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Overseas Hong Kong students defend their identity in times of protests

Sara, who is participating in "105 Days of Resistance: Democracy for Hong Kong March" on September 22, holds up a sign which reads "Reclaim Hong Kong. Revolution of our time" at Boston City Hall Plaza. She also helps put up posters on the walls at the plaza.

On her way out of the classroom, Sara, a
sophomore from Hong Kong majoring in journalism at Emerson College in Boston, was asked by one of her American classmates if she was from China. 

"No!" Sara flatly refuted, "I'd be offended if people said I was from China." 

Given the recent tension in Hong Kong, Sara did not want to disclose her full name.

Sara first became aware of her cultural identity as a Hongkonger when she was involved in the Umbrella Movement, a three-month occupation of a downtown area in Hong Kong back in 2014,  to call for universal suffrage.

 Describing herself as a Hongkonger would makes Sara proud. It gives her a sense of belonging to her home city. 

On her Facebook page,  most of her posts are about protests in Hong Kong. 

"I'd say I'm from Hong Kong and they [her classmates] can ask me about what's going on [there]," Sara said. 

She believes this is her way of contributing to her beloved city when she tells people on campus in Boston about what protesters in Hong Kong are facing. It’s her way of expressing her cultural identity.

Frances Hui Wing-ting, an exchange student from Hong Kong at Emerson College, is giving a speech at the Boston City Hall Plaza square for the protest "105 Days of Resistance: Democracy for Hong Kong March" on 22nd September. She is standing next to a modified Hong Kong regional flag. The flag is in black with some red blood-like liquid splashed on the petals of a bauhinia. The flag represents the anti-government protests in Hong Kong which blood-sheds and severe injuries have happened.

Frances Hui Wing-ting, another student from Hong Kong at Emerson College, wrote an article "I am from Hong Kong, not China" for the university newspaper.  It went viral.  

"'I am from Hong Kong' has a special meaning. It means we value democracy and human rights,"  Frances explained. 

In the article, Frances said it upset her to see the name of her home city listed as "Hong Kong, China" in the university's exchange programme document. She accused the university of not sufficiently "cognizant" and "knowledgeable" about Hong Kong.

"It's very offensive to ignore one's identity," Ms. Hui said.

She has been organising marches and assemblies in support of the anti-extradition bill protests Hong Kong protests in Boston since June. On 22 September, around 400 protesters marched to Boston City Hall Plaza to call for the passing of  the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019". The Act means the US will have to review Hong Kong’s state of autonomy every year in order to decide whether it should continue to be regarded as a separate economic entity from mainland China.

More than 400 protesters of "105 Days of Resistance: Democracy for Hong Kong March" are gathering in front of Boston City Hall Plaza and waiting for the opening speech of the march. Most of them are dressed in black because black has been the theme color for protests in Hong Kong. The banner in blue held by one of the protesters reads, "FREE HONG KONG, REVOLUTION NOW", which is one of the major slogans Hong Kong protesters shout in marches and demonstrations.
Among the 400 protesters participating in the "105 Days of Resistance: Democracy for Hong Kong March" in Boston, one of them holds an American national flag to reiterate the urgency in passing the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019" and show the recognition of democracy in America. Protesters also hold a yellow banner, which reads "Fives demands, Not one less". Throughout months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, protesters have been urging their Government to respond directly to their five major demands, which are the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the Hong Kong legislature, retraction of the characterisation of "riots" on the protests, release and exoneration of the arrested protesters, establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and their use of force during protests and the implementation of universal suffrage for the Legislative Council members and Chief Executive elections.
Protesters participating in the "105 Days of Resistance: Democracy for Hong Kong March" on September 22 are marching from Boston City Hall Plaza to Tremont Street. Organizer Frances Hui Wing-Ting is chanting "Free Hong Kong" and "No Extradition" in front of the crowd.

The question of a Hong Kong identity has become divisive between students from mainland China and those from Hong Kong at Emerson.

Raine Pan, a mainland Chinese student believes Hong Kong protesters' actions have gone too far and will destroy Hong Kong.  

"I can understand that they [Hong Kong people] may find it unacceptable that a city [Hong Kong] governed under capitalism now belongs to a socialist country [China]," Ms. Pan said, "but they've gone far beyond freedom of speech and are provoking riots ."

She thought Frances' stories on Hong Kong did not reflect reality. 

"She has made her cultural identity issue to a political-like statement with no reliable sources," Ms. Pan said, "it's [claiming oneself as a Hongkonger] okay in terms of cultural identity, but political identity is objective. They need to be separate."

According to a survey conducted by The University of Hong Kong in June, the number of residents in Hong Kong who identified  themselves as "Hongkonger" has almost doubled since August 1997.

Only about 11 per cent of the respondents in the survey identified  themselves as "Chinese".

Three days after Frances' article went online, the university newspaper published a letter.

In the letter, three Emerson students from mainland China Fu Xinyan, Liu Jiachen and Tu Xinyi, said they were worried that the article would lead to misunderstanding among ethnic groups on campus. They believed "Hong Kong, China" was the appropriate title for their university to use.   

"By listing Hong Kong as a part of China, Emerson is following the region's [Hong Kong's] legal recognition," the letter read. 

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration,  it was agreed between Britain and China  that, Hong Kong would "be directly under the authority of the Central People's Government." As "Hong Kong, China", Hong Kong could develop its own economic and cultural relations with states, regions and relevant international organisations.


Tim Riley is a cultural studies academic at Emerson College.

"I would bet money the person who's referred to this person [Frances] as 'Hong Kong, China' did not intend to offend anybody, really just trying to be correct [for herself]," said Mr. Riley, "The intention was probably very innocent, but the effect could be very offensive [to other people]."

Mr. Riley said although the title "Hong Kong, China"  is based on agreed terms in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of Hong Kong in 1997, it has overlooked Hongkongers who are now increasingly reluctant to be identified as Chinese. .  

He believes the Hong Kong protesters are trying to press and clarify and seek transparency in the Hong Kong Government's relationship with China. 

"Are we [talking on the side of Hong Kong people] going to be more defined ? Is Hong Kong going to fit under the definition that China imposes on Hong Kong? That to me seems to be the identity question that's at stake in the Hong Kong protests," said Mr. Riley. 


《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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