Mainland Chinese activists are skirting censorship and risking arrest to publicly declare their support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
At least 34 people have been arrested as of October 6, and seven of them are artists from the Songzhuang art center in Beijing. The arrests began after Hong Kong students debuted a class boycott to demand genuine democratic elections on 22 September.
Peaceful protesters have camped out at a massive sit-in in Hong Kong's financial district for more than a week, calling on China to scrap its requirement that a largely pro-Beijing nominating committee select the candidates in the city's next chief executive election. To prevent information on the pro-democracy movement, dubbed Occupy Central, from spreading to mainland China, major social media platforms, including WeChat's public platform and Sina Weibo, have been under heavy censorship.
Wang Peng alerted his friends on Twitter to the arrest of poet Wang Zhang, tweeting a photo of the poet posing in front Taiwan's national flag and showing his support for Hong Kong's so-called “umbrella revolution“:
请大家紧急关注！诗人王藏因为长期维权行动和近期支持香港，现己被当局于10月1日晚11时强行带走，并于10月2日早7点6/7个警察国宝抄 家，现己过24小时没有任何消息。 pic.twitter.com/AmWwKa3Spf“
— 艺术家王鹏 (@wangpeng89) October 3, 2014
Please pay attention! Poet Wang Zhang was arrested by the authorities at around 11 p.m. on October 1 because of his activism and recent support for Hong Kong. Around 6 or 7 police officers and national security guards raided his apartment at 7 a.m. on October 2. He had been out of contact for more than 24 hours.
Taiwan is a sore spot for the mainland Chinese Communist Party, which does not recognize the democratic island's independence. Although Hong Kong enjoys a certain amount of autonomy from China, unlike Taiwan it is a special administrative region of China. Mainland authorities claim that the “one country, two systems” principle adopted in Hong Kong should be a model for the future reunification of Taiwan to China. The failure to implement a genuine democratic system in Hong Kong is a warning for Taiwanese against a closer relationship with China.
Why are mainland Chinese taking the risk to show their support for Hong Kong's democratic struggle? Administrators of “Support Across the Border”, a Facebook page devoted to circulating information about Hong Kong's Occupy Central in mainland China and delivering supportive messages from China to Hong Kong, explained why:
People asked, as a mainland Chinese, am I scared. I did not answer, to be frank, I am terrified. Just now I dreamed about my parents being arrested over the wall [meaning China]. I am so frightened. But then, so what?
Such a feeling will not obstruct me from standing with Hong Kong. It will not eliminate the courage to seek justice and act with my conscience that was born in me. […]
On one side of the wall propaganda about a harmonious society penetrates every corner of the streets, while over the wall and electric fence is another world, where Hong Kong people are singing out loud for democracy and justice.
In a conversation with local Hong Kong citizens, one of the page administrators pointed out the significance of Hong Kong's democratic development in relation to China:
This is not only a concern of students in Hong Kong. This is not only a concern of Hong Kongers. This is a nationwide and worldwide issue. This is a revolution for democracy and freedom. […] Not only us mainlanders in Hong Kong, but also the people in mainland China where information is blocked by the Great Firewall are trying to use various strategies to find a way out, to dig up the information. They care about what happens across the narrow strait and the small hills. They are willing to use, or already have used, various strategies to resist the repressive system, quietly and persistently.
Mainland Chinese from Twitter also voiced their support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters. Isaac Mao, a prominent mainland Chinese tech-blogger explained to his friend why Hong Kong needs democracy:
.@Andrew_920626 香港毗邻世界供应链中心，若经济自由和法治体系依然有效，就能够作为地区枢纽，给内地城市做出参考榜样。 城市自身的社会问题和不平等，需要一个民主平衡过程（正是过去香港缺少的）。年轻人有了更多创业机会而不是只能在社会导轨上挣扎，会有更多活力。
— Isaac Mao (@isaac) October 5, 2014
@Andrew_920626 Hong Kong is close to the center of the worldwide supply chain. If we can keep its economic freedom and legal system effective, Hong Kong can be a local hub and a demo for other cities in mainland China. A democratic process is necessary to solve the problems in this society, in particular the disparity between the rich and the poor in this city. Then the young people will have more opportunities for starting new businesses. They will not need to struggle along the old tracks of this society. They will be more energetic.
@guinaigu wished that Hong Kong will be a role model for democracy in China:
— eric (@kyleclean) October 3, 2014
I am from Guangdong. I hope #OccupyCentral will have positive responses. I support the students’ protest. If the protesters in Hong Kong achieve a victory, we will have democracy everywhere in mainland China.
The idea of Hong Kong being a role model for China's future democratic development is a huge burden for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, explained one of the administrators in the “Support Across the Border” Facebook page, who felt the pressure:
To me, this protest not only influences Hong Kong but also has the opportunity to influence the democracic development of mainland China. Hong Kongers still have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, and their pace toward democracy is faster than that of the mainlanders. If Hong Kong follows the decision of National People’s Congress and promotes the unfair election system, the National People’s Congress may use Hong Kong as a demo and carry out this unfair election system in every city in mainland China.