Students lead protests in Hong Kong

For two months, vital roads and key streets have been blocked off by student protesters in Hong Kong. With tents, banners, and makeshift barricades ranging from bamboo to metal, young men and women have assembled in the streets of Hong Kong both in front of the special administrative Chinese region’s administrative buildings and business districts to call for democracy. 

Though former ASL student currently residing in Hong Kong, Freddy Marsh (’16), has not witnessed the protests first hand, seeing pictures is surreal to him. “The roads that the protesters are using are usually filled with traffic so to see them just filled with people is very strange,” he explained. His brother, Henry Marsh (’08) went to Central – where the protests are taking place – during the height of the protests said that “the energy of the protesters was incredible – he had never experienced anything like it.”

Marsh noticed changes in his daily life, along with others who travel around Hong Kong during the day, with classmates from Hong Kong International School (HKIS) arriving an hour late to school due to the traffic caused by the protests. “Some of the main roads in the city have been shut down, causing traffic jams all across the island,” he said.

Those who travel around Hong Kong during the day are not the only ones affected by the protests, it affects everyone who works in Central, the equivalent to Times Square in New York. “These protests are killing a lot of the business in Central. Shops and stores are being forced to close because of the protests, which is affecting the incomes and lifestyles of the employees of those establishments,” Marsh said.

Recently, the citizens of a semi-autonomous city, Hong Kong, were promised direct elections for choosing its regional leader by 2017. Yet the Chinese government, in concordance with current administrative head, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, have created a committee – filled with pro-Beijing authorities – to filter candidate choices, thereby limiting the democracy in the election.

The youth in Hong Kong who are living in a city filled with modern technology are trying to be as Western as they can as opposed to more Chinese. “Every step that they see the Chinese government taking in taking control over Hong Kong is for them [the young kids], saying ‘we’re going in the wrong direction,’” Trey Carlson (’16), who lived in Hong Kong for four years, said.

Carlson believes that the situation with the government in Hong Kong with the government is both fluid and dangerous, and that the protests were predictable. “It was pretty much inevitable that something like this was going to happen because of the way that it is now, it’s just not working, it’s just not good,” he said.

Social Studies Teacher Natalie Jaworski believes that the youth is driving this movement as such a movement cannot succeed without the youth. “I think there is a lot of courage that comes with youth and a belief that you can make a difference and that you can change things,” she said.

Jaworski believes that the peaceful nature of protests in Hong Kong makes it reminiscent to Tiananmen Square. However, that is not the only similarity between the two conflicts, Jaworski emphasized government censorship in both cases. “What I have been reading is that the information about what is happening in Hong Kong really isn’t getting to the Chinese people, that they are censoring it in the way that they censored what happened in Tiananmen Square,” she said.

In recent weeks, not much has developed between the sides as each is unwilling to compromise. During this time many protesters and police officers have clashed, some resorting to the use of pepper spray, tear gas and batons on protesters that are breaking into private property.

However, Marsh believes that the officers have remained relatively neutral. “It is widely believed that the police have done a very good job remaining neutral in this matter. They are not harming the protesters, nor are they being completely passive,” he said.

A platform used by the protestors is social media. Jaworski believes that though social media is not the reason why these revolutions happen, it precipitates such a movement. “[Social media] is a catalyst, it enables these things to happen,” she said.

Jaworski believes that this is the reason why China strictly censors social networks. “Power lies within the people and in a government system where they try to keep the power all at the top, it only takes a spark for people to realize that they are the ones that truly have the power and can rise up against them. That I think is why China is censoring a lot of what’s going go on, it’s because they don’t want that same thing happening,” she said.

There is pressure on the Chinese government about how they should act as Hong Kong is one of their prized possessions. “I think I’d be scared for the Chinese if they’d step in and do something violent because that would be a huge mistake considering Hong Kong is pretty much their best-valued asset that they have right now,” Carlson said.

Marsh, along with many of his classmates at HKIS, believes that due to the detrimental effects the protests are having on the people in Central, people in Hong Kong will turn on the protestors. “In order to have a successful protest, you need to have the hearts and minds of the public on your side, and if the protests carry on I’m afraid the protesters will lose this advantage,” he said.

China will reclaim Hong Kong in 2047 due to “The Handover”, a period in which Hong Kong had to be handed over to the The People’s Republic of China. Therefore Marsh believes that China should allow Hong Kong to have independent elections as “the Chinese do not have very much to lose by giving Hong Kong 30 years of democracy, allowing them to grow their capitalist markets, and then using the Hong Kong economy to bolster China’s already emerging economy.”

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