Why at 17, Joshua Wong, is on my list of role models

In 1997, Hong Kong, a British colony is returned to and liberated by Communist China.

In 2012, at 15, Joshua created a student movement called Scholarism to protest the patriotic education reform that threatened the inclusion of democracy among other topics being taught in the schools of Hong Kong. Arrested on multiple occasions, he continues to present himself as a public target to rally students to protest the reforms from China to convert Hong Kong into a proper Chinese territory.

In 1945, Taiwan, a Japanese colony is surrendered to and liberated by Nationalist China who rename the island the temporary base for the Republic of China. Two years later, an accidental shooting of a civilian erupted anti-mainlander sentiments into violence leading to martial law and a period of time known as the White Terror where thousands, in particular intellectuals and leaders, were jailed or killed for suspicious politics. Two relatives of mine were directly affected. One given minutes of notice fled into the night only to dare contacting his family recently for fear that they be harmed from the association. The other, jailed for nearly a year, was rescued from near death by his wife through persistence and bribery.

Spring 2014, Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting start the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan to organize student protest against the ratifying of Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in a black box fashion, without proper agreed upon review of the treaty by all parties of the legislature and interested general public. It is feared that the trade agreement, which contains a legal framework for mainland China’s participation in Taiwan’s future economic policies, may lead to the loss of the de facto independent democracy which Taiwan currently enjoys.

At age 6, my parents sent me alone to the United States to stay with relatives who likewise had been sent abroad to study for fear of safety. Raised in the land of democracy, I became active in local politics by 17 and went off to the land of Berkeley, intending to study Political Economics with a focus on environmental regulation and developing nations of Asia. At 19, I learned that attempting to publish on anything Taiwan related could bar me from programs and fellowships with ties to China. Additionally, I could be banned from traveling to China and have anyone related to me be put on lists for monitoring for suspicious activities.

Unwilling to create problems for an extended family I do not know the full scale of and a lifetime of being the prized only child told not to sacrifice, I left politics. If this path was not so bright, perhaps I could contribute more in some other studies. It seemed like the smart thing to do and if I was indeed as smart as people told me, I could simply be really good at something else.

Summer 2014. Joshua Wong holds a press conference to reveal his university entrance exam results due to overwhelming interest. He qualifies for university with average scores.

And rain in the haters who cast down hysteric laughter at the poor misled folks of Hong Kong, desperate and con-fuddled to believe in a middling of the pack intellectual. One comment stood at to me: “Have to imagine what the response would have been if he had gotten a bunch of 5**s though…”

5**s being the top possible grade on these entrance exams.

Here is what I think. If Joshua Wong had been a person who was capable of attaining all 5**s and the sort of person who would prioritize achieving all 5**s, he would be a coward like me.

He would be so afraid of no longer being the best or potentially marring his great big bright future. He would be afraid of the repercussions of having a record of arrest, of having extended family affected, of being barred from leaving or entering the nation of his birth. Of being jailed for the rest of his life.

If he had been someone told his entire life of what a huge effect he will have on the world one day. He would be so terrified of doing something to prevent the attaining of that future that he become too afraid to do anything at all.

Joshua Wong, along with Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, did what I was too afraid of doing. Being involved with the politics involving a home that I love and a behemoth that could destroy my family and my future. They deal with what I was too afraid to face. Fei-fan is only six months older than me, Wei-ting two years younger, and Joshua even younger. Fei-fan and Wei-ting have been barred entry to China. Joshua deals with constant surveillance and threat of confinement. Yet he spoke what needed to be said and continued when others were willing to give up. He did not let it be someone else’s fight to save his own future life. His fight is for his region to attain universal suffrage and a truer democracy.

For all those haters who question following a leader without perfect grades, a fight for higher grades is a poor excuse for not fighting for a life worth living. The contrapositive being that, fighting for a life worth living can be worth not having higher grades.

I hope that I will not regret that I did not become brave earlier. A recurring theme for me of late seems to be: to force oneself to fall, is to learn to truly struggle.