The Hong Kong-Beijing conflict has reached the UC Davis campus, sparking a heated debate on free speech among student activists, according to the Davis Enterprise.
Symbols of support for the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have reportedly popped up around the university’s campus in the form of chalk drawings of flowers and notes spelling out “Stand with Hong Kong.” Just hours after these messages of support were displayed, students described to be from mainland China were caught on a video posted on Reddit tearing down flyers and scrubbing off the artwork.
Although the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the gesture was widely seen as too little too late and proved ineffective in quelling the concerns of the Hong Kong people. Activists are continuing to protest, demanding an independent inquiry into police brutality, a more democratic system for the government of Hong Kong, and amnesty for arrested protesters.
Over the past few months, clashes between the police and protesters have only escalated further, with activists storming parliament and police shooting a young protester. The ripples of tensions from these ongoing protests can even be felt on U.S. college campuses as student activists on both sides voice their opinions.
As a group of students set up a table on UC Davis campus to collect signatures urging members of Congress to pass a bill in support of human rights in regards to Hong Kong, a Chinese student reportedly approached the table and ripped the group’s pro-democracy flag off of its pole, throwing it into the trash can and shouting “Hong Kong is a part of China!” as seen in a video posted on Reddit.
One UC Davis undergrad spoke to the Davis Enterprise, explaining that these protests were deeply personal to her and her grandparents who fled to Hong Kong from mainland China as refugees when the Communist Party took control in 1949. “Our family remembers that history… They don’t want their rights taken away,” she said.
On the other hand, students from mainland China have reportedly reacted strongly by tearing up the letter to Congress and pro-Hong Kong flyers. One such student, Owen Liang, expressed that he wanted to send a message to the Hong Kong protesters and their supporters. “We will not stay silent,” he was quoted as saying. “We will do something back to them.”
The following day, UC Davis Chinese Students and Scholars Association had set up their own table with a large Chinese flag just 30 feet from the Hong Kong students, according to the Enterprise. “Hong Kong is part of China,” one of these students told the county-based newspaper. “What they’re doing is a sign of disrespect.”
Jack, a student claiming to be from mainland China, openly criticized the actions of pro-democracy student activists, such as hanging flyers, making chalk drawings, and setting up a table in the quad area. “Their behavior is kind of interrupting,” he said. “It’s not allowed to write those kinds of things.”
Several mainland Chinese students reportedly echoed these sentiments, explaining that they were angry because they saw the protests as a separatist movement — a narrative that has been heavily pushed by the Chinese media.
Wesley Young, the Global Affairs Director at UC Davis, stated that he was in the process of coordinating with other campus offices in order to best address the students’ concerns. “We know it’s a sensitive situation and it’s difficult for a lot of students,” he told the Enterprise.
Although students from Hong Kong were concerned and upset by having their flyers taken down and flags ripped and thrown into the trash, their biggest concern was the possibility of being photographed. “I’m worried it could have an impact on my family in Hong Kong,” one student said.
According to the Enterprise, several students were interviewed but asked to be identified only by their first names in fear of retaliation from the Chinese government.
In response, UC Davis spokesperson Andy Fell stated there is little the university could do in this respect. “If someone is conducting a protest in a public place, there are no policies that prevent people from photographing or video recording them,” he said.
“Similarly, sharing publicly available information about someone would not by itself be a violation.”
Featured image (right) via Reddit/@andyiphh55