Shouts of “Fight for our Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” echoed across College Green in both English and Cantonese as Hong Kongers living in Bristol gathered for a mass demonstration against Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s self-governance.
Many of the 150 people who came to remember the pro-democracy uprisings of 2019 and 2020 had fled Hong Kong when China passed a National Security Law in Hong Kong, which gave the police and state sweeping powers to crack down on dissent.
The College Green demo marked the anniversary of a particularly brutal episode in 2019 in which pro-democracy protests at Yuen Long train station in 2019 were attacked by dozens of men in white t-shirts, suspected to be gang members acting in collusion with local police.
Patrick, an organiser, was one of those who left Hong Kong because of the crackdown and the police brutality he witnessed.
‘It’s a different Hong Kong [now],’ he said ruefully, adding: ‘I just don’t feel safe there.’
He is worried for his friends and family still living in Hong Kong, where Patrick said something as trivial as not singing loud enough for the national anthem can get you in trouble.
‘If they behave then everything is OK. But you don’t know where the red lines are,’ he said.
There were many mementos of the 2019 uprising. Members of the crowd carried yellow umbrellas of the kind protesters used to shield themselves from police missiles. There was also a “Lennon Wall”, a symbol of resistance during the protests, onto which messages of support were written using sticky notes.
During the rally, a microphone was passed around and individuals recounted their own experiences of protesting, police brutality and life under Chinese oppression.
One man said he used to be a teacher before leaving Hong Kong two years ago. He said the curriculum in Hong Kong is now determined by China and is geared towards imbuing patriotism for China rather than meaningful education. This creates a tension within Hong Kong society, he said, between teachers who bow to the Chinese line and parents who tell their children the truth at home.
Some speakers spoke of their efforts to adapt to life in the UK. One elderly woman said she volunteered to improve her English and make friends. Another spoke of the importance of finding work to avoid living on benefits, whilst a third praised life in the UK for the opportunities it brings.
Others brought home the gravity of the situation in Hong Kong.
Patrick described the case of his friend, still in Hong Kong, who was held without trial in a detention centre. The friend eventually made a plea deal to receive a shorter sentence. Others who refuse a plea are left in detention centres by police.
Following the College Green rally, the crowd marched through Millennium Square and back to College Green. There were many cheers and waves of support from bystanders. When the Hong Kong uprising was reported throughout 2019 and 2020 it received widespread support in the UK.
Organisers hope that their demo might rekindle some of that support and encourage people in the UK to continue supporting the Hong Kongers’ struggle.
One organiser, Allen, said that people can do this by trying to avoid buying products made in China. Whilst accepting this is often very difficult, he said shopping locally is often one way of doing this.
He also asked that people contact their MPs with concerns about Hong Kong to ensure the issue stays on the agenda and the government applies sanctions against China where it can.
Another demo is planned for August 31, the anniversary of a similar attack on protesters at Prince Edward train station during the 2019-2020 uprisings. Organisers, Hong Kongers in Bristol, hope to connect with more people and share their experiences more widely.