Almost two years since the start of the Hong Kong Protests, students from Hong Kong have reflected on the time of the protests and how life was like during.
The protests began in June 2019 with the object of getting the government to withdraw a controversial bill that would allow the deportation of fugitives to mainland China. What began as peaceful marches escalated with protesters being shot, people set on fire, and police violence against the protestors. The Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologized in 2019 by saying the unrest was “caused by the deficiencies of the (Hong Kong) government.”
Kaela Gallagher, a junior who is part of the World Bachelors in Business program at USC Marshall School of Business, stated that her initial reaction to the protests was not impassioned, since the protests began in the downtown area of the city and she does not live near downtown. Gallagher only witnessed the protests from overwhelming news coverage.
When reflecting on a moment that sticks with her during the protests, Gallagher said, “on November 8th, 2019, my classmate Chow Tsz-lok passed away because of injuries he sustained during a protest outside my apartment building. With this being the first confirmed protest-related death, the chaos of the protests escalated across the city. My classmates and I were forced to evacuate.”
Charlotte Fong, a freshman studying arab crossroads at New York University Abu Dhabi, recounted that when the protests began she was encouraged by the number of Hong Kongers who decided to come out and speak up.
“Hong Kong is usually very divided along socioeconomic and racial lines, so seeing people from all walks of life band together was nothing short of amazing,” Fong said.
Fong would never forget the period when she worked at the South China Morning Post to cover the protests. Fong went to Victoria Park, where tens of thousands of protesters gathered, and she began to interview them.
“I interviewed students with helmets and masks, a middle-aged man who waved a yellow flag of ‘Hong Kong never dies’, but a memory that stuck out to me the most was of a worship leader singing Christian hymns to bless the city,” Fong said.
“As he sang ‘Shaddai, Shaddai, Your glory come’, it really struck a chord in my heart. As a Christian, it was particularly comforting to hear that there are like-minded individuals out there who care about the future of our city,” Fong added.
As for the international community’s support, Fong stated that since she was studying at an international university, many foreign students were eager and curious to learn more about the protests, as they didn’t know the roots of the culture and the political environment of Hong Kong.
“I was also happy to share with them and give them my two cents as someone who lives in the city but also as a journalist who has covered the movement,” Fong recounted. “There was definitely increased attention and solidarity from my international friends.”
Thomas Chow, a sophomore studying communications at USC Annenberg was very supportive of the protests. Chow said June 16, 2019 was a significant day for him. It was the first march following the first violent conflict that happened on June 12. With around 2 million people present, Chow said that “it was quite astonishing, and I remember on that day all public transportation was filled with people wearing black shirts (it was the dress code for the day), and you could feel that there were a lot less people in other areas of Hong Kong since everybody went to the protest.”
Once the virus reached the city, the protests began to dwindle and protesting was limited due to control of the pandemic, according to Gallagher, Fong, and Chow.
In regards to if the students were surprised by the nature of the protests, Gallagher, Fong, and Chow were not that surprised. Gallagher said she was most surprised by the strength of the protests and the passion seen throughout.
Fong was disappointed at the increasing violence from both sides during the protests. “From the Umbrella Revolution, we already saw that the HK police was capable of using disproportionate force against protestors. However, I was a bit disappointed in the protestors who turned increasingly violent and destructive even though I saw it coming… Violence only causes the rift between HKers and China to widen, this polarization and unwillingness to compromise on account of both protestors and the central government contributed directly to the dismal situation we live in today.”
Chow was surprised when the police began using excessive force, but realized that police violence was not going to stop “because no one is going to punish them. The head of the police is supporting everything that the frontline police did and the government was not holding them accountable either.”
Fong lives near a site that was excessively used during the protests, so she was not able to go to school for a while due to roads being blocked. “The most striking moment was when I realized that my city had turned into a conflict zone was when I was walking on Nathan Road in flip flops and my feet were covered in sand because protestors had dug up brick tiles on the pavement. Just walking through that sandstorm felt so otherworldly.”
Chow said he had friends who were arrested during the protests and are continuing to undergo legal trials. His parents thought that the city is not going to have a free future and are planning to emigrate.
As for advice to those outside of HK who want to support the human rights issue, Fong said the best thing people can do is just to stay informed. “There isn’t much you can do to influence global politics, but keeping tabs on what’s going on and showing solidarity with the Hong Kong people through social media is really encouraging for us to see,” Fong added.
Chow agreed, saying there is not much one can do right now. “The case in Hong Kong is a little bit different in that the demands are political rather than material, so it’s not like donating money or resources would help,” he said. “The route for HongKongers that’s becoming more and more likely is emigration, as countries are opening new immigration schemes for HongKongers.”
Although the protests ended almost one year ago, the feeling and memories are still present for those from Hong Kong. Though there is not much one can do to help HK citizens, many can educate themselves on the history of Hong Kong and what that means now on.