The term “first world problems” has become an internet meme in which individuals attempt to shame greedy and comfortable people in wealthy societies who believe that minor issues such as a supermarket running out of their favourite variety champagne is an unabashed catastrophe. Such “first world problems” memes do tend to offer some circumspection to those who forget that whilst their ‘protein based gluten free organic diet’ isn’t having its desired effects, children in Yemen are experiencing a level of famine of such extreme proportions that even many UN doctors have expressed open shock and horror at what has afflicted the impoverished country.
Whilst China is a wealthy developing country, many of China’s cities have taken on first world socio-economic characteristics thanks to the continued process of Reform and Opening Up. This means that just as Americans, French and British tend to complain a lot, Chinese are not without complains about their society either. But unlike in the 1970s when 88% of all Chinese lived in legally defined poverty, today’s Chinese problems are increasingly first world problems rather than the kinds of dire problems associated with relatively recent epochs in Chinese history including the period in which the Chinese War of Resistance Against Japan took place.
Hong Kong in particular is a region of China with incredibly first world characteristics due to the fact that its economic development through financial openness began prior to the 1978 Reform and Opening Up on the mainland. The fact that Hong Kong was ruled by a 1st world imperial power between 1841 and 1997 further contributed to a first world mentality.
Politically and sociologically, Hong Kong is miles away from the slave markets of Libya, the throat cutting of parts of Iraq and Syria, the famine of Yemen, the severe poverty of many erstwhile war torn African countries and the sectarianism of parts of south Asia. Hong Kong is an ultra-modern, clean, safe, ethnically homogeneous but highly international region that is more famous for making money than making trouble. In Hong Kong it would be difficult to find trouble if one tried. This is why it is all the more disheartening that some young people in Hong Kong are going out of their way to stage provocations rather than engage in the civilised political discussions that have long been legal according to the region’s Basic Law.
It is precisely because of this that the current wave of protests are not a “struggle for democracy” but merely a first world problem that has been escalated beyond reasonable comprehension. To put it another way, Hong Kong is officially a meme thanks to a handful of scoundrels.
When initial and mostly peaceful and lawful protests against a law that would have seen criminals resident in Hong Kong sent to face justice elsewhere in China (but only if the crime in question was also considered a criminal act under Hong Kong’s Basic Law) were held, they were conducted in a lawful manner. So responsive was Hong Kong’s legislative leadership that the singular demand of the protesters was met and the proposed law was scrapped. By contrast, western protests against Wall Street (the Occupy Movement) resulted in no political change, nor did anti-Iraq war protests in 2003 succeed in stopping one of the greatest war crimes of the modern age.
In a normal circumstance, the protests in Hong Kong would have ended when the demand of the protesters was met. Instead, the protests metamorphosed into something incredibly ugly. The protests have mutated from those concerning the criminal jurisdiction proposals to aimless protests directed against the Chinese state and regional institutions. The protesters have become violent, destructive, rude, crude and vulgar in their supreme lawlessness. Unlike lawful and peaceful protests, such behaviour would not be tolerated in the US, UK, France or Germany. Notably however, whilst the French state has taken a notoriously violent approach against the mostly peaceful and mostly patriotic Yellow Fest protesters, the Chinese authorities have thus far been very soft when policing the hostile and lawless protesters in Hong Kong.
It is of note that these “student protesters” are using the summer months not to serve their localities, make new friendships or enrich their minds but are instead using the summer months as a season of violence. These generally well-off or otherwise economically comfortable youths are proof positive of the fact that whilst first world problems are preferable to Yemeni problems or Congolese problems, they are that much more vulgar because they are mostly self-made problems.
Hong Kong remains a successful part of China whose unique local characteristics have full legal protections under the one country – two systems model. So successful is this system that protesters rapidly got their supposed wish of seeing the judicial jurisdiction proposals dropped. Now it is time for the protesters to stop allowing themselves to be manipulated by irrational and anti-patriotic forces. It is likewise a time to reflect on the fact that a child born in Hong Kong has it better off than children born in most of the rest of the world. A child in Yemen would like to protest against those making war on his country but most Yemeni children find it a struggle just to find food and clean water. Many can hardly even move under their own power.
The best way to end “first world problems” is to demonstrate that people elsewhere have it much, much worse. If a photo of a malnourished or limbless Yemeni child was hoisted on one of Hong Kong’s buildings, the protesters in such a circumstance ought to kneel down in shame and ask collective forgiveness for their selfish behaviour. Hong Kong is a place of civic freedoms, economic opportunity and high living standards. If the protesters are unhappy, perhaps they should abscond to Yemen and allow those who would appreciate Hong Kong’s life style to take their place.