Hong Kong protests manifest on UC Davis campus

Hong Kong protests manifest on UC Davis campus

Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE / An activist holds up a makeshift "Lennon Wall" during a protest at the UC Davis Quad for people to write messages addressed to those participating in the Hong Kong protests. October 21, 2019.

Davis4HK organizes protest, gathers signatures for members of Congress

Fernando Anguiano, a fourth-year community and regional development major, viewed a video on Reddit on Oct. 9 that featured a student from mainland China taking down a poster supporting the Hong Kong protests outside the CoHo. The video sparked increased tensions on the UC Davis campus, despite the fact that the Hong Kong protests began this past June.

The protests in Hong Kong concern a bill that would expand the list of countries to which suspected offenders could be sent — notably allowing extradition to mainland China. After the protests in June, the legislation was indefinitely suspended by Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam, but protests continued because the bill was not formally dead. Protestors have five main requests: a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the release of protestors arrested without charges, the withdrawal of the characterization of all protests as riots, an independent investigation into police brutality and the implementation of full universal suffrage.

“Seeing that really enraged me,” Anguiano said. “It just felt like our own ability to speak out was being silenced on our own campus and it just felt extremely unfair. I never expected [the event] to get this big and gain so much popularity. I originally expected it to just be myself and two other people, but it gathered support in just a week.” 

Anguiano has no ties to Hong Kong or China but wanted to take action. He created an Oct. 16 Facebook event and started a Discord server for interested people.

“I just saw my role in this as someone who is going to be there to support them and be kind of a figurehead for American students to gather support,” Anguiano said. “From the beginning, it wasn’t about me. It was about the people from Hong Kong.”

Second-year geology major Winnie Lau was one of the first people involved with Davis4HK, a group of students supporting Hong Kong. Lau is an international student from Hong Kong, and she recalled learning about the protests in her home country while she was taking finals in the spring of 2019.

“On the 9th of June, I watched the live stream for the first protest,” Lau said. “A million people came on the street. And then on the 12th of June, the police started to use tear gas to attack people. I was heartbroken at that time. And not only tear gas, they even used rubber bullets, […] so I was shocked.”

Tensions on campus

Since the inception of Davis4HK, there has been notable on-campus dissent — coming from students from mainland China.

On the night of Oct. 9, third-year aerospace engineering major Harsh, who requested to be referred to only by his first name to maintain his anonymity, wrote with chalk in support of the Hong Kong protestors in the quad. He decided to join Davis4HK that night after viewing the aforementioned Reddit video. 

During this time, three groups of Chinese students passed by him to erase it. 

“Basically, a method was to just embarrass them enough until they left,” Harsh said, describing how he dealt with the situation. “It just involved talking to them and trying to debate. The first few tried to stay silent and the second group was more confrontational. And the third group of people that came brought a dog to try to scare us away.” 

A video posted on Reddit shows a Chinese student throwing a Hong Kong flag from the Davis4HK table in the trash on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Later that night, at 8:45 p.m., a confrontation occurred between Harsh and international Chinese students who were wiping the chalk with water. 

The confrontation escalated when Harsh told the students to stop wiping the chalk and stood in front of one of the students. Both Harsh and the student, a second-year physics major who did not disclose his name, nearly began fighting. From there, the international Chinese students and Harsh began having a discussion about the protests in Hong Kong.

“At the beginning, we almost got into a fight — I really wanted to punch him and he really wanted to punch me,” the student said. “But we peacefully dealt with it. We communicated and shared the information, then we came to an agreement that none of us know the facts.”

Harsh says he didn’t really think things would get physical — although things started off heated, they cooled down as they talked more. When he decided to help with putting up chalk, it was with a goal of convincing the Chinese students who tore the Hong Kong signs down that what they were doing was wrong — instead of tearing signs down, they should put their own up. By the end of his conversation, he concluded that his goal was not feasible for him. 

“After Wednesday, I thought my goal was kind of successful here, I kept the chalk up, I was able to keep three different waves of Chinese students from erasing it,” Harsh said. “And then on Thursday, I had a long discussion and I realized there is no way I can convince any of these students of anything. We finished our conversation at an impasse. So I just left.”

Another international Chinese student who was wiping the chalk said that he was doing so because UC Davis prohibits having chalk writing on campus. 

Caden Zheng, a second-year physics major and international Chinese student, said he respects strikes and protests as long as they are legal.

“If it’s legal, it’s totally fine,” Zheng said. “What I’m mostly against is the illegal motivations they made — the violence during the strike and the chaos they made in Hong Kong.”

Zheng is from mainland China but has siblings in Hong Kong.

“All the things happening are heartbreaking,” Zheng said. “Not only do the people suffer from that, but also the city is breaking down: the economy and not many tourists are there right now. Everything happening there is dragging Hong Kong back and I don’t want that to happen.”

The students, including Zheng, who were opposed to the chalk writing cited university rules against using chalk on campus. The UC Davis Center for Student Involvement states that “chalking is not permitted on campus,” according to its general guidelines.

In response to allegations that flyers supporting Hong Kong protestors were being taken down, Zheng disagreed with individuals taking down the flyers as long as the flyers were posted according to university rules and policies. In a later email, Zheng reiterated his point but made note of flyers he believed to be breaking some of the rules in the general guidelines.

“I agree and respect all the people on this campus should have the freedom of speech, I agree any people on this campus have the right to express their opinion, even if I do not agree with some of their opinions,” Zheng said via email. “If the poster was posted in the proper way (obey the Posting of Information Policy and Procedure Manual), then I strongly agree it should not be taken off. However, there are many posters I saw, break the Posting Policy General Guidelines No.3, No.4 and No.5.”

One of the students wiping the chalk, who requested to remain anonymous, also agreed that individuals should not be taking flyers down that were put up according to university policy.

“For the flyer, while we’re sorry for the people who took it off, but we understand it, because it is our country being insulted,” the student said. “Even though the action is not correct, it is understandable. If you really want to act against it, you need to post another one. We should do it in the right way or we would just be the same as the people who commit violence in Hong Kong.”

Zheng expressed discontent over the student who confronted them because the student has not been to Hong Kong and may not have full knowledge of what is going on in Hong Kong.

“The American who chalked down words, I don’t really like that, since he’s American and he hasn’t been to Hong Kong,” Zheng said. “I believe that he doesn’t really know what’s really happening, since he hasn’t seen it, but I was there during the strike. If you really want to do something just because you think you are right, I don’t think you should do it. You have to have some evidence to support you.”

Zheng called for a return to a peaceful campus and hopes to find out the full truth of what is happening in Hong Kong.

“What I really want is a peaceful and joyful campus life,” Zheng said. “I love China, I love Hong Kong and I also love America and UC Davis. What I really want is the truth — I just want to know what’s happening and I want to maybe talk to different people from Hong Kong, people here in America and people from other countries to hear what their perspective is.”

Lau, in addition to multiple students from Davis4HK, emphasized that she is not angry or resentful towards the dissenting students from mainland China. 

“I will say I won’t be mad at them and I won’t be angry at them because of the behavior, because it is understandable.” Lau said. “But I feel like there is just a misunderstanding […] We are just trying to fight for freedom and fight for democracy. We are not fighting against Chinese people. We are just fighting against a system and a government.” 

Student activists appeal to state representatives

Despite the opposition the group faced, Davis4HK gathered nearly 1,000 signatures for letters imploring members of Congress to pass H.R. 3289 (Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019) between Oct. 10 and Oct. 12. On Oct. 14, members of Davis4HK attended U.S. Rep. John Garamendi’s town hall at the Veterans Memorial Center. They presented him 373 letters from his constituents and he committed to supporting the bill. 

“To all of you back there that have decided that this is important enough for you to come here today, I thank you,” Garamendi said during the town hall. “And as we talk about what we can do here and across the nation, that is not only to support Hong Kong, but to support people everywhere in the world that are fighting for democratic values.”

On Oct. 15, the bill passed in the House and was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under general orders. 

The actual protest began at 3 p.m. on Oct. 16 with an introduction of events and a moment of silence for those who lost their lives or were imprisoned during the protests in Hong Kong. Third-year history and economics major William Jung spoke at the event, as did Anguiano, Lau, a graduate student from Hong Kong and an undergraduate student who wore a gas mask, goggles and a helmet and did not want to be identified. This was followed by the singing of “Glory to Hong Kong” in Cantonese and English and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” There was also an open mic portion, during which Davis4HK invited students to speak for up to two minutes. 

Lau’s speech was interrupted by Mandarin-speaking students who screamed profanities, according to fourth-year Chinese major Mark Godges. Godges was visibly upset by the incident and responded to the students.

“I have no problem with mainland Chinese students in general, but someone who I assume was a mainland Chinese nationalist came into our circle, and I thought that was extremely disrespectful,” Godges said. “And then in Chinese he basically said, ‘F— you, Hong Kong is a part of China.’ Then I just yelled, and I responded in Chinese […] to him and I was like, ‘No, Hong Kong is not a part of China. If China continues to disrespect human rights, they will split. Respect human rights.’”

Godges became involved with Davis4HK when he saw the posts of someone he followed on Instagram. He met with the group a few times, and he “got really fired up.” He wrote a song in Mandarin and English that he performed during the open mic portion of the protest after the conclusion of the speeches. 

“It was about the fact that the United States and countries and leaders around the world who believe in upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to the United Nations will not be bullied by the Communist Party,” Godges said. “And that includes the brave protesters in Hong Kong.”

When the Mandarin-speaking students and Godges started interacting, Anguiano was concerned about the possibility of a physical altercation. He believes that fostering conversation would be an effective way to deal with the tension.

“As long as we’re able to keep a professional conversation going and stray away from any physical violence — I saw that it could have happened here, and I’m so glad it did not,” Anguiano said. “If, at any point, any mainland [Chinese] student is willing to sit down and talk to us, we’re more than willing and that’s something that we want to see. That’s why when we had the open mic here as well, that was something that we really wanted to encourage — if there was somebody who opposed this movement, we want them to feel like we’re not pushing against their freedom to speak.”

Other members of Davis4HK who also followed the protests from the beginning include Ben, a student who requested that he only be referred to by his first name to prevent his family from being identified. He commented on the incident that occurred during Lau’s speech. 

“When something like this happens, it’s just kind of natural for dissent to come up,” Ben said. “Especially when to [dissenters], this is a controversial topic because it’s against what they’re taught. They just yelled some pretty vulgar stuff in Mandarin. And it was kind of uncalled for because we were just talking, just giving speeches. One of them was ‘f— your mom’ in Mandarin.”

Jung emphasized that the dissenters are entitled to their beliefs, but he wishes they were more open to engaging in conversation. He noted that none of the students who interrupted Lau’s speech took the opportunity to speak during the open mic portion of the event. 

“I mean, do I like those words? No, but it’s legal,” Jung said. “We have free speech on this campus. We get to share ideas, our university is about that. I’m glad UC Davis stands for that. [Dissenters] are entitled to say that, and while I hope they would be more cordial in their discussions and try to interact with us instead of heckling us, they are entitled to do that.”

Lau wanted to emphasize that Hong Kong isn’t the only place dealing with the kind of violence that it is. 

“There are many, many places and people around the globe also suffering from that,” Lau said. “So I just want to say [that] Hong Kong people are just the front line of this battle.”

Anguiano emphasized that just like Lau, he has heard some misconceptions about the protest.

“I just really want to make sure that people know that the Hong Kong movement is not a separatist movement,” Anguiano said. “It is a movement for democracy and just treatment for the people who feel like their civil liberties are being encroached on by the Chinese government. I just want to make sure that that’s something that is expressed. I know that there’s a lot of dissent against this movement [because it’s seen] as a separatist movement when it’s really not.” 

Written by: Anjini Venugopal and Sabrina Habchi — features@theaggie.org