Defend free thought. Resist brainwash education!’ Wong chanted. At first with a small group, but soon students and others flooded in to join the demonstrations, which numbered 120.000 at their height. Although he was widely seen as the leader of the protests, Wong has always been uncomfortable with this: ‘If a mass movement turns into worshipping a particular person, that’s a great problem,’ he said in an interview at the time. The demonstrators made history by forcing the Hong Kong government to withdraw the curriculum.

But when two years later China wanted to insert more control over the Hong Kong elections, it wouldn’t back off. As shown in Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, this resulted in an epic stand-off between the demonstrators and the authorities. For his role in this uprising, Wong was sentenced to six months imprisonment in August 2017, and in October Wong had his 21st birthday in a prison cell. After he had been out on appeal for a few months, he had to go back to prison in January 2018, only to be released again in February.

The jail time does not hold Wong back one bit. ‘Why do I see hope? Everybody’s on our side,’ he said in an interview while out on bail. With his political party Demosisto, Wong hopes to inspire young people to become more active. ‘I’m not saying everybody should be Joshua Wong or follow my journey. But at least it proved that activism is not just related to experienced politicians or well-trained activists who have been working for NGO’s. It can also be students or high-schoolers.’