Bang! Out of the corner of my eye, I managed to see where the blast came from: A riot policeman fired something from the balcony of Mong Kok Police Station. Someone screamed. Adrenaline flushed through my body as I began to run away with the masses. “Everyone, c’mon, retreat in an orderly fashion!” one ostensibly seasoned protester shouted, trying to prevent a stampede on Hong Kong’s cramped sidewalks. Others began coughing. Suddenly, I felt my lungs stinging as if nails were poured into them. My throat became unquenchably parched. The vessels in my eyes flared up. Tear gas. I quickly shoved a respirator mask — given to me by a kind medic just 30 minutes prior — on my face, not even putting on the strap, and tried to breathe slowly.
That night, nearly three months ago, was a demonstration against the Hong Kong Police Force for their inhumane violence against civilians in Prince Edward MTR station on Aug. 31. This type of unrest is happening nearly every night and day in Hong Kong now. During clashes two weeks ago, a college student fell to his death. A young protester was then shot by live rounds days later. This week, an entire university is under siege.
But why does Hong Kong keep protesting? Why do Hong Kongers keep coming out? Though seemingly chaotic, especially to foreign eyes, Hong Kong’s ongoing movement has a clear agenda, as enshrined in our five demands. Underlying these demands are Hong Kongers’ commitment to the values of democracy, fairness and freedom. Simply put, we believe that these values are elements of a functioning and fair society that are worth striving for. But ever since its transfer to rule under the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Hong Kong’s progress towards democratization, which started during the late colonial era, has ended abruptly. In fact, citizens are now even losing whatever rights and democratic channels left that were enjoyed, ironically, under the British. This reversal has tangible effects, even for apolitical Hong Kongers. Because of our city’s increasingly unrepresentative politics, problems like housing shortages, poverty and a lack of upward mobility have become unsolvable. Reforms have deteriorated to mere slogans. Public funds have been poured into nonsense “One Belt, One Road” white elephants. An immense inequality persists underneath the gild of our international finance center.
However much the Chinese propaganda machine wants to poison the well, this movement is not about independence. But because the People’s Republic of China holds different values and standards from us, then we, as a semi-autonomous entity, are keen to keep our distance. Our postcolonial constitution actually provided for this need after 1997, establishing a highly independent government and guaranteeing freedoms like free speech and assembly. In fact, universal suffrage of local leaders, the last of our five demands, is clearly stated as the “ultimate aim” of the city’s political plan (Basic Law, Article 45). This was all written down. Most Hong Kongers, if not all, are satisfied with this.
Unfortunately, Beijing has other ideas — especially since the rise of a certain leader. For reasons geopolitical or otherwise, the CPC regime has been hellbent on imposing direct rule onto every facet of life in Hong Kong, from governance to education to infrastructure. Law after law, policy after policy advanced by the comically inept Hong Kong government have pushed towards forced integration with no regard to the welfare of Hong Kongers. And the extradition bill, by trampling over our judicial system, was utterly unacceptable.
The bill has been withdrawn, but only after months of government indifference and police brutality. Not one senior official has resigned. Not one Hong Kong policeman has been investigated. Instead, the Hong Kong Police Force, given a blank check from Beijing, is now a rabid bulldog out to terrorize citizens and enact revenge. Withdrawal of the bill, fulfilling only one out of five demands, was simply too little, too late. Those preoccupied with violence in Hong Kong and inconveniences caused by protests are woefully missing the forest — as outlined above — for the trees.
A previous column by Weifeng Yang ’20 offered the brilliant insight that mainland Chinese students who destroy pro-Hong Kong materials on campus are actually victims themselves. To complete his metaphor, then the Chinese government, under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, is the undeniable assailant. It is this regime that is pushing Hong Kongers, peaceful and polite people, toward drastic actions. It is this regime, with the attitude of “We are 1.4 billion strong and the world’s second-largest economy,” that is weaponizing its economic success and a sick, historical “Chinese psyche” to advance its bullying. It is this regime — beneath the luster of high-speed rail, mobile payment systems and 5G networks — that remains a fundamentally autocratic and unjust entity that has never and should never impose direct rule onto Hong Kong.
We just wanted to be left alone — but now, with backs against the wall, Hong Kong will keep resisting both overtly and covertly, especially against Beijing’s literal tool, the Hong Kong Police Force. We know that there are many voices across the world, even within mainland China, that support our cause. Words cannot express our gratitude, and we appreciate every ounce of aid from the warrens of the Internet to the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, Hong Kong, a former colony, will nevertheless continue its fight for freedom and democracy, despite having already been re-colonized under a far crueler god.
Matthew Lam ’18 is a former opinion columnist at The Sun. Guest Room runs periodically. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.