Words and Photo by Victor Anosike
If the recent shooting of a high school Hong Kong protester on October 1, 2019, during Chinese National Day is of any indication, the protests in Hong Kong are only getting more dangerous as political tensions continue to flair. The ongoing Hong Kong protests have continued to be a major international conflict that has caused many Hong Kong citizens to question the amount of political freedom they have while still being politically attached to China. Although the conflict has caused people to choose sides between the Chinese government’s desire for control and the Hong Kong protesters’ desire for autonomous democracy, students at The City College of New York who originate from Hong Kong, China, and other Asian countries have varying degrees of awareness about the situation, ranging from complete support for the protesters’ cause to not knowing anything about the protests in the first place.
According to City College student, Kwun, in regards to activity regarding the protests on campus, “I just go around and do my own thing, so I haven’t seen anything around here.”
Protesters in Hong Kong argue that the now rescinded extradition bill, legislation that would have allowed those charged of criminal activity in Hong Kong to be sent to China, represented the first major step towards making Hong Kong, an independent, capitalist, and democratic city-state that is politically sovereign from the rest of communist China, beholden to Beijing and its authoritarian policies. In contrast, many that live in the Chinese mainland fully support the Chinese government’s slow control over the city. While the citizens of Hong Kong and China are extremely passionate about the ongoing political situation, City College students that originate from these regions are mixed when it comes to the amount of knowledge they have on the situation.
City College students that hail from either China, Hong Kong, or other countries in East Asia talked about how much they knew about the protests, what side they took and whether or not the ongoing situation affected their personal lives. Whether due to indifference to the protests or not paying enough attention to the media’s coverage of it, many people that were interviewed stated that they did not know enough about the political situation to be able to firmly choose a side. Andrew, a City College student whose family originates from China, knew about the situation from the news but was reluctant to say that either China or Hong Kong deserved support. His reasoning behind this stance is that “I still need more information on both sides.”
The argument of getting more information before making a choice was a common sentiment among these students. Zu, another City College student whose family originated from China, was asked to provide his opinion about the Hong Kong protests, showed more lack of awareness. Zu said that “I don’t really know what’s going on there, and I don’t really give it any opinion.” Both Zu and Andrew mentioned that aside from not really knowing much about the protests, they didn’t have any family members or friends that knew anything about the protests or took a side in the first place. This lack of personal connection to the conflict was a common explanation as to why no opinion could be held about the conflict for certain people.
Some Asian American City College students that had no ethnic ties to the conflict displayed sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters in some capacity. Anh, a student whose family originates from Vietnam, very clearly sides with the Hong Kong protesters. “I would prefer Hong Kong over China…the [extradition bill] is pretty biased…there are a lot of things going on with the government in China…they are really strict with a lot of things.” For Anh, support for the Hong Kong protesters is based on his disapproval of the Chinese government and its authoritarian nature.
Jennifer, another student from Vietnam, supports the protesters mostly because of her personal relationships with people from that region. According to Jennifer, “I just have a lot of friends from there, and I feel that [Hong Kong] should be able to have their own [rules]… My friends [from Hong Kong] are here, but their family is not] so their families are being affected by it.” Even if the exact nuances of the political situation may not be known, having contact with people that are being negatively affected by the situation was enough to get Jennifer to side with the protesters. This separates her from those who decided not to choose a side purely due to lack of enlightenment of the situation, thus proving the power of social bonds and political tendencies.
In contrast to Jennifer, some students, in spite of their inability to choose a side, use their general appreciation of societal constructs such as liberty and freedom to explain why the situation arose in the first place. Noah, a student from Tibet who doesn’t have an official opinion but personally knows people who come from Hong Kong, just wants Hong Kong to have true political freedom, even if he doesn’t know who may be right or wrong. Noah believes that “I just want people to have a good life… I know that there are some major injustices going on, along with protesters being killed…freedom of speech [is] being infringed upon…but I’m not politically savvy enough to make an opinion.” Despite Noah’s reluctance to identify with either side of the conflict, his acknowledgement of the reasoning behind the protester’s struggle suggests that fundamentally American ideals and the desire of the protesters to have those ideals be implemented in their own city are respected by a few students that are aware of the conflict but do not know the details.
Whether or not students are invested in the current Hong Kong protests may depend on the level of personal connection a student may have to Hong Kong specifically. Almost all Asian American students that were interviewed were not personally affected by the Hong Kong protests, aside from Kwun, whose family originates from Hong Kong. Kwun was very aware of the ongoing situation and had immense sympathy for the protesters. In spite of his pro-Hong Kong stance, this student was quick to acknowledge that the political demands of the protesters and the Chinese government are almost impossible to resolve quickly: “I mean I’m all for democracy, but the situation over there…democracy would be very hard to achieve. It’s a very precarious situation.” Support for the protesters stem from his concern for his family in Hong Kong, who he says has been affected by and even participated in the protests. His support for the political freedom is also connected to the simple fact that he was brought up under American values. “I mean obviously [I support the protesters], yeah. I’m American; I like democracy, you know.” Of particular note is the fact that, although he doesn’t really involve himself much in student activities, overall he has seen no indication that anyone on City College campus, whether individually or as a group, has tried to raise awareness of the protests.
This student was not alone in thinking that no activity has brought this issue to light on campus. One thing almost every person interviewed had in common is that little awareness of the issue is present in student life at City College. Even if these students had friends or family members that were impacted by the events, the City College community has not brought the conflict to the forefront of student awareness. Whether due to unawareness of effort made by students compassionate for the issue or total disregard of the situation on a campus-wide scale, many on campus have not seen the college do anything to inform people about what is going on in Hong Kong. Jennifer, when asked if she saw activity on campus regarding the protests, puts it pretty succinctly: “I haven’t seen much.”