Hong Kong's 'Les Mis' Anthem For Full Democracy Goes Viral

Protesters stand under a banner as they prepare to go on a hunger strike to call for 'true' universal suffrage in Hong Kong, March 28, 2014.
Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET on 2014-06-02

A viral music video based on a hit number from the musical "Les Miserables" has taken the Chinese-language Internet by storm as political activists in Hong Kong push for the introduction of universal suffrage by 2017, when the election for Hong Kong's next chief executive is held.

Activists who commissioned the professionally produced music video featuring a small girl singing a loose Cantonese translation of the hit "Can You Hear the People Sing?" said they had initially approached a number of big stars in the popular music scene, only to be turned down owing to likely political pressure from Beijing.

"This song wasn't produced by the Occupy Central movement, but it was the work of a lot of highly professional people who helped out in a low-profile way," Occupy activist Chan Kin-man told RFA's Cantonese Service after the video became an overnight Internet hit last week.

"We invited a number of people from the entertainment industry to perform the song, but nobody agreed to do it," Chan said.

"I think this was because a lot of these artists and their companies were under pressure over access to the market in mainland China," he added.

Titled "A Child Asks: Who Hasn't Awoken Yet?", the song lyrics make a number of oblique references to the campaign for universal suffrage in forthcoming elections for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017 and for the territory's legislature in 2020.

On June 22, the territory's Occupy Central campaign will finalize an unofficial referendum in which three possible ways of conducting the 2017 poll for the territory's chief executive will be presented for a popular vote.

Edited together with images of Hong Kong's iconic black kite and its busy harbor, neon-lined streets and gleaming skyscrapers, the video shows a young Chinese girl alternately singing and remaining silent.

"Who has sworn to defend our city? Born with rights and willing to take charge, who will accept silence?" the girl sings.

One close-up shot shows her placing her hand over her mouth, while another focuses on the words "Keep Silent" embroidered on her teddy bear.

"Why is our wonderful dream still just a dream?" the unnamed girl sings. "If our generation is to have a future, we need to open our eyes."

Universal suffrage

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, allows for full universal suffrage to take place in 2017 and 2020, and this clause was confirmed in an interpretation by China's parliament, which has ultimate power in the matter, in 2007.

But many analysts expect Beijing to back away from universal suffrage for 2017 by manipulating the rules on the selection and nomination of candidates, who are currently chosen by a committee hand-picked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Recent public polls have shown the majority of Hong Kong's citizens are in favor of more democracy, but the territory's pro-democracy politicians have remained divided on the practicalities of such an election.

Political commentators have warned that pro-democracy candidates now look likely to be shut out of 2017 elections altogether, while a series of violent attacks on prominent Hong Kong media figures has sparked fears for the city's traditional freedoms.

Pro-Beijing politicians in the territory have repeatedly shied away from allowing public nomination of candidates for chief executive, saying that only "patriotic" candidates should be approved to join the race.

Reported by Lin Yuedong for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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