Over the summer, the world has watched as Hong Kong continues to protest for its freedom. Marches on the street. Sit-ins in the airport. Lennon walls. Vandalism. These are just a few of the ways Hong Kongers have fought to have their voices heard. Yet, while these issues can seem far removed from us in Lewiston, Maine, for some students this is their home.
Alexandria Murray-Tacon ‘20 is a British citizen born in Hong Kong; her family has lived there for decades. She was in Hong Kong this spring until mid-June when the protests first erupted over the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill, better known as the Extradition Bill.
“It was chaotic, but [only] in given areas,” she said. “It’s super important to know how polarized it is by the media. I had texts from my friends saying, ‘Thank God you’re not in Hong Kong right now, is your family safe, is your family OK?’ Everyone is safe, everyone is OK…Hong Kong isn’t this massive, chaotic place right now. In certain areas, yeah it’s busy and they’re protesting but it’s not under siege which is what people think through the media.”
Oliver Wan ‘22 is similarly a Canadian citizen born and raised in Hong Kong. During the summer, he participated in a couple of the peaceful and legal marches.
“It’s definitely an interesting time to be in Hong Kong,” he wrote. “The atmosphere is a lot more different. There is this energy that is going throughout the city showing the government that the people of Hong Kong won’t be pushed over.”
For them, mass demonstrations like this aren’t new. Both were in high school when the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 hit the streets of Hong Kong. This protest similarly called for greater democratic freedoms, although despite weeks of public demonstrations outside of government headquarters and severe transportation problems, little was done as a result.
“I’m not really fazed by protests,” Murray-Tacon said, “I think it’s something that Americans don’t do enough and I think it is a very good way of getting the point across.”
Although the protests have caused transportation delays, Hong Kong’s subway system, both Murray-Tacon and Wan say that the protests have had little effect on daily life. They note that these protests, unlike the Umbrella Revolution, have targeted important areas with Hong Kongers in mind.
The 2014 protests blocked major roadways, causing late night Hong Kongers to be stuck in the city after the subway shut down. Meanwhile, many of the demonstrations this summer have been planned around people’s schedules with events happening on weekends, or during people’s lunch breaks.
But while Murray-Tacon and Wan are avid supporters of the movement, both have expressed disappointment with the outbreaks of violence and retaliation on the police.
“My only concern for the protest is the attitude towards the police,” Wan wrote. “Although it can seem that the police are being abusive, at the end of the day, they are just doing their job…The chucking of bricks and petrol bombs towards the police displays a poor message from the protestors. The people of Hong Kong are definitely better than that.”
Demonstrations in Hong Kong have lasted for more than five months and are still ongoing. According to organizers, more than two million people came out in support of Hong Kong at the height of the protests on June 12th. Thus far, the protesters have achieved the complete removal of the controversial extradition bill, but continue to protest for more independence.
Visiting Professor of History Brian Cwiek said that this event can be looked at in numerous ways in the broader context of Chinese history. He notes that the history of Hong Kong is “tied inextricably to the history of Western imperialism” in China and that “the recovery of Hong Kong in 1997 is so steeped in realizing this vision of recovering and recuperating from humiliation.”
China needs Hong Kong, he states, to “ensure territorial integrity of China,” however Hong Kong does not need China.
“There’s not necessarily the need of Hong Kong to rejoin China, quite the opposite,” he said. “It’s been 150 years of success story that’s happened, precisely because they were not a part of the other story…what made Hong Kong so successful through the Pacific world, exactly none of that happened on the mainland.”
Since the transition from British control in 1997, China has tried to reintegrate Hong Kong culturally and politically. As one might guess, these actions have been met with strong rebuke.
Overwhelmingly, the protesters on the street this summer have been in their early 20’s, people who grew up in a China-controlled Hong Kong.
“This means that a generation that grew up in a Chinese Hong Kong are still thinking and acting like old Hong Kongers,” Professor Cwiek said. “One generation has basically come of age and they are the protesters in the street.”
As the years pass and Hong Kong grows closer to 2047, Professor Cwiek notes that the intensity of the protests have been driven by the impending sense that Hong Kong is running out of time. As 2047 approaches, the possibility of China taking a more radical approach to reintegration continues to seem increasingly likely.
The headline of this article has been changed from the print version to better reflect the content of this article.