Hundreds of thousands in Hong Kong on Sunday joined protests against a plan to allow extraditions to mainland China.

Photograph by Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times

From Victoria Peak to Lion Rock – Hong Kong Protests in search of “one country, two systems.”

Rev. Florence Li

December 2, 2019

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. – Zechariah 4:6

One hot summer night, a young mother held her two daughters by the hand. They walked for miles until they came to a small building next to a bus depot where lines of double-decker city buses were lining up for passengers. The young woman knocked at the door calling her husband’s name. After some hard knocks with no answer, she banged on the door and a man peeked through a tiny cut on the door. The man did not open the door. Rather, he called the name of the husband to run and he disappeared from the back door. The young woman was angry and upset. She shouted all kinds of words while her daughters broke down in tears. She had come hoping to get some money from her husband so she could feed her children who were hungry. With disappointment she dragged her crying daughters, turned around, and walked back where they had come from. 

That young woman was my mother.

I was born in Hong Kong in the mid-1950s with six older and four younger siblings. The first two girls were born in Toi Shan, my mother’s village, and the other two in Canton, China. The second daughter died of polio when she was five years old. When the Communists took over China in the 1950s, my family fled to Hong Kong as refugees. After ten or more years, my family grew to a size of ten children. My mother said there was no family planning service in Hong Kong in the 1960s.

Hong Kong in 1960s

Hong Kong was poor and filled with refugees who had escaped from Communist China. My family was resettled in a housing project called “H” housing. “H” housing was built in a “H” shape with two rows of houses on each floor connected by a common corridor of baths and bathrooms. There were seven floors in each building and no elevator. On the ground floor were stores, food markets or elementary schools. 

One cold, dry winter a fire broke out and burned down the entire housing project. Hundreds of families. including ours, were resettled again. This time, we were given a small piece of land on a hillside. Above the hillside is “Lion Rock,” named for the fact that it looks like a lion’s head.

I grew up under Lion Rock at a time when American Baptist missionaries, who had been forced to leave Communist China, had reestablished their mission with the Swatow people living there.

Hong Kong housing landscape under Lion Rock.

Since the 1960s, Hong Kong has grown by leaps and bounds as a British Commonwealth colony.  Tall buildings became skyscrapers to accommodate the city’s growth from 3 million to 7.5 million people. The housing industry is controlled by building tycoons. Some have befriended Chinese officials to get sweet deals. Tycoons and developers kept pushing for higher rents and created a deep wealth gap among low-income families and “bird-cage residents”: i.e. single people who left their families in China or those who never married.

One of the causes that sparked the current pro-democracy protests is the housing crisis.  According to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, the number of people living below the poverty line rose to 1.37 million in 2017, roughly 20% of the city’s population. Millennials and those who are middle-aged cannot afford to buy a home even if they are working two jobs. Over time, the housing crisis and people living in close quarters, has fueled frustration, anger and a sense of injustice among people, young and old.

Hong Kong was returned to China on July 1, 1997 with a promise of “one country, two systems” for fifty years till 2047. Yet, in a span of twenty-some years, people experienced the control of the Chinese government through its semi-independence system where local autonomy and civil liberties were gradually disregarded. The Extradition Bill introduced in March 2019 sparked protests by people who have had enough of the social and political problems.

Though the Extradition Bill was formally withdrawn on October 23, the designs of the Chinese government to take over Hong Kong in a hybrid manner have already been exposed. The transition period or so called “grace period” is being cut short without the people’s approval through elections. Millennials, the majority of whom are university students, see their future disappearing before them. The protests, brick throwing, umbrellas, and barricades are signs of fear, anger, frustration and hopelessness.

Hong Kong (a.k.a. Fragrant Harbor) is admired by tourists. Its famous Victoria Peak shows the fascinating city beautifully lit beneath the night sky. People from all walks of life enjoy this vibrant city where East meets West. Locals are proud of having built the city from a tiny fishing harbor to a financial hub of Asia. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists all respect each other’s faith expression and freedom of worship.  

Hong Kong skyline panorama at sunset.

Who would guess that political ambition has turned this beautiful city into chaos?

Human rights groups including Justice Center Hong Kong, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are monitoring the situation in Hong Kong. Believers are praying hard for their religious liberty. On October 15, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Meanwhile, thousands of university students in Hong Kong mourned the loss of their peers.

As the protests continue all over Hong Kong, including university campuses, and actions are intensified each day, people begin to wonder what the solution would be to maintain “one country, two systems.” The Hong Kong protests are only one of many protests happening around the world. In Chile, in France, in Indonesia, and elsewhere, protesters are demanding political change. These demands for change are cumulative signs of the deprivation of democracy, economic disparity, environmental degradation, and injustice affecting the inhabitants of God’s creation.

As the protests continue all over Hong Kong, and actions are intensified each day, people begin to wonder what the solution would be to maintain “one country, two systems.” The Hong Kong protests are only one of many protests happening around the world. What should be our voice as a community of believers at this moment in history?

What should be our voice as a community of believers at this moment in history?

Rev. Florence Li is national coordinator of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies. She also serves on the American Baptist Churches USA’s Burma Refugees Commission.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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