From Indifferent to Inspired to Indignant, Chinese Mainlanders’ Diverse Responses to the Pro-Democracy Protest in Hong Kong

9am ET October 1st 2014, sitting in my office in Michigan, reading about Occupy Central with Peace and love– the pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong—I phoned my mother, who was back in our hometown, Hunan Province, celebrating my Grandpa’s 80th birthday.

With the loud Karaoke blasting in the background, my mother told me that she heard about the protest in HK, but she didn’t think it was a big deal. “I don’t have an opinion and don’t quite care,” she said before hanging up the phone and going back to sing “My Heart Will Go On”.

Kids celebrate the PRC's 65th birthday in Beijing

Kids celebrate the PRC’s 65th birthday in Beijing

Her opinion echoed many Chinese who were busy celebrating the PRC’s 65th birthday. Weibo, the popular Chinese social website, was dominated by posts of celebratory spirits: congratulating the country, praising the tremendous development of the awakened dragon and an overall sense of pride and confidence. People either were uninformed or indifferent towards what was happening in Hong Kong. Life went on in Mainland China, as 150,000 protestors occupied multiple locations in the central financial district in Hong Kong.

One tourist visiting Hong Kong told the New York times reporter, “I don’t have any opinion about the politics of this…this (the protest) affects our trip.”

Following the tradition of tight internet control and monitoring, the CCP blacked out all posts, websites, pictures and searches that mentioned “Hong Kong youth”, “Occupy Central” or any other instigating words/photos. Major state-owned news outlets carried only brief mentions of the protest and the CCP came out today, Oct 2nd, stating their non-tolerant stance towards the movement.

The coverage and editorial opinions on the protest have all been ubiquitously negative. On Oct. 1st, there were around 20 different reports of major state-owned newspaper on the protest and the official statements and reports deemed the movement “illegal”, “disruptive”, “uncivilized”, “irrational”, “backed by western powers” and “largely threatening the economic stability and development of the region”.

Occupy Central protestor carrying a large banner that says "They Can't Kill Us All".

Occupy Central protestor carrying a large banner that says “They Can’t Kill Us All”.

Today, on a popular news website 163.com, a long editorial analysis questioned the “irrationality” of the “minorities” who is occupying HK’s central district. The article goes through the history of British occupied rule of HK and the bloodshed, hardship and shame the HKers have endured under British Imperialism.

“Under British rule, HKers were under large oppression, relegated less than British citizens…We can say that under the British imperialist, HKers had no equal political rights, their Chief Executives were directly appointed by the Queen, and not a representative of the people in HK.”

The article goes on to say, “It is only after the takeover in 1997 did HKers really claim ownership of their own land… Unfortunately, the effects of colonization have been too deep and minorities of HKers have been afflicted with Stockholm syndrome, standing up for those who have oppressed them.”

The article claims that the protestors have shouted out slogans such as “Long Live the Treaty of Nanking” and “Chinese go back to China”. The article concluded that, “The trend of growth, development, empowerment and unification of China and its people is an unstoppable trend. We shall fight for our ‘Chinese Dream’.”

Many Mainlanders both overseas and in China supported CCP’s viewpoints and expressed anger over the protest.

One comment in Sina.cn wrote, “We stand alongside our Party and government. The protestors need to be censured harshly under the law.” Another comment said, “Let’s wait for them to totally mess up their whole economy. Many cities in China would love to take over their position.”

One prevalent theme expressed in many of the Mainlander’s comments online was the presumed resentment HKers felt for China. One comment on Weibo said, “Many HKers are resentful of the Economic development in China. They feel nervous and their superiority has been largely eroded.”

Many mainlanders overseas also identified with this point of view. They posted links to Martin Jacques’ article in the Guardian, “China is Hong Kong’s future- not its enemy”, on their Facebook. In the article Jacque states, “Protesters cry democracy but most are driven by dislocation and resentment at mainlanders’ success.”

Furthermore, Mainlanders were concerned that the protest has shamed the Chinese people on a global scale, making Chinese look inept and incompetent with their idealism, irrational, rubble-rousing behaviors. Many Mainlanders cherish stability above all and see the protest as a youth-led, egotistical movement that threatens China’s hard earned growth and stability. They agreed that the protest has stopped traffic, interrupted everyday life, caused a significant drop in the stock market this year, and will have long-run negative ramifications.

One mainlander said, “It’s really a pity, I just hope that this won’t lead to chaos.”

Many expressed large mistrust towards the HKers as they questioned why Hkers never protested for universal suffrage under the British rule. One mainland tourist told New York Times reporter, “In the past they had the British choose their leaders, and they weren’t terribly upset… Now they’re part of China and under our socialist system, and they choose to stand up. I’ve heard that the United States is influencing this.”

Though HKers were targeting the CCP’s policy, many Mainlanders felt targeted personally and blamed the protest on the Stockholm syndrome and HKers love and loyalty towards foreign rule. They were further offended and felt patronized even humiliated as they learned that the protestors wish to not only change suffrage in Hong Kong but also spread wider democracy throughout China.

Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors sprayed with pepper spray.

Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors sprayed with pepper spray.

However, the protest has garnered support in China, albeit small, quiet and often quickly shut-down by the government. Since the protest first broke-out, around 20 people in mainland China were arrested for voicing support. Around 60 to 80 people were also questioned after posting positive support for the non-violent sit-ins, according to Amnesty International.

As censorship in China reached a new peak these past few days, Mainlanders have found creative ways to show their alliance with the movement. Some posted pro-democracy comments on nonpolitical websites, others posted brief and ambiguous messages like “Go Hong Kong” and “Without resistance there is no freedom” under the Cantonese ballad “Under the Vast Sky”, which has become a theme song for the movement.

A movement supporting the protest asked members to shave their heads and post their photos on Instagram. The movement was later blocked and shut down by the government. Still, for those who could afford travel, they went to Hong Kong under the pretense of buying an Iphone 6.

Regardless of their methods or location, most Chinese supporters were extra cautious. Many Mainlanders oversea didn’t voice their opinions online in fear of “informants” amongst their friends. One Mainlander in Hong Kong has cautioned her friends on FB to not add any unknown friends on Facebook. She claimed she has received multiple friend requests from mysterious profiles that didn’t contain any photos or personal information.

Still, amongst the passionate, the apathetic and the outraged, there lies the moderate critics of the movement who think the protest has no concrete action plan and lacks large consensus amongst the group. For those who understood the protestor’s plans and actions, shook their heads and posit the protestors’ demands as unrealistic. They state the power of the CCP and do not think the protest will make any difference nor give real democracy to HKers.

Thank you for reading. I tried my best to be as objective as possible. Links to source material will be uploaded soon.

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