A Hong Kong teenager organizes protests and civil disobedience to resist mainland China’s increasing encroachment on the liberties of Hong Kong citizens. [ Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower credits: Dir: Joe Piscatella/ Joshua ‘Chi-Fung’ Wong/ 79 min/ Documentary/ Libertarian Heroes, Resistance to Tyranny]
In 1997, when the United Kingdom transferred ownership of Hong Kong back to China, residents were promised a high degree of autonomy in a deal labeled “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong had prospered enormously under relatively laissez-faire British rule, and it was in everyone’s interest to let it continue being successful. But while the Chinese government might tolerate Hong Kong’s economic freedom (in the cause of generating State revenue), it would not tolerate its political freedom. Accordingly, Beijing gradually introduced anti-democratic reforms. Out of mere hopelessness – what could Hong Konger’s really do against the Leviathan of China? – the population did little to resist.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a fifteen-year-old teenager, Joshua Wong, led a protest against the introduction of pro-Communist Party indoctrination lessons into Hong Kong schools. Within a year, his rallies were attracting crowds of over 100,000 as well as international press coverage. The protests evolved into the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement,” and finally the political party Demosistō.
Through interviews and press video, this well-made documentary tells Joshua’s ‘David vs. Goliath’ story – his astonishing initial success, his unrelenting courage in the face of increasingly aggressive authorities, and the evolution of his tactics from street protests into the creation of a political party. You see as well the back story: the emotional toll it took on this gutsy young man, the hidden self-doubt, and the concern of his friends that his efforts would end in tragedy.
The risk was (and is) real, as the Chinese government is capable of terrible retribution on those who oppose it. Nor has it forgotten Joshua; as recently as 2017, he was preemptively arrested ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is an inspiring story of youthful courage in the name of freedom and democracy, and as such it should be of strong interest to libertarians. It’s also a satisfying slap in the face to Chinese authorities who had hoped their assault on Hong Kong’s traditional liberties would be executed without opposition.
There is an old and storied history of youth facing overwhelming odds against aggressors. David was about Joshua’s age when he faced Goliath; Joan of Arc was likewise the same age when her courage gave hope to occupied France. They say that the young do the impossible because they don’t yet know that the impossible can’t be done, and that seems to be the case here as well.
At the very least, Joshua has shown that resistance in the face of China’s authoritarian rule can indeed be organized where there is an undercurrent of public support, and by doing so he has given hope to those throughout China who look forward to an eventual democratic future. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Chinese government may prevail for the moment, but it cannot undo what Joshua’s protests made apparent: Beijing rules there not through popular support but through force alone. Inasmuch as the legitimacy of any government derives “from the consent of the governed,” Beijing can no longer claim the full legitimacy of consensus no matter how many flag-waving parades it holds, thanks both to Joshua Wong and to Joshua Wong: Teenager vs. Superpower.
“A teenaged Hong Kong student takes on the Chinese Communist government and fights it to an international draw. It may sound like the basis for a kids’ animated feature, but Joshua: Teenager vs. Super Power is actually a rousing documentary on a youth movement against, essentially, educational brainwashing.”
“In an earlier age, Joshua Wong might have been the perfect Frank Capra hero. An idealistic, unassuming student activist, he is driven by a staunch belief that the power of the Hong Kong people will be sufficient to win the day in the David and Goliath struggle with Chinese rule. Joe Piscatella’s absorbing documentary captures the triumphs and disappointments of the young dissident’s life…”