If you’d asked me six years ago, before I left my hometown to study in Washington, if I was worried about Hong Kong’s future, I probably would have said something like, “No, I think the future is bright. Human rights in China have made a huge progress. Plus, the people of Hong Kong know how to bargain.”
Throughout the years I lived in the States, I have heard bad things about the government, how the people opposed the policies, how the people disliked President Obama. But not once have I heard an American seriously talk about wanting to immigrate. Not once have I heard an American admire another country so much that they want to leave.
But why do so many Chinese, even Hong Kong residents, want to leave their hometown everyday? Because they feel that their government does not respect them.
When the Occupy Central Movement first started, I wasn’t sure whether I supported it. I believed in the idea behind it — to have real universal suffrage in Hong Kong. But I was worried about how the protests would disrupt people’s livelihoods.
I did support the campaign to boycott university classes. A lot of the historical changes in Hong Kong started with student movements. I believe students do have a power and effect in the society.
I was not going to participate in the protest after the class boycott, but when the police decided to use tear gas to attack and disperse the unarmed crowd, my mind changed.
“This is unreal,” I thought, tearing up in front of the television.
My parents told me to stay away from the demonstrations, arguing that they were dangerous and would ultimately be ineffective.
While some people, including the Hong Kong government, say the Occupy Central Movement has tarnished Hong Kong’s international image, my friends back in Washington confirm the global perception that it’s the police, the Hong Kong Government, the Chinese Government and their mistreatment of their own people that is harming Hong Kong’s image.
Last week, I started going to Admiralty (where the Central Government Offices are located) to join the protests after work.
Fear may sound like an odd reason for taking to the streets to demonstrate. But that’s just what drove me to join. I am so scared of the government that I must stand up and speak up. No reasonable leader on earth would treat his people like this. Police are supposed to protect their citizens, not hurt them.
This is my Hong Kong, I have to do whatever I can to save it.
The Hong Kong Basic Law that went into effect with the end of British rule in 1997 states that, “the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system, and the way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
I remember asking my dad as a child, “does that mean my life will change in the 51st year? Are we losing all our rights and freedom?”
Seventeen years passed, as the “Pearl of the Orient,” Hong Kong’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 was worth 274 billion U.S. dollars, 0.44 percent of the entire global economy.
But has the living standard of Hongkongers increased accordingly? Honestly, sadly, no. As a recently university graduate, I see no hope in buying an apartment in the next decade, as a lot of the apartments cost over $1200 U.S. per square foot while the minimum wage remains 30 HK dollars (about 3.87 U.S. dollars) per hour.
Seventeen years passed, do Hongkongers have the same rights and freedom they had before? Kevin Lau Chun-to, a Hong Kong journalist for 25 year, was brutally attacked earlier this year; the proposed Moral and national Education curriculum that would have indoctrinated young Hongkongers to support the Communist Party; the rejected license request for a new TV network, Hong Kong Television… All these have contributed to the people’s anger and dissatisfaction towards the government.
Hongkongers want a democratic election. Chief Executive C.Y. Leung was elected by a 1200-member Election Committee with just 689 votes. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) has decided on an electoral reform in which the Election Committee nominates the candidates.
This is not what the people want. They want to be able to nominate candidates themselves; they want real universal suffrage. After negotiating with the government for about a month and not getting anywhere, eight tertiary education institutions, together formed The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and organized a week-long class boycott campaign starting back September 22. That’s how the protests started.
I was not even five when the hand over from Britain happened. Seventeen years later, I am 21, I have grown up, I have seen the world, and I have opened my eyes to the future.
Ask me that same question again from six years ago, “are you worried about Hong Kong’s future?” My answer now is “yes I am.”
I am a journalist now. I am worried that I will be brutally attacked for telling the truth like Kevin Lau. I am worried that freedom of press will disappear. I am worried that universal suffrage will never happen here in Hong Kong. I am worried that my kids will be brainwashed and won’t grow up with a capacity for critical thinking. I am worried.
I came back to Hong Kong to take care of some family issues, but sometimes I wish I’d stayed in Seattle. Especially when I hear people condemn the student protesters as “having nothing better to do,” and “are harming people’s lives,” because they themselves “have no financial burden.” It angers and hurts me. We are not here for a carnival. Fishballs in Admiralty don’t taste better, the streets aren’t more comfortable than the beds in our homes, McDonald’s burgers don’t taste as good when you’ve had them three days in a row.
We are not here for fun, we are here for our future.
I apologize if we have affected your businesses, disrupted your lives, or have brought you any inconvenience. You can condemn us all you want, but when the day comes that you aren’t allowed to condemn anymore, it will be too late to speak up.
Will you stand by my side?
After standing for five hours straight without having dinner, I am exhausted and hungry. Right at this moment, a voice behind me yells, “anyone want some bread? We have fresh bread here!”
I turn around and take a bun, it is even warm in my hands. I look around and see the endless line of protesters, the lights on their phones and the strong will on their faces, as I take the first bite of the bun.
Hong Kong is such a beautiful place.