I'm not anti-China but pro democracy

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I was in Perth when I started hearing about the goings-on at Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. I'd been following the events in Hong Kong since they started about five months ago, but I hadn't been particularly vigilant in keeping up to date. I would hear the occasional update on the news or read a thread of tweets before moving onto whatever was next on my to do list.

Police detain protesters and students after they tried to flee outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in the Hung Hom district on 19 November 2019. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)The citizens, and particularly the activists of Hong Kong, have had no such respite.

I remembered the Umbrella Revolution of 2014, which sparked months of peaceful protests, which were forcibly disrupted by police. Hong Kongers turned again to peaceful protest in June of this year to present their opposition to the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill, which would allow extradition of Hong Kongers to mainland China and Taiwan, thereby subjecting them to the laws and restrictions of the mainland, and undermining Hong Kong's autonomy under the 'one country, two systems' principle instituted in 1997.

I watched updates file in with apprehension. Hong Kongers of all ages — even families — took to the streets. Marches escalated into a storming of the Legislative Council, which led to the destruction of government property — but by all accounts, most activists were considered in what they chose to destroy and what remained untouched. I felt a little guilty while I watched — some of my friends had family who were still in Hong Kong, and they were worried for their loved ones' safety, especially considering the brutality shown by the police during the umbrella revolution.

My parents are Malaysian-Chinese, and I also culturally identify in this way. I bear no allegiance to China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. I consider myself a hybrid sort of creature, proud of my Chinese heritage and the richness of Chinese culture and history, but I am also very much a Chinese-presenting woman brought up in a world full of Western values.

That being said, I did go to a church that was started and mainly populated by Taiwanese people, and I went to Taiwanese-run Chinese schools. I suspect the only reason I went to Taiwanese-run Chinese schools is because they taught traditional Chinese instead of simplified, just like they did in Malaysia, where my parents were brought up.

Anti-Chinese sentiment, especially in the west, is quickly becoming synonymous with anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) sentiment. My beliefs and attachments to my culture — one that is many thousands of years old — should not be seen as an endorsement of the actions of an increasingly authoritarian government. It's easy to conflate the Chinese government with Chinese people in general, whether it be out of malicious intent or ignorance. There is no one way to be Chinese, no guidebook we have to follow, and this is compounded by the fact that the Chinese diaspora is so widespread.

 

"I know it is an immense privilege to be able to say this from my Brisbane apartment without fear of government sponsored reprisal."

 

I have the luxury of laughing off jokes that make light of the power dynamic between mainland China and Taiwan and Hong Kong, but for many of my friends, it's not such a light matter. I struggle to put myself in their shoes, and I feel a sense of hopelessness that I'm not able to do more for them.

That night in Perth, while I tucked myself into bed, I scrolled through a curated list of Hong Kong journalists on Twitter, my heart in my mouth. I'd been reading about the extent to which police were willing to go to subdue protesters, how some journalists with press credentials were being denied access to PolyU and other sites of protest. I'd watched videos of police indiscriminately beating civilians on the sidewalk. I'd seen photos of tear gas coating entire streets.

People my age, people who looked like me and sounded like me, were recording final messages to their loved ones because they weren't sure if they would survive the night. I watched videos of activists in masks and goggles thank the international community for their support, encouraging those outside of Hong Kong to spread the word about what was really happening on the ground.

I eventually convinced myself to go to sleep, wondering how many of these young people would get out of this alive, how many lives would be ruined or put on hold because they dared to stand up for their beliefs. It's hard for me to truly fathom the fact that these young people are my age or younger, because I don't know if I would have the courage to put my body and life on the line like they have. Many of them say they are only doing this because nothing else has worked, because they are sick of having their voices ignored.

The district elections that were held this past weekend are a prime example of this. More than three million people turned out to cast their votes, lining up for hours to do so. Pro-democracy candidates were elected by an overwhelming majority, claiming 86 per cent of the 452 seats up for grabs, and yet the CCP-controlled legislature, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, claimed that there were 'multiple ways this result could be interpreted'. The jury is still out on whether Hong Kong's future will have a happy ending.

I'm not anti-China or pro-Hong Kong or pro-Taiwan. I'm pro-democracy, and I know it is an immense privilege to be able to say this from my Brisbane apartment without fear of government sponsored reprisal. For now, all I can do is amplify the voices that need to be heard, to try my hardest to support these brave young men and women in whichever way I can.

 

 

Yen-Rong WongYen-Rong Wong is a Brisbane-based writer, and the founding editor of Pencilled In, a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the work of Asian Australian artists.

Main image: Police detain protesters and students after they tried to flee outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in the Hung Hom district on 19 November 2019. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Yen-Rong Wong, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan

 

 

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Existing comments

To watch this struggle from afar has been inspiring and heart-rending. I want so much for their dreams to become a reality. This is a people willing to fight for their cause and this is a truly courageous feat, a statement which proclaims "we will not give up, we will keep going". How many times in our lives have we taken the easy way out to avoid any sort of risk. These Hongkongers are showing the way. Bravo.
Pam | 28 November 2019


excellent article - thank you for it
Joe Sicher | 28 November 2019


Yen -Rong, I share your concerns for the people of Hong Kong. I was fortunate to study the history and culture of China at University , now over four decades ago. We westerners often do not realize the immensity of Chinese history, which extends back well before Western civilization commenced. The current dictatorship fails to recognize and respect that heritage. The tentacles of the CCP extends far from China's shores. I am not sure you and other liberal minded Diaspora Chinese are safe from their reach.Take care.
Gavin | 28 November 2019


YR, I put it to you that "democracy" is not what HKers are really yearning for. Democracy in their case is a desperate, last plank proxy for the recognition of natural human rights. The latter entails a wide space of liberty to go about one's business, living one's life as one chooses as long as one doesn't impinge on the natural rights of others. HKers fondly remember the halcyon days of British colonial rule and openly regretted its passing. But colonial rule from Britain was not a democracy – no-one from HK elected the governor of HK or his bureaucrats. Yet his was a rule that respected human rights and human liberty. Indeed the British, when departing, fought a losing battle trying to convince HKers of the merits of “democracy” when lined up against their own manifestly UNdemocratic colonial regime! Democracy can quickly degenerate into mob rule, or be easily manipulated. As history bears out, in the hands of voters who don't respect natural human rights and liberties, it is a vicious beast that can be unleashed with forces that destroy a society. HKers don’t want democracy per se. They want respect for natural rights and liberties, which has been the font of their incredible success story over the last 70 years.
HH | 28 November 2019


One of the factors missing in this conversation should arise from the assumption that its readership is mainly Christian and pro-Jesuit, especially in its social justice proclivities. In recent times I have observed a marked tendency to emphasize and indeed advocate the role that surrender and humility must play in political contexts in which the odds are stacked against the victim. In my view this response forsakes many of the Judeo-Christian virtues while applauding others that are widely articulated and practiced within and amongst the Eastern philosophic and cultural traditions. These Confucian, as well as Buddhist, virtues can be criticised for their advocacy of what I'd call the 'door-mat' position. In broad terms, even in todays global world, many Easterners (and I speak as an Indian) are far too entrenched in positions that are stifled in the mire of acceptance and hopelessness. The justice tradition of the West - without being too crassly occidentocentric - advocates speaking up and sturdy opposition, even to the point of taking to the streets in the absence of democratic parliamentary means of attaining an authentically just political change. Isn't it the coward's way, leading to so many justice causes being abandoned, that needs exposing?
Michael Furtado | 29 November 2019


Yen-Rong Wong: “My beliefs and attachments to my culture — one that is many thousands of years old….” Gavin: “We westerners often do not realize the immensity of Chinese history, which extends back well before Western civilization commenced. The current dictatorship fails to recognize and respect that heritage.” All ‘thousands of years old’ means is that the culture had thousands of years to come up with, well, the prosaic open and relatively light system of governance that the motel cleaner in Cooladdi, South Australia (population 4) takes as normal – and failed. It’s the diaspora, ejected from or otherwise living away from some of the poisons emerging like springs from the founts of the culture, and made by circumstances to live under the tutelage of a foreign Judeo-Christian-Western-Enlightenment culture, who taste those freedoms that are so unremarkable to the Cooladdi cleaner that they, for the most part, rest in her or his subconscious. If anything, the dictatorship is enjoying the fruit of the lacunae within that culture. Contrast the political culture of Japan, which adapted, Germany, a child of the West unlike Russia, parentally reclaimed from misadventures in authoritarianism or westernised Judaism, which created the only Middle Eastern democracy.
roy chen yee | 30 November 2019


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