Feature

Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement

One Year On, Hongkongers Changed but Unmoved

2020/06/09 , Opinion
Daphne K. Lee
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Daphne K. Lee
Daphne K. Lee is a journalist based in Taipei and an editor for The News Lens International. She's a perpetual traveler who finds story ideas while roaming the planet.
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On the one year anniversary of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, the media's rush to pronounce the "end of Hong Kong" doesn't consider the changes the protest has brought about among Hongkongers — or the long term.

It was, at last, the end of Hong Kong. The media were quick to frame China’s national security laws for the city as a doomsday clock, although Hongkongers have always prepared for the end even before the 1997 handover.

A few days after China’s legislature approved the legislation, Hong Kong authorities banned the annual Tiananmen vigil on the grounds of public health concerns. And yet, thousands of Hongkongers defied the police ban, hopped over the metal barriers, and sang Flowers of Freedom to commemorate the victims. The acts of defiance showed that Hong Kong is far from reaching its end and death.

“We can’t lose hope. If we feel discouraged and leave, then we’ve really lost the battle,” a Hong Kong environmental activist surnamed Lau told me.

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Participants light candles during a vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, Thursday, June 4, 2020.

More of my friends are applying for the British National (Overseas) Passport, hoping for a chance to flee and start anew. Taiwan is also moving slowly towards accepting more Hong Kong refugees. However, millions of Hongkongers still have their life rooted in a city of deteriorating freedoms. Many of them are fighting on.

On the one year anniversary of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, I’m recalling the tears and outcry over police brutality and injustice, as well as a heavy sense of doom for my birthplace.

After watching endless footage of police violence on social media, I remember my instinctive fear of seeing riot police in the flesh late last year. And yet Hongkongers have learned to cope with violence and threats — those around me were still sipping on bubble tea as a blue warning flag was raised. Even as the police screamed profanities and waved cans of pepper spray at a close distance, some protesters stood by undisturbed.

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Police in riot gear move through a cloud of smoke as they detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, November 18, 2019.

In the last year, what left a deeper mark than the government’s fear tactics and the mass arrests was the unwavering resilience of Hongkongers.

“Hong Kong has been beautiful in the past year. A lot of Hongkongers voiced their beliefs fearlessly and pointed out injustices in the face of an authoritarian regime,” Lau said.

Resistance alone is not enough to describe how much Hongkongers have been changed by the movement. While Hong Kong is often labeled as a cutthroat city reeking of corporate greed and aloofness, the protests have forged a new, selfless dynamic among Hongkongers.

They now refer to other protesters, most of whom are strangers, as their “hands and feet” (手足), their brothers and sisters. Slogans such as “Leave no one behind” (一個都不能少) are repeated to encourage one another, especially when the sense of hopelessness looms over news of suicides and murders.

Despite their differences, militant protesters and peaceful protesters unified around a common goal. Underground first-aid medics, anonymous graphic designers, and journalists have been stirred to contribute to the movement.

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photo credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China, June 16, 2019.

After a student leader was arrested for carrying a laser pen, Hongkongers gathered for a “stargazing night,” protesting in laughter and music. When the police attempted to entrap protesters near the airport, a Dunkirk-style retreat took place. There was also a new protest anthem, which is now a symbol of unity wherever it is played.

A Hong Kong medical worker surnamed Lee said Hongkongers have been “well-trained in the past year to face bigger challenges.”

Take the Covid-19 outbreak for example. Medical workers staged a strike to pressure the government to close the borders. The public encouraged one another to wear face masks despite Carrie Lam’s misleading announcements. Volunteers installed hand sanitizers in buildings in low-income neighborhoods to make sure the residents were taken care of.

“When we can’t rely on the central government, grassroots public health campaigns work,” Lee said.

Democracy does not come in a day, she added, and she remains hopeful for Hong Kong’s future despite the foreseeable hardships.

“Some of us are looking to Taiwan’s history of transitioning to democracy,” Lee said, noting that Taiwanese had been fighting for democracy since the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in 1895. “It took Taiwan a century.”

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Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement:

At the end of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, Hongkongers promised they will be back. In June 2019, Hong Kong mobilized one-third of the population to protest against the government's extradition bill. The News Lens is covering the on-going movement and rallies in collaboration with our Hong Kong-based team.

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