On October 1 thousands gathered opposite the Chinese Embassy in London to show solidarity with Hong Kong citizens fighting for democracy. In 1997, China regained control of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom, agreeing to allow Hong Kong some autonomy under an agreement of “one country, two systems”, a policy that promised Hong Kong universal suffrage by 2017. China’s intention to continue to allow the elitist pro-Beijing election committee to vet candidates for the position of chief executive, rendering the right to vote a farce, outraged students in Hong Kong. Their boycott began on September 22 and by September 26 it had developed into a city-wide protest, joined by members of the ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ movement, resulting in thousands of protesters. Despite numbers falling, the demonstration continues and activists insist they will not back down until Hong Kong’s current leader, Leung Chun-Ying, steps down and Beijing allows Hong Kong to become a true democracy.
The use of tear gas and rubber bullets against the peaceful protesters has angered the international community, who stand behind a democratic Hong Kong. London has a large population of international students from Hong Kong, with UCL estimating the enrolled number at 636. Many of the protesters at the embassy on Wednesday were students wanting to show support for their friends and family back home. Two students staged a 24 hour hunger strike.
In an address to the crowd, one of these students, Daniel Chan, thanked his parents for the opportunities they had given him by supporting his studies in London and asked for their respect in his show of solidarity. Another speaker, Dr. Jonathan Mirsky, assured the young demonstrators that they had the support of older generations and that their beliefs were just. The throngs of hopeful students have reminded many people of the protesters at Tiananmen Square. Dr. Mirsky revealed his fears of a similar incident unfolding, “I saw the same young people in Tiananmen … what worries me is that the Chinese government may lose patience. In 1989 right up until June 4 all the journalists, like me, thought the army would never come in. I really hope that the 6000 soldiers in Hong Kong stay inside their barracks. All of you must be very brave. Warn your friends in Hong Kong: if the army comes in, you must lie down in front of them, you must lie down in front of that army and don’t let them move you out of the way.”
The protests have been relatively peaceful so far. In London, some 3000 people listened respectfully to talks from members of the Hong Kong Overseas Alliance and other supporters of what is becoming known as the Umbrella Revolution- a name stemming from the use of umbrellas by Hong Kong protesters to defend against tear gas which has developed into a symbol of the humble, peaceful crowd. Dressed in black and wearing yellow ribbons, protesters held signs calling for democracy and condemning the use of force by Hong Kong police.
Hong Kong is a very special place, so that’s why we want to keep its freedom
The solidarity of the crowd was apparent,“I’m quite touched to see all the Hong Kong people so united together. This is actually the first time I’ve come out to any protest”, one participant commented. Ian, who moved from Hong Kong to London 2 years ago, continued, “We were promised the right to choose our own leader. We don’t want a puppet chosen by the Beijing government. We don’t want to be like another city in China who are being suppressed, who don’t have freedom of speech…Hong Kong is a very special place, so that’s why, we the Hong Kong people over the whole world, want to keep it’s freedom”.
Photos by Eden Atherton.