Student protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong this past Oct. 1 on the anniversary of the founding of Communist China in 1949. As the peaceful “Occupy Central” protesters shielded themselves from tear gas with umbrellas, they unintentionally coined the term “Umbrella Revolution,” an ironic name for their month-long struggle against the oppressive Chinese government.
The pro-democracy protests were held in disapproval of the Chinese legislature’s August voting reform, which created a committee to handpick candidates for the Hong Kong chief executive elections in 2017 — effectively reversing what was supposed to be the city’s first democratic elections. By backing up on its promise, China has unsurprisingly angered an increasingly educated populace.
The strong student presence in the protests indeed reflects the generational divide in Hong Kong. According to The Wall Street Journal, the younger generation has not benefited from China’s economic rise as much as previous ones, which had gained factory and real-estate investor jobs. Furthermore, younger generations grew up under British influence and thus lack mainland China’s pride and identity.
To call the Hong Kong movement a “revolution” would be to ignore its true purpose. Hong Kong student leaders have rejected the term “revolution” to describe their movement because they seek reform and political gains through cooperation with the Chinese government rather than violence. These students want ongoing dialogue between the parties and tangible political change that will improve the freedom of future generations. While the term “revolution” is a buzzword used by the mass media to attract curious readers, calling the Hong Kong movement a revolution is both inaccurate and even detrimental to the students’ peaceful negotiation efforts. The movement is not calling for an overhaul of the Chinese government. Rather, the people of Hong Kong simply wish to maintain their rights and hold China accountable for its promise to allow the city to be an independent democracy.
Students around the world have shown solidarity for the movement, organizing campaigns such as “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong.” This campaign is made up of universities in the United States and United Kingdom. Despite the rain last Wednesday, college and university students from the Boston area gathered in Boston Commons to support the Hong Kong protests. Wellesley College also scheduled on-campus initatives to support the movement.
We also applaud Hong Kong students for going out to the streets and resisting the Chinese government’s crackdown in an effort to make their city a better place. We might differ on whether democracy is the best form of government, but nevertheless, we support Hong Kong students’ political involvement and activism in their city and criticize the police brutality against these students. Hong Kong is unique in that the city does not seek a new government but rather the democracy they were promised. Students’ involvement in politics reflects both a healthy concern for the community’s future and the willingness to think critically and independently of the government.
Those who support democracy in Hong Kong should continue to show solidarity and join the international community of concerned, independent thinkers. The Wellesley News calls for fellow Wellesley students to continue to raise awareness of the movement and show solidarity. Yellow ribbons and clothes, Bitcoin donations, and Facebook posts and tweets all contribute to a student environment of international awareness and community engagement.
By showing our support, we can encourage our governments to condemn China’s response in its attempt to suppress the voice of Hong Kong. No longer should China remain above the law solely because of its economic prowess. Like all nations, China must be held accountable to its people, especially in Hong Kong. As college students ourselves, it is our social responsibility to support our fellow Hong Kong students in their efforts.