Interview: perspective on the protests from a mainland Chinese student in Hong Kong

As a senior at Hong Kong University, Yiran Wang is frustrated by the media’s portrayal of Hong Kong as a city in political turmoil. Despite the ongoing upheaval, people have actually devoted most of their energy to getting on with their lives. This holds true for local people, and those from the mainland.

Wang told me that most people can realize the complexity of the Hong Kong issue and the difficulty of mediation. Since some of the more violent demonstrations have already affected the lives of residents, people “are not willing to pay much attention to the so-called values” under the great pressure of life. He is one of the students from mainland China who have come to Hong Kong to study, who are now witnessing the daily changes of the city.

Before we had the interview, he had just uploaded one of his final assignments. He sounds relaxed on the phone. (149 words)

Question: How long have you been to Hong Kong?

Yiran Wang (YW): I came here in 2016. It’s been three years now. I stay here more than seven months a year.

Q: Ok, there is a big protest in Kowloon west on 20th. Have you heard about it?

YW: I know about the protest on 20th, but if you ask for more details…Maybe not as well as before. There will be this kind of activity every weekend since June, and I am a little tired of knowing everything now. I won’t pay special attention to these things every time. For example, people will say ‘oh they’re going to start rioting again’, then we might look it up on the Internet or something. I don’t really care about the protest on 20th.

Q: So, you will pay special attention to the protest at the beginning?

YW: Yeah, and I’ll focus on this at some very specific time points. For example, on October 1st (the national day of China) or the day when the anti-mask law came out, we would pay more attention to this issue.

Q: According to the news and the reaction of social networks, it feels like Hong Kong has been changing since the anti-extradition law amendment movement. You have been there for more than 3 years. Do you think Hong Kong is different from the city you knew before?

YW: I feel strange, maybe from the external perspective, it may feel as if Hong Kong society has become very chaotic, as if a lot has changed. But as a person who really lives in the city, I feel that the change is not as big as expected. People are still going to work or school every day, doing whatever they need to do. However, I do feel that there will be some inconvenience. For example, the last subway in Hong Kong was around 1:00 in the morning. Now, all the subway in Hong Kong are closed at 10:00 PM. On the weekend, people might go shopping or eat out before, but now you have to consider the protest on the street or whether it’s safe to go somewhere. I don’t go out much on weekends now. But I can say that my daily life is not affected, although there may be a lot of posters and spray-painted slogans on the wall, life is still going on.

Q: Because you are from the mainland, will your social circle be clearly divided? Like having more contacts with friends from the mainland or international students? Or is there not much difference?

YW: It’s quite obvious. As far as I know, the main social circle of most mainland students in Hong Kong is basically mainland students. Whether it’s because of language differences or people’s different habits – these issues make it difficult for students to communicate with people from different backgrounds. After you came to this school, you may know some mainland students at the beginning, and people tended to form a social circle full of mainland students. Then you meet new people through this circle, actually all your new social relationships are still within the circle. And I don’t think HKU does a good job in getting students from different cultures to know to each other. There was also a Korean student who said on his Facebook that he had no way to integrate into the local community in Hong Kong, which was quite influential at that time. Of course, there will be mainland students whose friends are most local people, but not too much.

Q: But you still communicate with local students sometimes, not totally cut off, right?

YW: Of course.

Q: Will you talk about current events during the communication?

YW: Maybe there was a tacit understanding that we wouldn’t talk about that. If you don’t talk about it deliberately, just taking class together or working as a group work or something like that, these things won’t let the topic go to that direction. Because you know it’s going to be awkward and you don’t know what will happen, so we just don’t talk about it. But when I came here two or three years ago, my roommate was local, and sometimes we talked about politics, but the whole social situation is different now.

Q: How was the communication atmosphere that time? Was it peaceful? Was it sharper?

YW: I could see there was a clash of views, but there was no such thing as extreme thinking. I think it may have something to do with personal background, just as they have a natural innate sense that something is true, so do we, and no one ever thought about why. It’s just that there’s something in your head that’s so stubborn that it’s hard to convince each side, because you both have different idea that is like a consensus thing in head. Although I realize it’s actually not a consensus thing. So, some of the communication may not be as smooth.

Q: Is this not-smooth-communication also a reason of the evasive attitude towards communication now?

YW: Right. And I also think that communication between people from different cultural backgrounds will become very sensitive now. For many people in Hong Kong, as long as there is something related to mainland China, they will definitely be against it. There have been many conflicts between mainland students and local students in our school. There also have been several demonstrations in which local people have directly targeted the mainland tourists and mainland stores, many mainland tourists were beaten or besieged, and there were also some conflicts with immigrants from Fu Jian province. In fact, I feel that the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong is very tense now. From the perspective of some local people, it is your mainland background that sometimes makes them naturally dislike you.

Q: What would students from mainland do if they were targeted by local students?

YW: In the beginning, many mainland students were active and did something to fight back. For example, some students wrote an open letter. And after the violence on the streets, some people raised money and bought a page of ads in a newspaper to show their support for the police. But I feel like many times people have different standards about how they express themselves, or maybe we’re not even on the same channel. To be honest, the proportion of mainland students in the whole environment of HKU is very small, in the current social situation of Hong Kong, it is a matter of whose voice is louder, whose point of view seems to be more reasonable, and whose point of view can occupy the mainstream. Therefore, many views of mainland students can’t be paid attention to by everyone, or most of the time are ignored.

Q: Do you think that all the so-called five demands of local students, or some of their actions on the streets, are totally wrong in the eyes of mainland students? Is there any possibility that there is actually some recognition?

YW: Since you mentioned the five major demands, I think it is contradictory for people in Hong Kong to demand the rule of law on the one hand and something that should not exist in a legal society on the other. For example, they are demanding the release of all the people who have been arrested, which is not really something that the police or the government can decide — it is something that is subject to the current system of justice. You cannot say that all views that do not conform to my views are bad, and that any government agency that does not act in my interest is unjust.

In addition, in the protests before July 1, when everyone was relatively peaceful, as mainland students, especially those who have lived in Hong Kong for a period of time, many people understood them and expressed sympathy for them. That is, we actually recognized their way to express their political demands. And this is actually part of their Hong Kong political tradition. But when things started to get more violent, or more disorderly, lots of people changed their opinions. As things went on, people noticed that it had a negative impact on our actual lives. When it affected your personal life, people started to a have a growing sentiment towards the protesters that is not based on values, but purely personal. I think most people are beginning to find their behavior disturbing, even repugnant now.

Q: So, people have got rid of political issues, most of them have a negative view of the protest just because they feel that their lives are affected?

YW: Yeah, that’s one thing. What’s more, their demands have changed from just the opposition to extradition law amendment to the opposition to the Chinese government and even to people from mainland China. It’s hard to feel any sense of identity when you’re the one they’re targeting.

Q: Do you know about the comments we made on Weibo? Since you can also know local news in Hong Kong, do you think the information between the two places is equivalent? What about the information authenticity and bias?

YW: It’s definitely not equal. People don’t really have a clear idea of what’s going on in each other’s societies. The tone of the mainland’s official media? Everybody knows that. As for the online revelations, many people came to Hong Kong for tourism, and mainland tourists are often targeted by the campaign. And, as a tourist, he doesn’t really understand what’s wrong with Hong Kong society or what the protesters’ demands are. Then mainland tourists may see only a few people rioting in the street, which affects their tourism and shopping.

In the same way, many people in Hong Kong have no way to know what the mainland is like now. They still think the mainland is a backward and uncivilized place, completely authoritarian and centralized, with everything under surveillance and no one is able to live a good life. Therefore, due to the lack of understanding between the mainland and Hong Kong, both of them hold a very bad attitude towards the status of the other side, and the imbalance of information has indeed caused some differences in our views.

Q: There is a misunderstanding between Hong Kong and mainland. We all say that young people have more active minds and are more receptive to new things. Do you think it is possible for young people from both places to get to know each other through communication?

YW: I think the possibility is very low, because there may not be many young people in the mainland who really care about politics. Not many people really care about what’s going on in Hong Kong, or why Hong Kong people are expressing their demands. They may simply feel that Hong Kong is part of China and that violence is not appropriate.

However, many Hong Kong people do not identify themselves as so-called Chinese. From their education and experience, they identify themselves as Hongkongese rather than Chinese people, so they may not think it is necessary to communicate with mainland people, because we are on opposite sides. They think mainland people are their enemies, so, they don’t want everybody to solve this problem peacefully.

Moreover, many people who go out to make trouble on the streets actually belong to a state of nothing-to-lose in the Hong Kong society. They think that no matter how seriously the society is damaged by us, I have nothing to lose. So, what they want is not a so-called gradual reform or a revision of the existing system, they want to overturn the whole system. So, I think the so-called communication is actually not feasible.

Q: Do mainland students in Hong Kong also feel there is no need to communicate?

YW: For many mainland students in Hong Kong, they feel that the society is not so closely related to them. It is uncertain and flexible. If Hong Kong continues to be chaotic like this, they will leave and go to the United States for postgraduate study, or go back and work in the mainland. I don’t have to tie my whole life to this place, so I won’t make much effort or sacrifice for Hong Kong. Moreover, many people will feel that I am not so explicitly discriminated against or attacked or affected in Hong Kong. They will feel that their life is ok anyway, or even not much changed. Why bother to communicate with them? It may be that communication itself is a thankless activity which is not so closely related to real life.

Q: It seems online that politics is a big part of people’s life in Hong Kong, but it’s actually not.

YW: That’s right. Actually, probably everyone in Hong Kong will think more about something very real, after all, the cost of living is so high, people are under pressure, they won’t spend lots of energy to care about the so-called values issues. Rather than focus on how to solve this kind of thing, they prefer to pay more attention to their own life.

Q: I didn’t expect that.

YW: You think that way because something that’s very political or symbolic is inevitable in life here, but it’s not life. It’s just that as a senior like me preparing to graduate and considering whether to work in Hong Kong in the future, I might pay more attention to the social situation.

Q: Will you stay in Hong Kong after graduation?

YW: In terms of the degree of fit between my major and the market, or the relatively advanced economic system of Hong Kong, I think I will stay in Hong Kong for a period of time in the short term. To put it bluntly, Hong Kong is a better place to find a job and better meet my life requirements.

Q: You majored in business?

YW: I study statistics, and I may do actuarial work in the future. To tell the truth, although everyone said that the mainland market is very broad, the mainland industry is still very immature for our major, and there are not so many positions. On the contrary, in Hong Kong, there will be a lot of companies which need people who learn this major, and it’s easier to find a job. At present, I will choose to stay in Hong Kong. After all, my life is not so affected now, so I will endure for a period of time.

Hundreds of thousands protest a plan to allow extraditions to mainland China in Hong Kong. HongKong-protests HongKong-protests HongKong-protests

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