Ms. Kong’s family joins Hong Kong democracy protests

After China decides to choose candidates, thousands take to the streets, led by a 17-year-old

DEMONSTRATION: Protesters call for democracy in Hong Kong after China decides to name candidates in upcoming election.

Photo by Alexis Choi, used by permission

DEMONSTRATION: Protesters call for democracy in Hong Kong after China decides to name candidates in upcoming election.

By Eric Bazak, Features Editor

“If I were in Hong Kong, I would definitely fight for democracy, and protest,” said mathematics teacher Ms. Jennifer Kong Oct. 7, when demonstrators were in their third week of blocking highways in the central business district of the city.

“I see why China really wants to completely take over Hong Kong,” Ms. Kong said, “but as Hong Kong citizens, we would like to rule our place ourselves. We still have very different cultures and policies from China, so it makes a lot of sense for us to fight for democracy.”

Ms. Kong, who grew up in the former British colony, studied there and at UC Santa Barbara and teaches Geometry, Algebra and Precalculus, was in close touch with her relatives during the crisis, which was still unresolved as of Nov. 10. Almost all of her relatives were involved, she said.

One was her cousin, Man Choi Ning, who spent 10 days among the 200,000 protestors fighting for free elections by blocking downtown freeways and streets and disrupting business flow.

The crisis began Aug. 31 when China announced it would select all the candidates in the next election for Chief Executive of Hong Kong before allowing the people to vote on them. The election will be held in 2017.

“I joined the protest because I was not satisfied with the proposal the government made for the Chief Executive selection method,” said Man Choi Ning, in an e-mail reply to Boiling Point questions. “The government refused to listen to our thoughts, so the only way I can express my opinion is to join the protest.

“Also, in the past few years, the government has disappointed me a lot with their policies and the way they treat Hong Kong people. I really hope I

can make some changes on the current situation in Hong Kong by joining the protest.”

Protests began around Sept. 22, led by two groups, one called “Occupy Central with Love and Peace,” and the other called “Scholarism.”   The former movement, founded by law professor Benny Tai, hopes to gain universal suffrage by peacefully occupying Central, the main financial center of Hong Kong.

Scholarism is the student group spearheaded by the now famous Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student at Open University of Hong Kong, who encouraged students to skip school and join the protests.

The Chinese consider Wong an internal threat to political stability. He was one of the first people arrested when the protests began, held in custody for two-and-a-half days.

Counter-protests seeking a return to normal life gradually reduced the protest, partly because the demonstrations were disrupting traffic and preventing businesses from functioning. On Nov. 17, Hong Kong police cleared a section of the protest site in front of an office building without any resistance from the demonstrators, who had started vacating the area beforehand.     Ms. Kong’s cousin, who in English goes by the name Alexis Choi, is 22 and a graduate student at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Like many other Hong Kong civilians, Alexis was upset over China’s decision about the 2017 election.

She described the atmosphere at the protests as very peaceful.  According to her, people donated food, umbrellas and other commodities and the students were in charge of distributing them among the protestors.

She protested in the neighborhood called Admiralty, site of the largest demonstrations.

“In Admiralty right now, there is kind of an art gallery of the umbrella revolution,” Alexis Oct. 22.  “People created lots of artworks about this revolution and they displayed them in the occupied area. Their artworks are creative and inspirational.”

Others donated toiletries and shampoos in public restrooms, she said, for the use of protestors who slept overnight in the occupied areas. Alexis was not among those who stayed at the protest sites overnight.

“The choices of those toiletries are even more than what you can find in Target and CVS,” Alexis said.

While China did not change its policy regarding the election, Scholarism had reason to hope it would.  It had already been successful in a 2012 protest, preventing China from instituting a communistic “Moral and National Education” program in Hong Kong schools.

In response, the group gathered 120,000 protestors to occupy the Hong Kong government headquarters, forcing the proposed curriculum to be canceled.

“People should not be afraid of their government,” said Joshua Wong in an interview with CNN. “The government should be afraid of their people.

“Five years ago, it was inconceivable that Hong Kong students would care about politics at all. But there was an awakening when the national education issue happened. We all started to care about politics.”

Ms. Kong teaches 17-year-olds at Shalhevet, and doesn’t think Wong is too young to make a difference.

“Being a leader has no limit for age, sex, or race,” Mrs. Kong said.  “It is okay that he is the leader as long as he is mature enough to lead the people.”

The famous teen has also inspired Shalhevet students to be work for political change. Senior Margo Feuer, who is one of the leaders of Shalhevet’s Firehawks for Israel, said Joshua Wong’s accomplishments should inspire teens around the world.

“I think Joshua Wong is a figure that does not come along every so often and it is very special what he is doing,” Margo said in an interview.  “He deeply believes in the authority and ability of the young — something many kids see as a barrier. He is unafraid to speak to anyone about anything. This is something that is really inspirational. He fights and people listen.”

Agenda Chair Max Helfand said that there were many benefits to start being a leader at a young age.

“I think it’s very important for people to feel empowered and to have that chance and ability to speak for change,” Max said.  “If you start being a leader young you’ll be able to cultivate your skills, and it promotes creativity and constructive change.”

Police in Hong Kong have not always dealt with the protests lightly, making several arrests and also using pepper spray to disperse crowds.

Ms. Kong said that she was not particularly worried that her relatives protesting were in danger, and she also did not blame the police for taking action.

“I’m not worried about that at all,” Ms. Kong said. “I do have some friends in Hong Kong and I sometimes check their photos on Facebook [showing the violence], but it is their job as part of being a policeman.

“I do trust the Hong Kong police and government and what they have done so far seems pretty reasonable to me. So as long as there is no violence from the protestors everything should be fine.”

History teacher Mrs. Tove Sunshine said Hong Kong’s history was unusual. For the majority of the 20th century, it was a British colony. But in 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which took effect in 1997.

The declaration gave China semi-control over Hong Kong with the promise that its economy would still be capitalist at least until the year 2047, which would be 50 years after the transition of governments. Currently, China has control over Hong Kong’s foreign affairs and defense.

“Britain gave up Hong Kong because it was difficult to maintain a colony with people who were very ethnically and culturally related to the bordering mainland country,” Ms. Sunshine said. “The colony was hard to keep, but at the same time the people in Hong Kong did not want to lose all the rights they had with Britain.  So they drafted a one country, two systems government that will still give the Hong Kong civilians those rights.”

This year is Ms. Kong’s first full year teaching at Shalhevet, as she assumed Mrs. Fuller’s classes during second semester of last year. She was born and raised in Hong Kong and only moved to Los Angeles last year during the summer.

She recognizes that it may take a while for the protests to make any progress.

“I think it is going to be a long battle,” Ms. Kong said. “It takes time and I don’t think after a short period of time there would be any difference.”

Alexis, too, is still waiting.

“I am not quite satisfied with result because the government is still refusing to accept that fact that we want to have the right to nominate and directly elect the chief executive,” Alexis said.

“They refused to make any amendment on the proposal. Moreover, the government and the police refused to apologize for the use of tear gas and treating the protestors violently.”