Hong Kong Chinese Emigrants “Cherish” Quickly Wiping Freedoms

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Hong Kong Chinese Emigrants “Cherish” Quickly Wiping Freedoms


Hong Kong, China – While teaching in Hong Kong in 2011, filmmaker Ying Liang was banned from returning home to mainland China after making a documentary about a Beijing mother trying to save her son from the death penalty.
Ten years after becoming an accidental immigrant, Ying strives to make the most of the city’s freedoms, even as they have been threatened by the National Security Law and the ongoing crackdown on politicians and pro activists. -democracy.

Last month, Ying presented the offending film to about 20 viewers at an arts center.

“We must cherish our freedom as long as we still have it,” he told Al Jazeera.

For most Hong Kong-born residents, the law has put a damper on freedoms they have long taken for granted under “one country, two systems,” the framework in which the former British colony regained Chinese sovereignty in China. 1997.

China had promised the territory “a high degree of autonomy” for at least 50 years.

Prior to Beijing’s interference over the past year, residents of the territory were free to demonstrate against the authorities and organize political parties to stand for election.

But for migrants from the continent who have embraced freedoms they never enjoyed growing up, the return to a more repressive form of governance arouses fear and anxiety.

“I think the crackdown will be harsher and stronger than what you usually see on the mainland, better to scare everyone,” said Ying, the 34-year-old documentary director.

“It’s not something I experienced growing up in Shanghai.”

As the father of three children, including a two-month-old baby, Ying says he is very concerned about the government’s push for patriotic education.

“What I find most disturbing is what is happening in schools,” he said. “Although I don’t think all children would come out totally brainwashed, I know from my experience how it will mark you for life. It makes you worry about worrying about politics. When the students came out to protest, there was still hope for this city.

Mainland-born Ying is very concerned about the impact of “patriotic” education in Hong Kong schools. He says such an approach makes people “fearful” of worrying about politics. [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

‘Terre promise’

For most of the last century, Hong Kong has been hailed as the “promised land” by millions of Chinese, both mainland and diaspora.

Even as China was torn by countless cataclysms – regime change, military invasion, world war, civil war, famines and political purges – the British colony stood out as an island of relative calm and opportunity.

After successive waves of immigration from the mainland, only just over half of the city’s 7.5 million people were born in the country.

And since the transfer, more than a million mainland Chinese have emigrated to Hong Kong as part of a family reunification program.

In a 2016 study of newcomers, Hong Kong political scientists found that “immigrants from China are generally more politically conservative and more supportive of the ruling pro-Beijing coalition in elections.”

But not at all.

Flora Chen, 35, has spent the past 10 years outside her native China and vowed never to return

A job at a university brought her to Hong Kong, which she saw as “an alternative Chinese society where public order and social norms are protected by institutions.

“For the generations of liberals in mainland China marked by Tiananmen, the vigil in Hong Kong [shone] like a beacon of hope, ”Chen said wistfully.

Nowhere else on Chinese soil has the commemoration of the 1989 crackdown been authorized.

But last year, for the first time ever, the Hong Kong government banned the annual vigil citing the risks of COVID-19. The organizers, along with some of the thousands of people who defied the ban, are now facing lawsuits.

After arriving in 2018, Chen participated in anti-government protests a year later. As a social science scholar, Chen said his research was also “socially engaged.”

What worries him the most is that the reduction in academic freedom will stifle his scholarship.

“As mainlanders, we know how real fear is. We have learned to be careful and watch what we say, ”Chen told Al Jazeera.

“But now I can start to notice the fear on the faces of my students. Their faces are marked by anger and pain, by power.

Hong Kong has long attracted emigrants from the mainland – whether to join a family, earn money or take advantage of the freedoms that are now disappearing from the territory. [File: Anthony Wallace/AFP]

Even as the Chinese economy has taken off over the past quarter century, Hong Kong has retained its appeal to many mainland residents as a land of opportunity, supported by a rules-based system that is fairer than the one they are used to.

Apart from the family visa regime, the largest contingent of migrants from the continent have come for higher education.

The postgraduate programs of all local universities are now dominated by students from the continent who take advantage of the opportunities offered in the territory upon graduation.

Leaving her hometown just 300 kilometers (186 miles) to pursue a master’s degree in media studies in Hong Kong, Jacqueline Zhang figured she would only be away for a few years.

But almost 10 years later, Zhang, 32, says she enjoys living in a society where fair play and transparency are the norm. On the mainland, she says, it is the “guanxi” – a web of relationships and family ties – that matters and accountability is rare.

As Hong Kong has come under Beijing’s sway, Zhang says “the fear is heightened” for mainland residents who have family and friends north of the border.

Authorities are known to harass those close to mainland Chinese who are politically active, hoping to use the leverage of family pressure to contain these “troublemakers”.

Zhang says she knows many of her fellow Chinese in self-exile in Hong Kong, fearing their political involvement could put them on a watch list. They fear that any trip home could trigger an exit ban that could prevent them from traveling out of the country again.

Former reporter Zhang is not sure if she is on a watch list, but says she does not want to take the risk.

So far, she has found solace and camaraderie in the “tribe” she found in Hong Kong – people who are not afraid to discuss so-called taboo subjects and back down from the idea of ​​censorship.

“Freedom and the rule of law are like air. You don’t feel it as much while he’s there, ”Zhang said.

“You don’t feel it until after it’s been taken from you.”



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