Protesters are still on the streets of Hong Kong months after the start of the Occupy Central movement, which challenges recent changes to Hong Kong’s government by China. The protests have divided Hong Kong and Chinese citizens’ opinions, but they are beginning to die down: a recent survey found about half of the protesters are ready to retreat.
Communication freshman Jason Yuan, a Chinese student who also lived in Canada, said he had friends at other schools caught between supporting China and Hong Kong.
“It’s a very significant event in that October 1 is a Chinese national holiday,” he said. “People said, 'Wear red for China’s national holiday,' and then you have people say, ‘Please wear yellow for Hong Kong.’ It’s bold. It’s visually marking yourself on different sides of campus.”
Some Northwestern students participated and shared their yellow outfits on social media in support.
“It was interesting that [Northwestern students] see it not as two sides of a conflict, but instead that to preserve political freedom is the right thing to do at Northwestern,” Yuan said.
Why the protests?
University students first turned out to protest the Chinese government’s August decision to change the way the chief executive of Hong Kong would be nominated and elected.
Scholarism, a group of Hong Kong college students, boycotted classes in protest. A group called Occupy Central with Peace and Love, led by a Hong Kong University law professor, organized protests along with the students in the financial district, called Central. Tens of thousands of people joined and blocked the streets, and some are still lingering.
Hong Kong sits in an unusual political situation with China because the United Kingdom’s colonial rule over the city only ended in 1997. The agreement to pull Hong Kong back under Chinese control guaranteed, in vague terms, suffrage for citizens in electing their government for the next 50 years.
The first three elections since that agreement used a system of 800 representatives to nominate candidates for chief executive. The representatives came from four broad categories of work: industrial, commerce and finance; the professions; labor, social services, religious and other sectors; and political representatives. A candidate only needed 100 votes out of the total 800 to be nominated for election.
To appease a push toward universal suffrage, the Chinese government expanded the number of representatives to 1,200 in the last election. This year, officials made more expansive changes.
According to the decision passed on Aug. 31, any age-eligible Hong Kong citizen can now vote for the chief executive. But there’s a catch: nominees need more than half of the 1,200 representatives’ votes to become a candidate.
Because each representative only has one vote, voters will only have one candidate to choose from: not exactly a democratic system.
China versus Hong Kong
The protests in Hong Kong reveal the tensions between Hong Kong residents and Chinese citizens from the Mainland.
Wan Kwok, a Weinberg sophomore, is legally a Hong Kong permanent resident, and her dad hails from the city.
“People in Hong Kong wouldn’t say they’re from China; they’d say, hey, I’m from Hong Kong,” Kwok said. “They speak Cantonese, which is different from Mandarin. They’re very much their own group of people.”
Some Mainlanders, who don’t enjoy the same freedoms of speech and demonstration, oppose the Occupy Central movement.
Hansen Ong, a Weinberg freshman from Hong Kong, understands what he believes to be the popular Mainlander opinion regarding the protests.
“[The argument is], ‘Oh your situation is already good, why are you asking for something better?’” Ong said. “Think about the perspective of a normal citizen in Hong Kong. We’re given a lot of liberties in terms of free speech, in terms of right to protest. It’s living in a situation in which you have these liberties but the one thing you don’t have is democracy.... The representation is basically almost zero. So that’s the main driving force behind the protests.”
The International Student Association held a Food for Thought student discussion on the protests in October. Several students present were Chinese or from Hong Kong. Students discussed whether Western governments should be involved or pay attention to the protests.
“There are a lot of friends I know whose lives are severely affected by this protest,” Weinberg sophomore Alan Fu said. “They’re probably in the minority, but they exist as a group of people. Whenever something is labeled as pro-democratic, revolution, civil unrest, I think the American media is very excited to report this news from the demonstrator’s perspective.”
Discussion about the protests at Northwestern has been respectful, said Nancy Wang, a Medill sophomore from mainland China.
“As long as you’re not aggressive about [your opinions], people are okay with wherever you stand as long as you’re honest and genuine and not offensive,” she said.
However, the political tension is impacting Northwestern students looking at job prospects in China.
“For my friends who are seniors now who are trying to recruit from Hong Kong but are from the mainland, it’s very difficult to go networking and talk about this,” Wang said.
Yuan said after posting support for Hong Kong on Facebook, he got pushback from some Chinese friends, who mainly criticized his advocacy. They asked him why he cared, Yuan said.
“One of my friends was like, why is this any of your business?” he said. “And I said, ‘I’m not female but I’m a feminist.’ You don’t have to be part of it to be concerned about it.”