China’s Power to Silence Hong Kong Reaches Far

Jolie Barnard, Guest Writer

While the voices of Hong Kong continue to resonate globally, in homes like mine and throughout the Chinese-American community, many of us sit in silence. Why?

It’s due in part to the culture that has trickled down from Chinese society, a mindset that Chinese immigrants have carried along with them. In China, people know not to openly speak or protest about these things. With the exception of muffled voices in the back of a private room, the majority of people stay silent. One word of a “treasonous” conversation reaching the wrong person or a thoughtless social media post and you or your family might just disappear.

I’ve only been to Hong Kong once in my life. I distinctly remember the wave of admiration that washed over me, walking through their busy street markets, bustling with foreigners and natives alike. I could hear vendors bartering with their customers over the price of counterfeit purses, jewelry, even a “我爱HK” t-shirt.

The streets were buzzing with life, as the weekend I spent in Hong Kong was coincidentally when Chinese President Xi Jinping came to honor the 20th anniversary of the territory’s return to China from the United Kingdom. This news devastated me, as the Hong Kong-style egg waffle place I had planned on trying out was closed all weekend because of it.

At the time, Hong Kong politics were simply not on my radar. I knew it was a semi-autonomous part of China, boasted a spectacular view from the Victoria Park lookout, and had delicious bubble milk tea, but that was about it.

As a result of Xi’s visit, numerous protests took place, by both pro-democracy and pro-Beijing groups, only a small mark on the long stretch of protests that have since erupted. This new wave of ongoing protests, many of which have garnered international attention, began just over two years after my visit. They were sparked by the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill, which sought to allow Chinese authorities to take defendants from Hong Kong and other autonomous territories and try them in mainland courts.

This was worrisome to many Hong Kong dissidents for fear that people could end up in the mainland legal system, subjecting them to prosecution for political reasons.

With a new national security law passed by Beijing just a few months ago in response to these protests, many of the previously enjoyed rights to free speech in Hong Kong have been revoked. From the removal of textbook chapters regarding the Tiananmen Square crackdown to political cartoon artists being threatened, the new censorship of the media is all done under the name of national security. This has led to the arrests of dozens of dissidents and while the rest fear further retaliation, many don’t seem to be stopping soon.

It is honestly terrifying, as China’s government is known for its dubious compliance with human rights, and practices like secret trials and forced confessions are commonplace. Their censorship of the media and political dissidents sets a precedent that is exactly what the protestors in Hong Kong have been, and continue to be, fighting against.

The people of Hong Kong have never really experienced such an encroachment on their rights. The world they’ve grown up in has given them the right to a fair trial, the spirit of protest. They’ve been afforded protections in the past that their cousins on the Mainland don’t even dare to think of.

It is a very similar situation in America. As someone who grew up here, at times, I take it for granted. I will never truly understand what it is like to live like people do under the mainland Chinese regime.

Although some immigrants, like my mother, may disapprove of what Beijing has done now and in the past, many are quite literally unable to openly support the movement in Hong Kong. WeChat accounts are flagged and banned for conversations that may be considered anti-government. In addition, many immigrants still have family in China, whose safety they are unwilling to risk.

“We are afraid. If we speak out, we could get banned from going back home or be arrested if we come back”, she said. No matter where they go, China seems to linger.

There is support for Hong Kong all over the world, but this international support and attention must last, as Hong Kong may need it now more than ever. The culture and mindset that China has fostered have only helped them continue to act unopposed for too long. Even though there are many people who sit in silence, whether it be a result of indifference or necessity, there are even more who are able to speak out and make change happen.

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