This summer, I visited Hong Kong as it is my mother’s home city. I had visited many times before but this time was unique as, following the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, Hong Kongers were gathering in the city streets demanding to maintain its autonomy under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ agreement and for greater democratic reform.
Because of this, I found myself returning to a city filled with tension, worry, and fear, feelings that were uncommon in what has always been a peaceful and stable city.
It was now a city in which reputation for its police have been, perhaps destroyed forever, a city in which tensions between the Mainland Chinese and the native Hong Kongers were at their all-time high, a city in which its streets were unusually quiet and businesses were suffering from decreased tourism.
Everywhere I went, tunnel walls, metro stations, bus stops were covered in bright post-it notes and clever, but often angry artwork. These ‘Lennon Walls’, homage to John Lennon’s dreams of peace and free expression, first shown as a way of resistance in Prague in 1980 against Soviet rule, displayed heartfelt messages of freedom and a love for the city of Hong Kong.
Supporters would busk on the streets, singing songs of encouragement and handing out leaflets for support. It was clear that these supporters are dedicated, creative, desperate, hopeless yet hopeful of a future in which they can maintain the identity of their beloved city which they felt would disappear as the years crept closer to the end of the 49 years of autonomy and political freedom which Britain promised Hong Kong when they handed the city back to Chinese rule in 1997.
But why should I care? Whilst I was in Hong Kong, it was inescapable. It permeated the entire atmosphere, it lived in the eyes of every person I spoke to. There was nowhere I could go without hearing about it, it was in every conversation, on the subway, in restaurants over dinner, on TV, on the radio as I sat on the back of taxis driving through the empty streets.
But, back in the U.K., in the safety of my quiet hometown, I found it to be distant, slipping away from my mind as I meddled other affairs: When was I going back to University? How was my dissertation coming along? What would I do after graduation?
Hong Kong felt so far away. I mean, weren’t there enough problems to be dealing with the U.K. alone?
But at the rally, organised by a small group of Hong Kong students here on campus, I came to a realisation as I watched the sea of so many different faces as they came together to learn about what was happening.
All around on campus were not only British students, but students from all over the world, and here many of them were, in the middle of this seemingly so far away issue that has shaken the core of Hong Kong, learning about it and engaging with it.
And it was here that I realised why Hong Kong movement is so important.
Firstly, the protests are about much more than freedom for Hong Kong, but serve as a reminder for how important freedom is. Freedom and democracy are the only things worth fighting for, in part because they are so vulnerable but so vital for human moral progress.
We mustn’t ever forget that freedom isn’t free and even here in the U.K., it can be easy to take it for granted. The protests in Hong Kong remind us of the cost of human freedom but also the endless pursuit of it in order to live in the way we wish.
More importantly, it is a universal and deeply human want to live freely. Therefore, the Hong Kong protests have the power to unite people because their causes go above and beyond race, religion, nationality.
No matter whether you are from, be it Hong Kong or the U.K, whether you’re Chinese or English, black or white, nothing struck me more that October day on campus, that we are all human beings and what we value the most, whether we acknowledge it or not, is freedom and the right to define and determine our destinies.
Isn’t this what all the fuss about genders, or Brexit or even climate change is all about?
No matter our backgrounds, our opinions, we can stand together on this issue because, I believe for most human beings, we all believe in the pursuit of freedom and self-determination.
Thus, at its core, the Hong Kong movement represents the concerns of all of us.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly divided and polarised, the Hong Kong movement can at least put aside these divisions, having the power to unite us all under the same umbrella.
For now, we can at least all agree that the pursuit of freedom is worthy, even if don’t agree on anything else, and is why we should all care.