Visitors to College Green on bank holiday Monday afternoon were greeted by the strange sight of 150 Hong Kongers lining the length of the park.
The human chain, which stretched from the bus stop outside City Hall all the way to the Marriott Royal hotel, was part of a demonstration of remembrance for the pro-democracy “umbrella uprisings” in Hong Kong in 2019.
Monday’s demo marked an incident on August 31, 2019, in which the Hong Kong police force set upon protesters with batons, pepper spray and tear gas at Prince Edward metro train station, leaving many wounded, seven people hospitalised, and dozens in police custody. The incident is named 831 to mark the date on which it occurred.
The demo follows a similar gathering last month where people marched through the city to remember an attack on protesters by alleged gangsters in July 2019.
Those standing in the human chain held images from the attack and messages denouncing the Hong Kong police as “terrorists”. The chain lasted for one hour and attracted plenty of attention from passers-by who stopped to ask questions and find out more.
Around 150 people, including some from as far afield as Cardiff and Southampton, gathered on College Green from 3pm to listen to speeches and testimonies from fellow Hong Kongers who experienced the uprisings.
One speaker explained that the demo had been organised by Hong Kongers in Bristol to show friends and family in Hong Kong that they were not forgotten.
Another spoke of the importance of remembering the uprisings of 2019 and of preserving Hong Kong’s culture and history in the face of increasing Chinese encroachment.
Hong Kong exists as a special administrative region of China with its own devolved executive, legislative and judicial powers.
Critics fear that this “one country, two systems” approach is not working and say China enjoys too much control over Hong Kong’s affairs. A proposed Extradition Bill, enabling suspected criminals to be tried in China rather than Hong Kong, was criticised for this reason and ultimately ignited the uprisings of 2019.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, has a separate history to the Chinese mainland and people there speak a different language, Cantonese rather than Chinese Mandarin. Protesters on College Green spoke of their fears that these differences are being erased and worry that in the future Hong Kong’s separate identity will disappear.
Protesters also spoke of their struggle to communicate their experiences to others here in the UK, blocked by a language barrier and separated by experiences many people in the UK find difficult to comprehend.
Monday’s demo and its predecessor in July are part of efforts by Bristol’s Hong Kong community to connect with the wider population and tell their stories. On August 21 an exhibition hosted at The Island, Bridewell Street, featured stories and artwork by Hong Kongers telling of their experiences in the uprisings and their subsequent relocation to the UK.
Bristol is reportedly home to several thousand Hong Kongers who fled their homes following a crackdown by the Hong Kong and Chinese governments in response to the pro-democracy protests of 2019.