Why Hong Kong’s Protests Exploded
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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 23
Why Hong Kong’s Protests Exploded
About
After six months of unrest, anti-Beijing protesters are increasingly unwilling to compromise. With fierce and sometimes violent debate redefining the region, where will the movement end up? Jiayang Fan reports.
Released on 12/09/2019
Transcript
[gun firing]
[woman screaming]
[Woman] Go, go, go, go, go, go!
Part of the surreal nature of these protests is that
yes, you're hearing guns go off
and you're seeing tear gas
and there are stampedes coming.
[crowds chanting]
But you also look up and there's Louis Vuitton
and Victoria's Secret and huge ads
and you think, I mean, am I in a war zone?
Or am I in a shopping mall?
And sometimes, it's both.
The Hong Kong protests have gone on for five months now
and as I spent weeks there
talking to various members of the population,
not just the protestors,
I realized that this story is about
Hong Kong's reckoning with its own identity
and its relationship to the outside world,
meaning China and the West.
[tense music]
The protests began with an extradition bill in early June.
The extradition bill would allow suspected criminals
to be extradited to mainland China.
It invited a lot of anger and suspicion
because if people in Hong Kong
can be taken across the border and tried in
mainland China's very questionable,
opaque, dubious court system,
then what else will the party do next?
The Hong Kong people feel like
mainland China is encroaching upon the freedoms of this city
that was guaranteed autonomy
and mainland government was really reneging on its promise.
[Newsreader] There was a symbolic lowering
of the Hong Kong and British flags.
Hong Kong was a British colony for over 100 years.
In 1997, it was finally given back to mainland China.
The one country, two system policy stipulates that
for 50 years after the handover,
Hong Kong would still continue to enjoy
a great degree of autonomy.
There was genuine belief that in about 50 years,
China, having reached economic stability and prosperity,
would grow toward a Western liberal democracy.
In the 20-odd years that we have left,
it is exceedingly unlikely.
If anything, it will be even more authoritarian regime.
Beijing's need to fully possess Hong Kong
has to do with two things.
China's global image,
and it's about its ability
to hold on to the rest of its territory.
Tibet and Xinjiang, regions that might be
emboldened to break away,
and Taiwan, which China still thinks of as a rogue state.
In Hong Kong, this very cosmopolitan city,
they rear children who grow up speaking three languages,
English, Mandarin, Cantonese,
who are exposed to people from every nation
who come to do business.
They have a great social welfare system,
state of the art hospital facilities
and most importantly, an education system
that still allows them to question the world they live in,
much more so than in China.
This is not only a city movement,
this is a movement for every citizen
that lives in Hong Kong.
So, Hong Kong identity, for many,
is this immense sense of pride in their cosmopolitanism,
[crowd chants]
their capaciousness of identity,
in a sense that they can contain
both being culturally Chinese person
and a person who holds many liberal Western values.
♪ The land of the free ♪
In the 60s, 70s and 80s,
many economic refugees from coastal villages in China
who are fleeing from the political chaos
and the dire poverty,
they termed Hong Kong the city of light
because they could see the glittering skyscrapers.
Their one goal is survival
and the ability to find a job,
and you have their children, these young protestors
asking their parents,
you swam here, you fought for a better place to live
and you fought for an opportunity
to make life better for yourself.
That's what we're doing.
This young man, in his mid-20s,
he gave his name to me as No Name
and he talked a lot about his relationship with his father.
His father has a tendency to be quite violent,
so No Name grew up being beaten by an authoritarian figure
that is not so different, in his mind,
from what the Communist Party is like now.
He said, When I was nine or 10,
it wasn't that I didn't want to fight against my father,
I couldn't, I was too physically small and weak.
So, he feels this moral obligation to support the protest
and, if need be, die for it.
The protest has become one about police brutality
and universal suffrage,
and for the current Chief Executive,
the very unpopular Carrie Lam, to step down.
The violence is certainly escalating
but what's so difficult about these protests is that
it acquires a momentum of its own.
It's almost like an organism
over which you've lost control.
I found myself questioning what was really going on.
I tried to make sense of the meaning of identity
in today's world,
this growth of nationalism within the city.
Hong Kong is not, at this point, a nation
but because it feels so imperiled,
so besieged by these outside forces,
it wants to hold onto its sense of native Hong Kong identity
closer than ever.
Because Mandarin is the particular dialect that
Beijing has tried very hard to popularize across China,
it's perceived as a way in which
Beijing is trying to erase local culture.
As a reporter, I was wearing my green neon reporter vest
and I was accompanied by a retired school teacher
and we were speaking in a mishmash of Mandarin and English.
Upon overhearing the Mandarin I was speaking,
I was stopped and I was asked
if I was indeed a journalist from the West,
then why did I speak Mandarin,
why did I look the way that I did?
And that was, I think that was unsettling for me
because, in the U.S., I'm so used to everyone
accepting a bifurcated identity of being Chinese-American
and to really be the object of suspicion
was alarming for me.
I'm proud to be both Chinese and American
but what exactly does that mean?
And who am I swearing my loyalty to when I say that?
Or is there any kind of loyalty?
We feel the need to perform our identities,
both in the context of a protest on the streets,
but also with the advent of social media,
we need to broadcast to the world
where we stand politically and socially.
And our identity, through performance,
is something that we constantly have to affirm and confirm.
I think that's a break from the previous generation.
Hong Kong makes me think about protests
raging in other places in the world right now,
in Chile, Beirut,
and how they're all about mostly young people
who feel the need to actively perform the way they feel.
Voice for freedom!
The sense that if they feel themselves to be something,
it needs to be expressed on an open stage.
[calm music]
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