Studies from abroad: A UI student reflects on her Hong Kong peers’ efforts in Occupy Central

Occupy Central
Students in Hong Kong have taken over the busiest roads of the commercial center as part of the Occupy Central movement. — photo by James

Generation Y or Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, have often been seen as spoiled and egocentric in Hong Kong. But many young people in Hong Kong are disproving these stereotypes through their passion in the Occupy Central movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, a civil disobedience campaign for universal suffrage.

While Occupy Central has been around since 2013, the movement gained momentum on Aug. 31 2014, when China revoked its promise to allow Hong Kong citizens to freely elect their own leader by 2017. On Sept. 22, university students held a class boycott, which escalated into mass organized demonstrations on Sept. 28.

The Hong Kong government has since tried to disperse the crowds of protesters by firing tear gas and pepper sprays and by, reportedly, unleashing triad gangs on the streets to attack and threaten demonstrators. Today it was announced that the Hong Kong government and student leaders have agreed to meet for a formal discussion about the future of the city.

As a Hong Kong native born in the ‘90s, I am proud to see all the impassioned faces of my peers in the many images of the protests on the news. From Iowa City, I see fellow students in Hong Kong staying overnight at demonstration sites instead of resting in the comfort of their homes. I see them united, working to clean up the city and to distribute supplies and protective gear instead of complaining about the labor. I see them standing strong among tear gas and courageous in front of violent thugs instead of hiding away from threats and aggression. They might be young, but they are determined and fearless.

Atlas Leung, a University of Iowa student from Hong Kong, was surprised by the reaction of his peers back at home. “I didn’t expect that students can gather this many people,” said Leung, “And most importantly, they showed the world the beauty of Hong Kongers through peaceful protest. Freedom is a must in Hong Kong.”

But there are mixed feelings towards this issue both in China and among the Chinese community in the United States. My friend Sonia is from Hong Kong and studying in Chicago. She told me about a heated debate she had last week with a Mainland Chinese classmate who feels that Hong Kong is already given too many freedoms and any more will only cause further societal chaos.

Some Mainland Chinese students, however, are supportive of the revolution, even though they believe the chances of Hong Kong achieving democracy are dismal. While they do not enjoy the freedoms of democracy in the parts of China where they’re from, they would like to see Hong Kong citizens fight for the rights they were promised.

In Hong Kong, some locals are unhappy with the Occupy Central movement. They have expressed that the occupation has disrupted their businesses, the schooling of their children or their everyday commute. The older generation in particular — those like my grandfather, who have lived through the communist regime — seems to stand by the Chinese government’s decision. They feel that leaders of Occupy Central are manipulating youngsters to bring chaos to society. As the tumult in Hong Kong continues, the students are slowly losing public support for their ongoing demonstration.

Yet many tenacious students and protesters are still standing firm. Like other citizens, they fear that if they do not stand up for democratic freedoms this time, their voices may become silenced in the future.