Should a society based on the rule of law tolerate civil disobedience in Hong Kong?

- Yeung Kit Ling

This reflective essay presents the experience of learning and challenging myself to finish a qualitative research paper all on my own for the first time in university.

To begin with, my research was based on two concepts, i.e. the “Rule of Law” and “Civil Disobedience”. The first difficulty in doing this research is about finding the suitable theories and concepts which can closely interrelated to my topic. There are exceedingly numerous different theories and concepts that identify civil disobedience and the rule of law. In addition, the first use of ‘the rule of law’ can be traced back to the United Kingdom in the 16th century, while ‘civil disobedience’ was first proposed by Henry David Thoreau (1849) in the United States. Thus, most of the follow-up explanations are from the Western scholars. Since the political backgrounds of Hong Kong and The West are differentiated, it was frustrating and time-consuming for me to do information processing and screening so as to find relevant literature to be included in the research. To overcome this challenge, I spent a lot of time reading academic journals and literature from different countries, as well as those that are from Hong Kong. A notebook was therefore made in the purpose of collecting materials and reference in the aspiration of ideas and examples for the project report. In addition, I had difficulties in organizing information and gluing them together to form a complete and comprehensive concept. At the preparatory stage for my presentation, I confronted the hardship that useful ideas are at their presence yet in a fragmented fashion. Knowing my struggle, my supervisor told me that writing a research paper is like telling a story. To convey an insight in the presentation perfectly, at the very essence, we are required to make it easy-to-understand and appealing. Fortunately, after reading and researching numerous literature, I finally found my research interest and determined the major directions of my topic.

Afterwards, I chose to divide the key concepts into three parts to investigate the research in depth, which included legal, moral and political perspectives. Content analysis and case study had been implemented as major research methodology. Content analysis is the most important methodological approach adopted in my project. It helps me to link up different theories and to discover underlying meanings and relationships. For example, when we talk about civil disobedience, the majority of people will certainly adopt John Rawls's (1971) definition. The basic understanding is that “public, non-violent and conscientious yet political action which aims at changing the laws or policies of the government contrary to law” (p.363). However, this definition can only allow me to understand whether the act composed the civil disobedience. In order to have a more holistic understanding of civil disobedience, it is essential to link it up with legal and moral explanations.

Another research method I adopted is the case study. Many of my studying companions suggested conducting interviews or giving out questionnaires as methodology when they were aware that my topic is related to public opinions. I took the alternative. I am sure that not all Hong Kong people will understand the concepts of civil disobedience and the rule of law. On top of that, this has come to my concern that the public may perceive the concepts in distinctive ways, in which the results could be subjective and biased. Furthermore, my major direction of my research lies heavily on theoretical perspective and I chose the Umbrella Movement as the main case study. It provides uniqueness and connections based on the background of the case given that there was no previous example of civil movement with such a large-scale happened in Hong Kong before. Additionally, this issue relates to the Hong Kong political development in the future, which has significant research values.

Moreover, as above mentioned, the background of my research topic is the political development in Hong Kong and it is related to the election of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong and the Umbrella Movement. I was not especially passionate about the politics in Hong Kong before starting this project. Hong Kong people are known as political-apathetic and materialistic and I must confess that those qualities can also be found in me too. In the occasion of the Umbrella Movement, however, I was surprised and impressed that the youngers abandoned their personal interest and time to endeavor to the betterment of public interest for the future of Hong Kong. I was ignited and apparently, that is the reason I chose my research area that focuses on politics and legality. Before starting the research project, it is important to choose a topic that you are interested in to research on as it is a year-long project. You need to spend time on researching, selecting, questioning, organizing and presenting. It is difficult to study a topic that is not in your favour.

Last but not least, while reflecting on the experience of writing the research paper, I came to the realization that I affectionate this process, at least most of it. I believe that I enjoyed doing this research paper. It feels like I can contribute to the Liberal Studies field which is what I am studying. Throughout the journey of undergoing the project, there are different kinds of questions being unanswered, puzzles being unraveled if I only worked on my own. Therefore, it is important to take the initiative to stay in contact with your supervisor, to let him/ her know your work schedule and your process, and give advices for your problems. I really appreciate the help from my supervisor (Dr. Karen Lee) from the previous year. Also, in my opinion, do not profess devotion only when in trouble and do nothing until the last minute. It is because it will be unreal and impractical to solve some directional problems within a short time schedule. Proportion of devotion and concentration may have to be allotted to other core subjects or electives as well. The tip for me is to make a work schedule and to-do-list to remark yourself and to separate the workload. The exponential effect of a good time management and project management should never be neglected.



Rawls, J. (1973). A theory of justice. Harvard university press.