You’d think we’d know better by now. The Egyptians who ousted Hosni Mubarak eventually wound up with an even more brutal dictatorship. The Ukrainians who kicked out Russian stooge Viktor Yanukovych got a Russian invasion. Moscow strangled the Bolotnaya Square protests. The Occupy movement withered on the vine.
Yet here we are again, cheering on Hong Kong’s democracy campaigners, wanting to believe that a small territory’s civil movement will triumph against a massive, entrenched state apparatus.
Why? In part because we see a story—David vs Goliath—that’s one of the best stories there is. And few revolutions have been blessed with so David-like a figure as Joshua Wong, the slight, 17-year-old hero of the Hong Kong barricades.
For now, David is on a roll. As we’ve been reporting, the student-led movement has moved well beyond students and seriously disrupted the territory’s rhythm. And China is worried. It’s exercising energetic censorship—to stop the democracy fever spreading to restive areas like Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as to avoid riling up anti-Hong Kong jingoism in the rest of the populace. The stark warnings it has given the protestors, meanwhile, evoke fearful echoes of Tiananmen.
But this Goliath has something better than force on its side: time. Hong Kong is still a global hub of finance and trade, but faces growing competition, and its relative economic importance to mainland China is shrinking. If the protests drag on, they’ll weaken Hong Kong economically far more than the mainland. And the longer they last, the better the authorities will get at exploiting the demonstrators’ fatigue and internal divisions.
So now it’s a waiting game. If the protestors remain unusually unified—or if mainland Chinese, hitherto indifferent, swing around to support them—China might have to back down.
But it seems unlikely. The real reason we find David vs Goliath stories so irresistible to watch is that, in most of them, David loses.—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Narendra Modi is not Evita Peron. India’s prime minister got rock-star treatment when he came to New York, but let’s get one thing straight, says Manu Baghavan: Comparing him to Reagan, Thatcher, or Evita is a misleading way to understand a complex, nuanced politician.
How American parenting is killing the American marriage. Danielle and Astro Teller, known for their criticisms of the institution of marriage, now set their sights on the religion of parenting, which preaches the dogma that children are the most important thing in life and persecutes heretics with zeal.
The family tree of beer. Want to know which multinational conglomerate owns your favorite brewery? David Yanofsky has traced out the entire ownership structure of the global beer industry in a single handy diagram that fits on a barstool.
The complete guide to making your own lunch that’s better than takeout. Even if your budget allows you to buy gourmet sandwiches or popping out for fine sushi every single day, you’ll want to pack your own meals after reading Jenni Avins’ guide to healthy, homemade, transportable food.
Are you really going to pay $16/€14/£12 for that Sazerac? Having become a homemade lunch whiz, you might want to master mixology too after looking at Avins and Yanofsky’s cocktail calculator, which lets you tot up the price of the ingredients in a range of cocktails and see the massive markups that a bar charges.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Are our planes too safe to fly? This long but gripping read in Vanity Fair by William Langewiesche relates the last hours of Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009, and argues that automation has made crises so rare that even experienced pilots aren’t capable of handling one when it occurs.
Why nobody wants to host the 2022 Olympics. The whiff of corruption around the International Olympic Committee has become so strong that only two decidedly undemocratic countries—China and Kazakhstan—are interested in hosting the Winter Games. Dan Wetzel explains for Yahoo Sports why every other country pulled out in the face of public opposition.
The new amateur terrorist hunters. Groups like the Islamic State are active on social media, and researchers and analysts are helping hunt them online independently of government agencies. Thanassis Cambanis at the Boston Globe examines the small, increasingly influential community scraping the web to track some of the world’s most dangerous groups.
Why we think we see ourselves in nature. Poets often use animals to “provide a metaphorical window into the human world,” writes Kathleen Rooney at the Poetry Foundation, despite their “very inhumanness.” She dissects a number of poems to explore how they balance the apparent relatability of beasts with the unknowable mystery of nature in the raw.
The myths behind tech’s sexism problem. Many in the technology industry cite “meritocracy” and a lack of women in the talent pipeline as the reason they’re largely absent. Ann Friedman at Medium explains the cultural origins of these problems, how companies like Etsy have made a dent, and the ways others can too.
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