Chinese Students’ Insider View on the Hong Kong Protests


Sophia Yan

“All departures at Hong Kong airport have been canceled as authorities struggle to deal with massive protests.” CNN bombarded me with this gloomy news while I was on my way to Hong Kong airport to catch the flight that would take me to the beginning of my college life at Vanderbilt. Once my flight was canceled, my family and I decided to spend the night at the airport hotel with the hope that tensions would ease the next morning, and I would be able to embark on my journey to the US.

When we arrived at the airport, flyers and messages reading “anti-Hong Kong police” and “anti-Chinese government” were plastered everywhere, most of which highlighted the violence the Hong Kong police has inflicted on the protestors by throwing tear gas into the crowds and firing rubber bullets at the protestors. The airport protest was a response to the brutality exhibited by the Hong Kong police when they shot a protestor with a rubber bullet, damaging her eye. Though most protestors had left by 5 p.m., I still found myself struggling to navigate through massive crowds clad in black shirts and eye patches. My family and I carefully and quickly passed through the terminal alongside other travelers without drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves.

The Hong Kong protests first started in April, when the Chinese government introduced an extradition bill that would allow the Chinese government to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong. The bill was an attempt to create a mutual arrangement for legal assistance between Hong Kong and mainland China. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has said that the new law is urgently needed in order to prosecute criminals, such as the Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for murdering his girlfriend. However, the protesters view the extradition bill as an attempt to undermine the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, which promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. Many also fear that this bill would allow the Chinese government to target political activists.

After weeks of protests, Carrie Lam announced on June 10 that the extradition bill would be suspended indefinitely. Despite this success, protestors expanded their demands to include amnesty for all arrested protestors, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, and general elections for the chief executive and Legislative Council. It is difficult to predict whether the protests will escalate, and if so, what actions the Chinese government will take.

Feeling extremely anxious about the current situation, I spent the night at the Hong Kong airport hotel researching and waiting for any available updates regarding the protests. Switching between mainland Chinese media and Hong Kong media, I was shocked by the extent to which both sides utilized convenient truths to create polar opposite narratives. While the Hong Kong media emphasized the brutal measures taken by the police to suppress the protests, the Chinese media accentuated how the disturbance of the protests has negatively affected the daily life of those who live in Hong Kong. 

At Vanderbilt, Chinese international students hold views on the Hong Kong protests ranging from strong support to rational skepticism. One such student expressed support and optimism for the Hong Kong protests. She claimed that the Hong Kong protests give her hope for democracy and political freedom in China. She disagrees with China’s portrayal of the young protestors as being reckless and impressionable teenagers, and she realizes that this portrayal is a design to delegitimize their demands for freedom and democracy. Lastly, the student expressed her hope that the Hong Kong protests could galvanize support for democracy in mainland China.

Another Chinese student, who directly encountered the airport protests, recognized the contradiction between the protestors’ goals and actions. This student believes that while the protestors are advocating for freedom and democracy, they are depriving the freedom of others by paralyzing the Hong Kong subway and airport. The student does not oppose the protestors’ pursuit of freedom, but she said: “there is a better and less destructive way to deliver their demands.” 

Meanwhile, another student thinks that although the initial demand to kill the extradition bill was justified, the protesters’ actions have greatly escalated since then, causing chaos to spread across Hong Kong. She worries that Hong Kong might enter into a stage of anarchy, as some protestors are acting like a disorderly mob. However, she admits that the severe reaction from the Hong Kong government and the violent crackdown by the Hong Kong police have contributed to the escalation of the protests. If the protests keep growing, she believes that intervention from the Chinese government will then become necessary.