On Chinese National Day, Oct. 1, when Chinese citizens celebrated the creation of the People’s Republic of China, the inhabitants of Hong Kong took to the streets yet again. The tumult continued through Oct. 5 as violence erupted after two peaceful protests. Clashes between officers and protesters ensued.
The basis of the conflict is the status of Hong Kong’s democratic rights. Decades of history underlie the tensions playing out today in the city.
Hong Kong— previously a British colony— seeks to maintain the democratic rights its citizens earned after gaining independence from Britain in 1997. Mainland China, on the other hand, hopes to integrate Hong Kong into its own governmental system, achieve national unity and move beyond the influence of British imperialism.
In light of the protests, the University of Miami’s East Asian student leaders banded together to educate the campus community on China’s political situation. Their event followed the Hong Kong International Airport demonstration and months of protests that have escalated into violence.
Julia Meguro, a leader of the Asian American Students Association, said the idea for the initiative was sparked at Canesfest. The Hong Kong Student Association’s booth had attracted a large number of students interested in learning about the protests abroad.
On Sept. 26, HKSA, AASA and the Miami International Relations Association welcomed a crowd that filled the majority of the 150 seats put out for their event. Students and faculty alike, all of the various ethnic backgrounds, flocked to the Shalala Student Center conference room to learn more about the tensions gripping China.
The event featured two eminent guest lecturers: Dr. Ritzinger, a professor of religious studies at UM, and Dr. Gutierrez, an award-winning author, and expert on international studies. Meguro stated that finding such speakers was no easy task.
“It was a lot of thought and effort to be able to find professors because UM doesn’t really have that many professors who specialize in Asian politics,” Meguro said.
“I think [students] are going to wake up in ten, twenty years and China might be the world’s largest economy– and they’ll wonder why they didn’t learn anything about it,” stated Dr. Ritzinger.
HKSA, ASA, and MIRA collaborated to change that. Speakers unraveled the history behind the current political conflict and predicted its future using the basic principles of political movements.
“I think that it’s important for students to know about this because what you see going on in Hong Kong is something that the whole world is watching, so it’s going to apply in the Western Hemisphere,” Meguro said.
Yet for other attendees, the event was more than just educational. The current political unrest struck a more personal chord for those with ties to the mainland.
“I’ve been following this event for a while because I’m from Taiwan and I feel some sympathy about [the protests],” said Wel-Ming, a meteorology major in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Without exposure to Asian affairs, Meguro said many Americans can misconstrue or misunderstand political systems abroad due, in part, to group polarization.
“In America, we’re very ‘democracy, democracy, democracy,’ but just knowing that there are different ways of living is important,” Meguro said.