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Remonstrance without hope in Hong Kong

Date:25 September 2014
Author:Yi-Han Wen

Dutch version (Volkskrant)

I am writing this having just returned from the Chinese University Campus of Hong Kong, where the university is brimming with students from all of Hong Kong´s Universities. This week, demonstrations will take place against Chinese interference in the democratic system of Hong Kong. At the student demonstrations I spoke with dozens of Hong Kong students and lecturers about the relations between China and Hong Kong.                

One thing becomes clear almost immediately, the Hong Kong people do not feel remotely related to China. They are enormously proud of their freedoms and cherish the differences between them and the mainland. While the Hong Kong citizenry regard the Chinese as immoral, graceless, asocial and only mercenary, they find themselves to have developed good manners and moral values during the British colonial reign over the last century. However, while the Hong Kong people consider themselves in no way Chinese, China seems to disagree.

Hong Kong has free presidential elections every five years and her own political system, but it appears that 17 years after the British handover of Hong Kong to China, China no longer wants to honour the famous ‘One Country, Two Policies’-model of Deng Xiaoping. The Communist Party of China has namely decided to control which candidates are allowed to seek election for the next presidential elections of Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong people feel this is a political interference that is very highly uncalled for and furthermore that it is the beginning of the end for Hong Kong. According to them it will not take long before the city will lose her political and economic freedoms completely and fall forcedly under the steel wings of mother China again, so far this is yet to happen.                        

Since China tries to gradually implement political reforms in favour of the Communist Party in Hong Kong, the citizens of Hong Kong only call louder for the vindication of their current political system. The student demonstrations over the past week are only a small part of this political movement, the icing on the cake will take place on the 1st of October, when the financial centre of Hong Kong will be occupied by thousands of activists.          

At the student demonstration I spoke with a number of sceptics and pessimists. They fear the worst and speak about a possible repeat of history (Tiananmen Square, 1989). Some students think that not many people will show up out of fear for repressions from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Optimists I could not find. Notwithstanding the fact that demonstrations are happening throughout, nobody fosters any hope, and all students are convinced that the Chinese government will not hear the prodemocratic protest movements.                      

Many students chant the prodemocratic slogans with heart and soul, but when I ask them what they think will happen with Hong Kong in the coming months and years, their fanaticism almost immediately turns into despondency and powerlessness. They all share the opinion that very sombre future prospects lie ahead. The majority of the students I speak with about their future, hope to emigrate to the United States or Europe after, or even during their studies. The students think that China will very soon rule over Hong Kong again with an iron fist, and furthermore will provide that concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ will be whispers of the past.                               

A large part of the student body of Hong Kong will keep on boycotting lectures and protest at the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the coming days. No student, however, really believes that their protest can bring about any change. During my time at the demonstration I had a conversation with a student that had to leave the protests prematurely. I asked him what could be more important than fighting for his freedom. He tells me that he would have loved to stay, but is afraid he will fail his exams if he misses today’s lectures.