Market Day Madness: Interviews with pro-Chinese demonstrators
There was absolute pandemonium at UQ’s O-Week Market Day on Wednesday, when individuals demonstrating against the proposed Hong Kong extradition bill clashed with supporters of the Chinese Government in a protest that went on into the evening; and was at times physical. Following what is undoubtedly one of the biggest displays of on-campus hostilities in quite some time, clear divisions between international student groups have now become visible to the student body at-large.
While much has been made of the pro-Hong Kong side of the argument, in an effort to try to understand the alternate perspective, I made my way into the pro-Chinese protest group to interview some of its members.
What was clear from the outset was that this demonstration enjoyed far less support from domestic students than the pro-Hong Kong protest did. All of the slogans and chants were in Chinese, and the only non-Chinese individuals in the crowd were there for curiosities sake rather than to voice support. The eventual dispersal of the protest, an hour or so after the pro-Hong Kong demonstrators had disbanded, also followed a rather spirited rendition of the Chinese national anthem.
However, the lack of domestic supporters would not have bothered the pro-Chinese protestors. Indeed, when I spoke to one of the campaign’s leaders, a very passionate individual, he actually complained specifically about the large number of domestic students in the pro-Hong Kong crowd. For him, domestic students should stay out of matters than concern mainland China and Hong Kong, especially if they have never visited either.
When asked why he thought that so many domestic students had rallied behind the pro-Hong Kong cause, he blamed media bias. In his opinion, the “news is always telling us how evil the Chinese government is”, and “some evil Western news [is always] saying something against China.”
Others at the protest had a different take. One man, who declined to be recorded, thought that many of the pro-Hong Kong protestors had been paid by the US government to destabilize China, in order for America to gain an advantage in the current ‘trade war’. Any allegation of payment for protesting was obviously rubbished by every pro-Hong Kong demonstrator that I spoke to.
Another mainland Chinese individual also challenged the motives of the pro-Hong Kong protestors, believing that “people protest depending on their mood, they don’t know the truth”.
What was also clear in most of the discussions I had, was that this protest was about more than the proposed extradition bill, which has already been indefinitely suspended by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Instead of talking about the bill, almost everyone I spoke to made it clear from the outset that there was only ‘One China’, that Hong Kong was part of China, and would not and should not ever be separate from China. This was the real motivating issue for why they had chosen to protest.
Broader discussions about China’s human rights record were also informative and surprising. Far from not knowing about 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, one individual informed me that “we [Chinese students] all know about it”. While this individual saw the event as a “mistake”, another protestor had a different view entirely. For him, “not many students died, terrorists died, people who attacked the army, attacked the police, died; because they were criminals”. This particular individual also expressed skepticism at the accuracy and fairness of Western news reporting.
When I did get to talk about the extradition bill itself, one protestor, whom I interviewed while he was ripping pro-Hong Kong stickers off of a billboard, told me that extradited people would get a fair trial in China and that he had “trust in the Chinese legal system”. While many of the mainland Chinese I spoke too were adamant they trusted China’s ability to give extradited suspects a fair trial, this trust in Chinese judicial practice was not mirrored by the pro-Hong Kong protestors I spoke too.
Such belief in the fairness of the Chinese legal system was also not absolute among pro-Chinese supporters. Indeed, one mainland Chinese exchange student, who was at pains to ensure that I would not release any footage of them online, or publicly share their name or image, did tell me of misgivings that they had about the impartiality of the Chinese legal system. This is even though the individual in question was also an ardent believer in ‘One China’, and saw Hong Kong as an integral part of Chinese nationhood.
There is a broader lesson for UQ students to learn from this incident. That is the fact that because the university welcomes the world’s students to study, it will necessarily also welcome some of the world’s problems and conflicts as well. That is how we ended up with a protest about a Chinese extradition bill on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Brisbane, 7,000km from Hong Kong. As long as UQ continues to be one of the top tertiary education establishments in Australia, we can definitely expect incidents similar to what we saw on Market Day to occur again in the future.
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