I was strolling through the bustling vendor streets of Hong Kong, my parent’s homeland, when I saw a cluster of bright yellow umbrellas piercing through the dark night like yellow gummy worms wriggling through a dirt pudding concoction. Hongkongers chanted words in Cantonese, and although my comprehension was not advanced enough to understand, I was old enough to recognize the resoluteness of their demands.
I didn’t stay long enough to find out, either, because my father, well-informed of his home’s political state, quickly rushed us out from the cynosure of action, anticipating a police conflict with protesters.
It was 2014.
Later I would learn that I had witnessed the aftermath of the Umbrella Movement, in which pro-democracy activists occupied districts and shut down major roadways for 79 days, calling for universal suffrage. Nevertheless, the demands of 1.2 million protesters were shrugged off by the central government in Beijing.
My 12-year-old juvenile mind did not yet understand Hongkongers’ legitimate fears of threatening Chinese encroachment on their political autonomy and rule of law, and how that, ultimately, would compromise everything that makes their homeland different from China under the “one country, two systems” principle.
Then And Now: From The Umbrella Movement to Hong Kong’s Current Pro-democracy Protests
What my father did not foresee on those streets was that five years later, in Hong Kong’s current anti-extradition bill protests, the police force’s response to future generation protesters would grow to swift and merciless brutality, indiscriminating between civilian bystanders and protesters.
But the pro-democracy protesters have remained the epitome of civic disobedience and unwavering compassion amid a deteriorating democratic state. An overwhelming number of protesters turned out at airport strikes and wore eye patches over their right eyes to criticize police violence against a young woman who became partially blind after being shot by a beanbag round. The “Glory to Hong Kong” anthem harmoniously rings in the streets. Protesters have formed human chains, linking hands for democracy, united in hope and will. Driven by compassion, thousands of protesters iconically parted like the Red Sea to allow an ambulance pass by.
“Although these methods of political participation cause substantial economic damage, their message is clear. Whereas China prioritizes economic efficiency over individual civil freedoms, Hongkongers disrupt the economy to declare this is not the case: they value human rights.”
Meanwhile, I have been told to “Crawl back to your homeland — USA! You are not Chinese! Mind your own business!” echoing Chinese President Xi Jingping’s rhetoric and dismissal of Hong Kong political crisis as an “internal affair” when Hong Kong’s current state is clearly a humanitarian crisis.
While I recognize violent protesters at the front of police lines have worsened conflict between protesters and government authorities, I understand the motive of the violence as a heart-wrenching response to their homeland being devoured by the merciless economic greed of their parent country.
I support these violent protests, to some extent, as a form of unconventional political participation, considering peaceful protest methods during the Occupy Movement failed to produce substantial systematic changes.
As graffiti on the defaced Chinese liaison office resonates, “You taught us peaceful marches are useless.”
An article from The Guardian writes, “It demonstrated our sense of helplessness in the face of the government’s hardline rule — and the simple fact that the legislative council has become a tool to facilitate Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s affairs. Occupying the council building was a political statement — not senseless destruction.”
Although these methods of political participation cause substantial economic damage, their message is clear. Whereas China prioritizes economic efficiency over individual civil freedoms, Hongkongers disrupt the economy to declare this is not the case: they value human rights.
In the course of months, Hong Kong has clearly distinguished itself from China and endures disruption to its civil life so that its government can adequately derive its legitimacy from the power of the people.
In addition to holding China accountable to the Sino-British Joint Declaration and urging the US to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, I repeat the words of the protesters: “Five Demands, Not One Less. Free Hong Kong, Revolution Of Our Times.”