Thursday, October 2, 2014

Student-led Protests in HK

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Image credit: Lam Yik Fei/Getty

Images AP Photo/Apple Daily

Photo: David Wong

Photos: Felix Wong

Since Hong Kong was returned by Britain to Chinese rule in 1997, it has enjoyed considerable legal autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula, in which Hong Kong residents retained rights not available elsewhere in China. But Beijing's refusal to allow genuine democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous region ignited the flames of angry protests.

And we are witnessing no ordinary demonstrations! Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are in the main driven by university and secondary school students, some as young as 14. The latter have been boycotting classes to join the protests. Even lecturers and teachers participated.

Frustration with Chinese policy in Hong Kong is especially deep among the young, and contention over voting rights has given many otherwise apolitical students a jolt of civic engagement.

Seventeen-year-old Joshua Wong Chi-fung, convenor of student-led group Scholarism that initiated the strike, said the participation of school students is much higher than their expectation – they had anticipated about a 100 people but one local news report put the number at over 1,200.

“Even though the cost (to pupils) of joining the boycott is higher than that of university students, the secondary pupils are still willing to stand up,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”

Many were horrified by what they saw on TV the violent clashes between protesters and riot police who retaliated with tear gas and pepper spray.

"I was scared when I watched it on TV. I felt helpless at home, that's why I came out here to do my part for Hong Kong," said one student. "I feel that Hong Kong has suddenly become very chaotic."

The pro-democracy youth movement has occupied central Hong Kong and declared it Democracy Square. Tens of thousands of students have been spending nights there.

But they said they are not forsaking their learning. "We are just boycotting classes, not boycotting our studies. We are still revising and doing our homework," a student protester said.

"By coming here, it is part of a learning process. We are here to learn how to analyze the current problems in our society. I think this has helped us learn more things."

Hong Kong students want democracy. They have rejected Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's calls to end the protests and go home. I hope they will overcome and triumph.

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