By Renée Tillotson
Because of the current risks of speaking openly about the situation in Hong Kong, I have chosen to keep our honoree’s identity private. We want to thank the person for bravely shedding more light on the current situation in Hong Kong. The future of Hong Kong is shifting. Let us be the eyes that see and the heart that cares about what is happening to our brothers and sisters there.
Settling in for a heart-to-heart with my friend from Hong Kong, I ask about the challenges and courage required as Hong Kong undergoes a painful transition. It is a far reach from the Hong Kong of my friend’s youth. This caring soul speaks about how the changes crept up in their home country. Thinking about the freedoms lost, my friend cries.
All last year, I watched in admiration as hundreds of thousands of the people in Hong Kong stood up against the might of the Chinese communist government. So intrepid!
The British who had colonized Hong Kong, returned it to China in the 1997 “Hand-Off” agreement. The U.K. handed back Hong Kong to China, but with details stipulating that Hong Kong would remain separate from mainland China for 50 years: “Two systems, one country.” My friend reflects on how everyone lived quite prosperously in Hong Kong for many years with their free market and fairly autonomous government. Many people knew the changes would eventually come, but thought they had many more years to live in freedom. 1997 + 50 = 2047. So Hong Kong should enjoy another 27 years of running its own system of government.
In Hong Kong, the people call the Chinese government “Grandfather”, since it considers Hong Kong as one of its children. However, “Grandfather” became upset with Hong Kong for being too free; my friend suspects that the older generation of Communist leaders wanted to see Hong Kong back in the hands of mainland China in their lifetimes. China began eating away at Hong Kong’s liberties, first in small ways that could be ignored, and then in much larger ways. Education was gradually infiltrated and changed, books were banned, then artists were censored and restricted. Lawyers speaking for their clients came to be completely ignored by the judicial system.
When the Chinese wanted to enact the Extradition Law in 2019, the people of Hong Kong objected vociferously about being sent to mainland China for trial any time there was a court case. Who knows what might happen there? Huge protests erupted all over Hong Kong. Those protests were mostly peaceful, with a huge proportion of the young population involved, the sentiment was so strong. Parents, of course, were very worried about their children protesting, yet some parents actually joined their kids on the protest marches in support.
The Chinese started cracking down on anyone who spoke up against the Extradition Law. Eventually they brought out tear gas and huge water canons from fire trucks that would otherwise be used to put out fires on huge skyscrapers. They filled the water canon tanks with toxic blue ink and violently hosed the protesters. The marked protesters couldn’t just change out of their clothes and go back to work or school. And there remains a lot of concern over the blue ink being poisonous. The long term effects are still unknown. Many sprayed protesters have developed lung and breathing problems. Hong Kongers hear that some of the protesting girls were raped before or during incarceration. And the word on the street is that many of the protesters, most of them young, have disappeared. No one knows where they were taken or exactly how many, but it seems to be thousands.
The heavy hand of the Chinese government now looms over nearly every aspect of life in Hong Kong. Informants for Beijing are mixed in with the population, so that the people never know for sure whom they can trust. A citizen can be suddenly detained on the street or in their home for any reason, with no guarantee of a fair trial or any trial at all. Whole generations of Hong Kongers are at great risk. Many fear for the fate of the students and youth at large, who have grown up with such freedoms that make them a direct threat for the authoritarian Chinese regime.
People who want to protest are reduced to holding up blank white pieces of paper. It doesn’t look like much, but it shows Hong Kongers’ will to be free. Radio or TV stations owned by Hong Kongers were pretty much saying what they wanted to say about China for many years. Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon who owns Apple Daily and always spoke his mind freely, was arrested last month. Now his voice is muzzled too.
It’s very scary. What is going on now will affect an entire generation. Joshua Wong of Hong Kong University has been a huge activist leader. After he was charged in August 2020 for being at the Candlelight vigil for the 20 year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising, he reportedly left for England.
The artistic world has lost much of its freedom to speak. As “high profilers”, artists are some of the ones most in harm’s way. Corporations have to be careful not to offend the Chinese government or overstep their censorship, so they are very nervous about which artists to sponsor. A very brave young woman named Denise Ho is considered “The Voice of Hong Kong”. She spoke out against the Chinese government to the United Nations! She has recently been banned from mainland China for the rest of her lifetime, which is a huge problem for artists who make their living with gigs in both Hong Kong and China, yet she continues to speak up.
Nowadays, if a Hong Konger goes to mainland China, their cell phone can be confiscated at random to see what kind of pictures or information they might be giving to the mainlanders. Basically, there are eyes everywhere you go, looking at everything you do, and you have to tread very lightly.
Others who have spoken up against repression have been black-listed, and if they don’t have other kinds of passports they are not allowed to leave Hong Kong. It seems that those who wish to maintain their freedoms at this point have few options. The safest assurance of freedom is for people to leave Hong Kong and try to seek asylum in another country, though this is not always possible or easily done. And it’s always done at the price of forsaking one’s home and loved ones.
When I ask my friend what Hong Kong thinks of Americans, the answer is that people in Hong Kong still think of the USA and a place that is fairly free. From photos, I see that protesters sometimes wave American flags, expecting that the United States will eventually help them out. Hong Kong is still hoping to be a democracy.
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