I had barely woken up on 30 August 2019, when I opened the door of my room to find five police officers standing there, instead of my parents.
Why were they there? The Hong Kong Police Force were accusing me of protesting without their given permission, and inciting others to join at a time when mass pro-democracy protests were sweeping Hong Kong. The movement in 2019 started against a controversial extradition bill – now suspended – which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China. Under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement, we are meant to be independent from China in all internal affairs. Our preserved rights, which are not enjoyed in mainland China, include freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. These values make Hong Kong a special home for many people like me.
It was exhilarating to help make such a change at a young age. But we were motivated by our futures, and not only by fears of China
Over the years, growing up in Hong Kong, I have felt that our unique values and freedoms have come under threat, by attempts to integrate Hongkongers into China. It is highly stressful living with the thought that we may, and most likely will, become fully part of China – which is why I joined the fight for our rights to be preserved in Hong Kong.
The first time I became aware of China’s interference in Hong Kong was at the age of 15, when I saw a Facebook post showing young people demanding change – during a time when the Hong Kong government was planning to introduce ‘moral and national education’ in 2012. To me this, sounded like Chinese brainwashing and a corruption of our education system. After all, if an authoritarian regime wants to control a place, the first thing they do is control the city’s education system.
So I joined a student group, Scholarism, where I met Joshua Wong, another activist my age and a prominent pro-democracy voice. As a group, following demonstrations, we managed to overturn the government’s plans. It was exhilarating to help make such a change at a young age. But we were motivated by our futures, and not only by fears of China. We want to live in Hong Kong for the next 30 years, 50 years, 70 years – but with at least the same rights as we have, if not more.
So, in 2014, we realised that we Hongkongers had fell short of true democracy. This started off the Umbrella Movement, a 79-day occupation of several Hong Kong neighbourhoods, which my friends and I took part in eagerly. How were we to have a say in our future, without democracy? The government responded by gradually limiting our political rights more and more.
Along with Nathan Law, Joshua and I founded the political group Demosisto. Believing Hong Kong’s future should not be decided by the Beijing government, but by us, I tried to stand as a candidate in the Legislative Council elections in 2018, but I was banned from even standing. In the past pro-independence parties has been banned but now it appeared that our party had been too outspoken in even demanding democracy – another sign of the increasing limitations on our political rights. I was frustrated for our generation, because it meant that many like me were not allowed to have a voice in deciding our common future in Hong Kong.
After many attempts at taking the official route to demanding universal suffrage, Hongkongers realised we weren’t being listened to by our own government and China. Some two million citizens from all walks of life took to the streets. Eventually, we forced the extradition bill to be suspended.
Democracy, to me, is like air. We don’t really realise how important it is but, once there is no air, we struggle for it.
This was a massive success for the protest movement, of course – but we have a long way to go. We still have demands: that our protests not to be characterised as “riots” (which could see protestors jailed for up to ten years); amnesty for arrested protesters; an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, and finally the implementation of complete universal suffrage. We are not only fighting against the Hong Kong government and police, we are also opposing to the authoritarian regime of the Chinese Communist Party controls the Hong Kong government. Democracy, to me, is like air. We don’t really realise how important it is but, once there is no air, we struggle for it.
Hong Kong experienced a lot in 2019, and now too in 2020. One way or another we’re going to face more suppression and more violence from the Chinese authorities and the Hong Kong government. But we Hong Kongers won’t give up the fights for the values we cherish so much. Sometimes, like all of us, I feel very scared. But I certainly can’t give up. This is the only thing I know.
Agnes Chow is a student and pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter at @chowtingagnes. Agnes features in Channel 4′s Dispatches: The Battle for Hong Kong.