It’s a good thing it was one of those old giant desks, because he was a huge man; tall and (for lack of a better term) rather fat. I could try to get away with calling him rotund, but it’d be a lie. He liked his Snicker bars that was for sure, he’d park several of them on the table in his little office, where students would often go to have a chat with him and discuss world events and smoke cigarettes. He always had time for his students.
He was our high school history teacher and we all looked up to him, all of his students, even the ones who didn’t care for history thought the world of him. He was called Mr. V (no, I am not shortening his name for the sake of anonymity. Mr. V is what he was called by everyone. Any former student reading this will instantly recognise him from the description above.)
More than anything though, those who Mr. V taught will remember him for his amazing depth of knowledge and his ability to share it and communicate it openly with his students.
It’s right now, decades later, with what is happening with the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong that I am reminded of Mr. V’s words, when he was teaching us about Mao’s Long March. Those words are, unfortunately, not encouraging.
“Remember, when it comes to China. China will only change when China wants to change” Those were Mr V’s words.
I fear Mr. V will be proven right yet again. In Tiananmen, a few days before the tanks rolled in, it looked like things were going to change, then the shooting started. But remember this: China did change after Tiananmen, but China changed on its own terms.
With Mr. V’s words booming in my ears it’s scary to watch what is happening in Hong Kong, the best outcome from a casualty toll is to hope that the Umbrella Movement withers away of its own accord. But from a human point of view the desire of people to be free, to have a voice in how they are ruled, is a strong fundamental human need.
When people are willing to die for something, many often have to.
When it comes to Hong Kong, China will not mess around. The US and Europe will remain silent, which is cowardice or realpolitik depending on how your moral compass is calibrated. But if things continue to spiral out of control, does anyone really have any doubts about China’s willingness to step in with something stronger than teargas and pepper spray if it feels that it is about to lose power in Hong Kong?