The student strike kicks off

Students in Hong Kong, as in many other cities, have historically played an important role in social change – the most recent example being a massive 2012 protest and 10-day hunger strike led by Scholarism (學民思潮) against the “moral and national education” proposed by the Hong Kong government, a school curriculum that many argued offered a pro-Beijing and white-washed version of Chinese history. At the last moment, the government backed down and shelved the proposal. This time, the struggle students are fighting for is much larger than just a proposed curriculum.

oathThis week (Sept 22-26) marks a full week of class boycotts by university students, and on Sept 26 some secondary school students will join as well. On Sept 19, the Friday before the strike’s start on the 22nd, the HKU Student Union held an Oath-Taking Assembly for Students’ Strike in the Sun Yat-sen plaza. This whole week posters and huge black signs have been posted around the Student Union building with slogans like “人大不代表我” (The National People’s Congress does not represent me”), “民主治港” (“Democratic rule in Hong Kong”), and “重奪未來” (“Reclaim our future”). The oath-taking assembly involved lots of speech-making (not having a total grip of Cantonese is really hurting my understanding of these speeches!) by students and faculty, interrupted slightly by a burst of rain, and finally about 35 students stood up on the stage, donned yellow ribbons, and took their oath to join the student strike.

strike concertThat night a free concert had been arranged at the City University of Hong Kong for the student strike, bringing together a number of local bands, including a math-folk band that I’d read about in TimeOut HK called 雞蛋蒸肉餅 (also known as GDJYB), named after a southern Chinese egg and meat meatloaf-type thing (see this picture and listen to their opener from the night). So I hustled on up from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon side of the city, missing out on some awesome Canto protest rap but catching a few other bands. I absolutely loved 雞蛋蒸肉餅 and their lyrics, so appropriate for a concert about loving and protecting Hong Kong:

I so love my home
the place we grow up
tick tick tock tock
the minute goes
the history flows
nothing’s gonna change
the lies u told
the scam we know

922罷課抗極權 (Sept 22 student strike to resist totalitarianism)

922罷課抗極權 (Sept 22 student strike to resist totalitarianism)

the streets are gone
the faces are wrong
familiar language
and the strangers around

double nono nono nono
the friso is mine
the yakult is mine
the noodle is mine
the milkshake is mine

What struck me the most about City University was how much more politicized it seemed to be. Whereas the strike was advertised most heavily around the Student Union at HKU and at the Sun Yat-sen plaza, at City U the flyers and banners for democracy were everywhere – covering all the message boards, draping the railings, just omnipresent. It’s true that HKU has a pillar of shame, but City U also has a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue.

On Sunday I happened to be in Causeway Bay and saw a number of protests by different groups. Falun Gong had a number of interesting signs up, including a sort of demonstration against “forced live organ harvesting in China,” which has been one of Falun Gong’s longest-standing protests. There was also a counter-Falun Gong group, 香港青年關愛協會 (Hong Kong Youth Care Association Limited), with a sign reading “邪教 荼毒青年 禍害香港 立即遠離法輪功” (“Evil religious sect, tormenting the youth, destroying Hong Kong – Leave at once, Falun Gong”). Apparently these two groups have a long, exciting history of antipathy, with many accusing the anti-Falun Gong group of being pro-Beijing. Maybe it was because of the sun, but it seemed like the Falun Gong and pro-democracy protestors were showing their faces openly, while the anti group stood behind their banners (albeit taking advantage of the banners’ shade).

andyThere were also signs declaring “我們都是511” (“We are all 511”), referring to the 511 protesters arrested on this year’s July 1 march. There was also a fellow named Andy holding a Hong Kong colonial flag, but I couldn’t understand much of what he explained about the flag and why he carried it, other than for the most part the British colonial rule having been a better time. I wasn’t sure exactly what his stance was, either toward Falun Gong or Occupy Central, since he didn’t have signs that I could read, and his English wasn’t that great. However, it definitely seems that in the past, these flag-wavers had been present to protest the anti-Falun Gong group (scroll down on this page), with the goal of covering up the anti-Falun Gong messages to protect Hong Kong (its freedom of speech) from mainland control.

On Sunday night I didn’t get much sleep, so when I arrived at Chinese University to attend the kick-off of the student strike, I felt pretty exhausted. It was hot, it was long – an hour more speeches than I’d expected – and most of it, to my tired language-function brain cells, was repeating much of the same sentiments as other speeches. I did spot Andy again with his colonial flag. He was sporting a Civic Passion t-shirt (Civic Passion is a more radical group than most pro-democracy orgs) and a cool little HK colonial pin. So I snapped a few photos and figured I’d rely on Twitter to fill in the rest. Such as this, which I completely missed:

Varsity magazine from Chinese University really does some of the best coverage of the strike. And the teach-ins/public lectures at Tamar Park began today! For anyone interested, here is a schedule with notes from each lecture, as well as info on supporting gatherings around the world.

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