Got To Love the Protests

As I reported recently in “Trying to Kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg,” the government sometimes seems hell bent on destroying or forbidding anything that either isn’t modern or that anyone complains about no matter how trivial.

The latest episode involved musicians playing amplified Chinese music. I will avoid the obvious issue of how authentic Chinese music is if it’s amplified. On Sundays these musicians have been setting up in Tuen Mun Park and playing for free to audiences mostly made up of retirees and migrants from the Mainland. Some unspecified number of people complained of the noise and so the government immediately banned all amplified music. They then tried to substitute yoga and magic shows but to no avail as people started complaining that they couldn’t hear anything the performers were saying.

In the afternoon the usual suspects showed, set up their amplifiers and started playing before an appreciative audience of over 500 fans. Park officials and a few police tried to stop the show and unplug the amplifiers but retreated under waves of verbal abuse. As the protest peaked, tactical unit (think S.W.A.T.) teams were summoned to put down the uproar. After a protest at the park offices, the situation calmed down with promises of further protests at Government House and a return appearance next Sunday. Elected legislator and political gadfly, Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung showed up and promised to join the protest next Sunday.

Two thoughts occur to me as I contemplate what’s happening. First, I was in Beijing not too long ago and amplified Chinese music was being played in a public park and people were dancing and having a great time. No one seemed upset at the “noise” and government forces did not try to stop the performance.

Two, a number of years ago, Hong Kong built a beautiful multi million dollar, 40,000 seat, multi-use outdoor stadium that now sits empty about 90% of the time because neighbors complained about the noise. As a result no concerts can be booked there and strict noise controls are put in place for all events. I’m surprised; they don’t try to muffle the cheering at the annual Rugby Sevens Tournament. (I lived in the neighborhood at the time and I loved the noise.)

Question: is it freedom when a small minority can block what the majority want? Should the government be in the business of protecting people from anything they don’t like as long as a number of them choose to complain? I don’t have the answer and perhaps it is a case by case kind of issue but sometimes it seems to me the Hong Kong Government is over-solicitous of a few complainers, especially if they are property owners.

Now if the government would outlaw noisy re-furbishments, I could really get behind their noise abatement efforts.