OPINION: Bear witness to our struggle: Why Hong Kong matters
We were violently attacked during our peaceful campus demonstration, but we refuse to be forced into silence
By: Oct. 22 Hong Kong demonstrators
Cw: mention of violence
To many, the words “Hong Kong” spark images of a cosmopolitan city, a glimmering skyline or a financial powerhouse. But to us, these words represent the Spirit of the Lion Rock burning within the soul of every Hongkonger — the generations of blood, sweat and tears shed in the dream of a land where we can prosper. These words mean home. And our home must be protected.
We are the demonstrators who assembled in Mills plaza last Tuesday, Oct. 22 to peacefully spread awareness about police violence and authoritarianism in Hong Kong, as well as call for freedom and democracy. We set up a Lennon Wall — a form of collaborative protest art where people write messages of encouragement and solidarity on a wall of colourful post-it notes — and engaged with people who stopped to chat with us. In the name of the rights and freedoms which we hold dear, we stood with our hearts on our sleeves and flyers in our hands, ready to speak to any and all who would listen.
However, to our dismay, a group of individuals decided to respond to our peaceful demonstration with vitriol. One person tore down our Lennon Wall, assaulted us by ripping off our masks and threatened that “next time, this won’t be so easy”. Meanwhile, others cheered them on, jeering at us in Mandarin and shouting crude insults.
However, to our dismay, a group of individuals decided to respond to our peaceful demonstration with vitriol. One person tore down our Lennon Wall, assaulted us by ripping off our masks and threatened that “next time, this won’t be so easy”.
Their response to civility was aggression, talking was replaced with shouting and peace was answered with violence. The physical violence and wanton aggression that we faced was a harrowing attempt to intimidate us into silence and to stop us from speaking freely about the situation in Hong Kong.
It was also a solemn reminder of why we wore masks in the first place. Without anonymity during protests in our city, Hongkongers are much more vulnerable to arrest and intimidation by others, including pro-government paid thugs, employers and political opponents. In encounters with the police, Hongkongers have been exposed to horrific violence: beatings that leave people with shattered bones, torture, sexual violence in police stations and even permanent blindness after being shot in the eye.
This is why we treasure anonymity and wore masks in solidarity during our protest. To have someone violently attack us by tearing apart our signs and clawing at our faces to unmask us was a terrifying reminder of what we’re fighting against and the stakes at hand should we lose.
These stakes are the highest that Hong Kong has faced in the past century. Currently, Hongkongers enjoy rights and freedoms unheard of in Mainland China. However, since the 1997 Handover, the Chinese government has sought to restrict our freedoms. This is being done by mirroring oppressive practices from the Mainland, where citizens can only access Communist Party-approved information, where any criticism of the government often leads to imprisonment and where millions of Uyghurs are incarcerated in torture-ridden concentration camps. As Hongkongers brave the frontlines in the global fight for freedom and as we yearn for a taste of the democracy that we were promised by the British and Chinese governments which we’ve since been denied, we hope that others will bear witness to our struggle and listen to the voices of the oppressed.
To other students at McMaster University: we hope you will stand in solidarity with us. When we return — and we certainly will — we ask you to please drop by and stick a post-it note on our Lennon Wall, or chat with us to learn more about Hong Kong. If you have friends of Hong Kong origin, be sure to reach out and support them.
To the university administration and the McMaster Students Union: we call upon those in positions of power to uphold our right to peaceful protest and ensure student safety. No student should be physically assaulted for peacefully demonstrating on campus. The University should ensure that our right to assemble on campus is protected and the MSU must publicly speak out and defend the marginalized students who face violence in retaliation for exercising our basic rights.
To the university administration and the McMaster Students Union: we call upon those in positions of power to uphold our right to peaceful protest and ensure student safety.
The harassment at McMaster eerily echoes similar violence elsewhere, such as at the University of Queensland, where pro-Beijing students punched and shoved those who supported Hong Kong’s right to freedom and democracy. We would prefer to have an open discussion about Hong Kong issues, but this is difficult if those living in China’s propaganda bubble refuse to believe facts reported by the international media and also try to silence rather than engage with us.
We are doing our best to support the brave people back home in our struggle to uphold the values which we hold dear. We cannot block the bullets, nor can we rinse the tear gas from their eyes. But we can speak. We can remind the world that Hong Kong is dying and that Hongkongers around the world are desperately trying to safeguard our home. We can show the people in the streets that the world has not forgotten about them.