By Kalan K. Birnie and Julian E.J. Sorapuru
Pro-Hong Kong and pro-China student demonstrators clash in Gleeson Plaza
Tensions flared on Gleeson Plaza Monday evening as a contingent of pro-China supporters counterprotested a group of pro-Hong Kong supporters. The clash coincided with ceremonies in China and its territories commemorating China’s National Day, which marks the 70th anniversary of the start of Communist Party rule in the country with the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
According to those present, a small group of students were in Gleeson Plaza around approximately 4 p.m., demonstrating in support of the ongoing pro-democracy protests and civil unrest in Hong Kong. In response, a group of approximately 20 students, consisting primarily of freshman international students from mainland China, came out to drown out the pro-Hong Kong group and celebrate National Day.
Public Safety received an anonymous call just before 6 p.m., and an officer was dispatched to monitor the situation.
The leader of the pro-Hong Kong group of student demonstrators identified themselves to the Foghorn with the pseudonym C.C. and protected their identity with sunglasses and a bandana over their face. They held a large board covered in sticky notes submitted by passing students in support of the protestors in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong protests broke out in March of this year in response to a bill in the Hong Kong legislature that would have amended the territory’s laws surrounding the extradition of criminals and fugitives. In its current state, Hong Kong will only extradite offenders to territories with which Hong Kong has extradition agreements. The amendment would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite to any territory, including mainland China. The protestors in Hong Kong contend that this amendment would subject Hong Kong residents, and even visitors, to the laws of mainland China. It is believed that this would violate the legal autonomy of Hong Kong, which operates as a Special Administrative Region of China. In practice, this means that residents of Hong Kong are Chinese citizens, but are subject to Hong Kong law rather than Chinese law.
In 2047, Hong Kong will fall entirely under Chinese rule, according to the 1997 handover agreement between the United Kingdom and China (commonly known as “one country, two systems”). The agreement currently prevents China’s government from changing Hong Kong’s government and way of life for 50 years, but once it expires, China will be able to institute any law in Hong Kong, effectively absorbing it into the rest of the country.
Many from the group of Chinese student-supporters responding to the pro-Hong Kong demonstrators maintained that they were merely celebrating China’s National Day. But the actions of the group portrayed an antagonistic stance against demonstrators rather than a patriotic celebration.
Mandy Shao, a freshman from China, said, “We’re just here to support our country. They chose to do this on National Day, and we’re just here to support our country.”
Others in the pro-China group were less diplomatic in their comments. Many derided C.C.’s actions, branded them as a coward because they were covering their face, and accused the pro-Hong Kong contingent of spreading misinformation.
C.C. explained that they hid their face to avoid being photographically identified by the Chinese government, and that the incident escalated when two Chinese students attempted to take photos of the pro-Hong Kong supporters. The pro-China group played the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” through a Bluetooth speaker in what appeared to be an attempt to drown out C.C.’s interview with the Foghorn.
“I’m protesting for the rights of the Hong Kong people, which we have seen stripped away before our eyes,” C.C. said. “I’m from Hong Kong, born and raised. I wish I was there, I wish I was on the front lines. But I can’t, so what do I do instead? I try to raise awareness, not knowing this would happen,” they said, referring to the response from the pro-China group.
“I’m protesting for the rights of the Hong Kong people, which we have seen stripped away before our eyes.”C.C.
C.C. also criticized the group of Chinese students protesting, suggesting that they were “brainwashed” and did not understand what the Chinese government has been doing because they, as freshmen, have only been in the U.S. for a short period of time.
Jenny Li, a freshman, told the Foghorn that C.C. was “just doing bad things,” and that the Chinese students were focusing their “pity” and “shame” on them, referring to the pro-Hong Kong students.
…the Chinese students were focusing their “pity” and “shame” on them.
C.C. remained steadfast in their resolve.
“When it hits 2047, we’ll all be slaves to China. If we lose, we’ll all be slaves,” they said.
Katherine Na and Hayley Burcher contributed to the reporting of this story.