Hong Kong is famous for many reasons. It is known as a world power in the financial markets, a city of skyscrapers with a stunning harbor, and a post-colonial Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China since 1997. By many measures, it is a great success story. Nonetheless, one doesn’t have to look far to notice the tensions simmering just beneath the surface. Someone has described the atmosphere as similar to a pressure cooker.
One way that people in Hong Kong ‘let off some steam’ is through protests. Almost every weekend, there are large or small groups of protesters marching through the streets demanding attention and change. This is normal for Hong Kong where freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by law. Three recent protests highlight some of the city’s concerns.
“We Are Workers. We Are Not Slaves.”
In January, thousands of migrant workers and supporters marched for justice on behalf of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic helper who was beaten and tortured by her Hong Kong employer. Hong Kongers were horrified when they saw photos of her abuse. Erwiana was so badly injured that she was immediately admitted to the hospital upon return to her country and would require months to recover. Migrant worker groups demanded more protection and fairer laws for the city’s 300,000 foreign domestic workers, mostly women from southeast Asia. The employer was subsequently arrested. Speaking from her hospital bed, Erwiana indicated that she was willing to return to Hong Kong to testify at the trial if her health permitted.
“Go Back to China!”
In February a group of around 100 Hong Kongers demonstrated against mainland Chinese tourists whom they confronted in a popular upscale shopping district. Since relaxing of visa requirements for visitors from the mainland, the city has seen a surge in the number of Chinese tourists entering Hong Kong for shopping and sightseeing. The impact is felt most noticeably at public transportation hubs, on busy streets, in shopping centers and at theme parks. Resentment has been rising as Hong Kong people feel crowded out of their own city, and mainlanders feel unwelcome and ill-treated. Competition for space and resources has always been keen in Hong Kong, but it is the middle-class who feel most squeezed in recent times.
“They Can’t Kill Us All”
In March, Hong Kong was again shocked after journalist Kevin Lau was chopped with knives in the back and legs in broad daylight in an ambush outside a restaurant. Lau, the former editor of a respected daily newspaper, nearly died after collapsing on the sidewalk. Doctors told him it may take two years to regain movement in his legs, which his attackers deliberately chopped in order to cripple him. Thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets to march for press freedom and protection of journalists. While police are not certain that the attack was related to Lau’s journalistic work, the public was outraged at such an act of violence in a city that is remarkably safe and law-abiding. Some of the assailants have been apprehended but it is believed that triads (underground organized crime) and an unknown mastermind were behind the attack.
In the face of all these conflicts and even violent incidents, what does the future hold for Hong Kong? The week after Lau was assaulted, I heard a message in church that touched me deeply. The minister mentioned the slogan on the main banner used in the protest march – “They Can’t Kill Us All.” I hadn’t realized that the slogan originated from the U.S. anti-war student movement in the 1970s. In her sermon, Rev. Wong preached that Christians must also stand against violence and intimidation. We must also stand for freedom and truth. But we must also hold tight to the promise of the Gospel, that in Jesus Christ, “they can’t kill us at all.” Our eternal destiny is in God’s hands so we seek after peace and justice no matter how dire the circumstances may seem around us.
Your support of our ministry at Hong Kong Christian Council through your prayers and financial contribution brings hope to the 7 million residents and 600,000 Christians in this city. In partnership with Global Ministries, the Church in Hong Kong refuses to be overcome by evil, but instead we shall someday overcome evil with good.
Judy Chan serves with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.