Student Strike Is Next Evolution Of Hong Kong Protests

Sep 2, 2019
Originally published on September 4, 2019 9:22 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is the first day of the fall semester in Hong Kong, but many students are not in class. They're on strike for the next two weeks or, they say, until Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to their demands. Those demands include ending an extradition bill with China and also direct elections for the next chief executive. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is in Hong Kong. She's been covering a protest there. Emily, where are you?

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: I'm at Chinese University of Hong Kong. I'm sitting right under a banner that says Fight for Freedom and Stand with Hong Kong, and I'm surrounded by people in black. It's the color of protesters. There are thousands of students still here on campus hours into the rally. They're filling the staircases, leaning on balconies, standing in the quad listening to speeches being given. And many of them are waving flags that say Restore Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times, which has been one of the main slogans in protests. And just about half an hour away, there's another rally going on with workers who are on a general strike in support of the protesters.

INSKEEP: I'm curious because this is a student strike. You're there on a campus. Have you noticed anybody with backpacks or books under their arms trying to squeeze into class, or is everything pretty much shut down?

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FENG: No. Everything - I mean, everything is open. It's an open campus. There are people in the academic buildings, but no one is going to class. They're here to talk about the protests or to protest themselves.

INSKEEP: And why is it significant that the students, among all the people in Hong Kong, would go on strike?

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FENG: It puts to the test these really important social institutions and what role they're going to play in the protests, which are now in their fourth months. So far, the marches have always been on the streets and on the weekends, but now they're bringing them into school. And there was some fear that when school started, it would take the momentum out of demonstrations. But students say that's not going to be the case. In fact, they want to give protests more longevity. Here's Joey, a student union vice chair and one of the speakers at the rally today.

JOEY: We are losing our brothers and sisters. They are getting arrested and they're no longer able to come out. So we are trying to find another way out for the movement to sustain and to continue.

FENG: Like many of the university students who participated today, she was in high school when the 2014 Umbrella Movement happened. That was a pro-democracy movement that fizzled out. And she says she was inspired to step up and follow in that movement's footsteps today.

INSKEEP: Emily, I'd like to ask. You referred to that protester as Joey, first name only, and there are many people in China who take on an English name. Are you only using the first name because there is a real fear that people could be arrested for their role in these protests?

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FENG: Yes. And people have been arrested. Over the weekend, more than a hundred people were arrested by police. People are afraid of surveillance, as well, which is why even on campus today a lot of the students are covering their faces. And some are wearing gas masks, not so much to cover their identity, but because they're protesting police brutality over the weekend. On Saturday night, it got really ugly. Protesters themselves became violent when they started throwing gasoline bombs at police headquarters. And then I was there when they set a fire across the main road right next to police headquarters.

But police were also really violent. They ran in and started tackling people and arresting them. They rushed into several metro stations and started pepper spraying and beating people, regardless of whether they were protesters. And that's fueled some of the anger on campus today.

INSKEEP: Are the protests you're seeing today more peaceful than that?

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FENG: Very peaceful and very organized. In fact, people are handing out live interpreters. People are handing out batteries for a lot of the TV journalists and radio journalists, like myself, who might need them. It's incredibly organized.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we know you've got good battery power then. Emily, thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FENG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Emily Feng. She is in Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.