In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote that the telegraph was the first technology to beat the challenges of distance and deliver information across the country faster than a train could carry. This was not necessarily a good thing. It meant that bits of news could travel immense distances yet mean essentially nothing to those receiving it or perhaps worse, risk being completely inaccurate. Today the Internet is like the telegraph on steroids. As photos and videos of violent clashes between police and Hong Kong citizens flash around the world—much in the way images of Chicago violence must do the same—the protests cannot be understood without context.
The central government in mainland China continues to erode fundamental rights previously guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong. In 2007 Beijing promised that in the next decade the Hong Kong people would have the power to elect their own leader and that by 2020 they would have universal suffrage—that is, the ability to elect their own legislature without any interference. Instead, Beijing has pursued a course of continuing interference, including the installation of Hong Kong leaders with individuals handpicked by the central mainland government.
Things came to a head after the 2016 murder of Poon Hiu-wing by her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, while on vacation in Taiwan. After the killing, Chan fled back to Hong Kong to avoid extradition. The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 was a response to this case. Hong Kongers came out against the bill as it effectively eradicated the “one country, two systems” special administrative zone and implied that Hong Kong citizens could be taken sent to prisons on the mainland at Beijing’s discretion. Hong Kong opponents of the bill recommended instead that China make its own extradition treaty with Taiwan.
Protests grew in frequency and number in March; in June, nearly two million Hong Kongers took to the streets in opposition. As conflicts with police increased, the Beijing government imposed new legislation calling all protesters “terrorists,” subject to arrest and extradition to the mainland. The pro-democracy movement says the police are corrupt and involved with use of triad gangsters who disguise themselves as protesters to incite violence. Additionally police have been seen preventing EMT medical teams from reaching innocent protesters injured in these clashes, which the government then uses as an excuse to further control Hong Kong and ignore human rights.
The movement gathered energy and purpose as it focused on five fundamental issues now codified as the “Five demands and not one less.” The demands include an investigation of police brutality, especially after the October 1 shooting by a police officer of a teenage protester at point-blank range. The bullet missed his heart by just three inches. The demands also ask for the removal of the extradition bill, the retraction of that statement that the protests in June were riots, the withdrawal of criminal charges against protesters, and universal suffrage.
I spoke to several people from the larger Hong Kong community here in Chicago, many of whom share common concerns for the safety of loved ones. v
She was born and raised in Hong Kong. He is from the mainland. While they (above) understand the frustration of the young people and protesters in Hong Kong, they concede that Hong Kong is part of China. “Some young Hong Kong people say that they want Hong Kong to be independent but how can it be? Hong Kong gets all it resources from China. The young people forget, they are here because people came here from China, Why do they say they are not Chinese?”
Lambert (above) taught at Hong Kong International School from 1999-2003. “One of the school’s student learning results reads, ‘Students will demonstrate respectful and caring attitudes at school and in the community, as well as the courage to stand up for what is right.” That’s what we see happening in Hong Kong right now. . . . Hong Kong is a vibrant, dynamic city and its people are very resilient. One country, two systems has not played out as promised by mainland China. The Hong Kong people are losing their identity, autonomy, and rights as they are increasingly invalidated and eradicated by the government in China.”
Lam (above) was born in Hong Kong and was there this summer as a peaceful protester. Outside his studio is a sign from Hong Kong, some of his Pez dispenser collection, and a full-page ad from the New York Times that reads “Stand with Hong Kong at G20.” Born in Hong Kong, he is a Pez collector who makes art using actual Pez candies and containers to create replicas of iconic Hong Kong buildings (photos below). The Pez serve as a bridge from his youth in Hong Kong to the present. He says he thinks of Hong Kong as a sweet dream.
Johnson (above) worries about what will happen to his friends and kung fu family in Hong Kong. “Ving Tsun people have always been involved with standing up for what is right. It’s an essential part of our training and the code of conduct we follow called Mo Duk or Jo Fen. These principles arise from Buddhist practices from the Shaolin temple. VIng Tsun people always will protect those who need help and protection from bullies.”
Chan (above) was born and raised in Hong Kong and went to school there before coming to the U.S. “Supporting the HK movement is natural to me as Hong Kong is my home. I still have many friends there as well. We are connected through social media. I am keeping up with what is going on in HK. My faith informs and inspires me on issues related to social justice. I believe human rights and freedom is God’s gift to all. We must all stand for justice.”
MH (above) was born and raised in Hong Kong. Because of his involvement in the movement in Hong Kong this summer, MH was a featured speaker at the Anti Totalitarianism Rally on September 29 at Urban Voice church in Bridgeport, organized by Global Solidarity with Hong Kong – Chicago. “Who I am doesn’t matter, it’s what we do that matters. We have consent that this movement is leaderless, from the bottom up. They could take down a leader, but not an idea . . . While we are using our freedom of speech around the world, China tries to silence us. The government use the police who use great brutality in Hong Kong. People who want to help can talk to their government officials, they can use social media like Twitter to let the world know what is going on.” The five fingers up are for the five demands made by Hong Kong people to the government. The other finger represents the five demands—and not one less.