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What Do The Protests Mean To A Mainland Student Journalist In Hong Kong?

Tessie Yonng |
October 2, 2014 | 1:20 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Go Hong Kong (Kaidi Tian)
Go Hong Kong (Kaidi Tian)
Two weeks after she started covering the current pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, student journalist Kaidi Tian got some professional advice in a Wechat (an instant messenger) message from her mother.

“Never write or speak extreme words,” her mother wrote. Referring to the student protests, her mother added, “Once its nature is determined by the Communist Party, it may harm you.”

Tian, 23, a native of Beijing in mainland China, arrived at The University of Hong Kong, also known as HKU, in August in pursuit of a master’s degree in journalism and more adventure in her life. But the tumult she has encountered while writing about the demonstrations, is providing the adventure than she had in mind.

She has had her lungs seared by tear gas and has heard worrisome rumors that mainland students like her are being spied on by plainclothes officers from Beijing.

"I don’t want to be on Beijing’s blacklist,” said Tian, who asked that an alias be used for this story because of her fear of political reprisals against her and her family in mainland China.

Tian is the only child brought up in a wealthy family. Her father is the manager of Beijing Transportation Logistics Co. , Ltd., governing 200 to 500 workers. Before that, Tian’s father was a senior manager of Shougang Group, a super stated-owned enterprise, one of China’s biggest steel companies. Her mother is a head medical nurse. All three of them are members of Chinese Communist Party.

SEE ALSO: Hong Kong Protest Stories on Social Media

Tian completed her 16-year-education in mainland in July 2014, including primary, secondary and higher education. She arrived in Hong Kong on August 20.

Only 11 days after Tian starting her life in Hong Kong, Beijing announced the reform proposal for the 2017 Chief Executive election. 

On Sept. 1, the first day of the fall semeste,the Hong Kong University Students' Union, one of the eight student unions forming the Hong Kong Federation of Student, embarked on organizing an one-week university students boycott, in search for a conversation with chief executive Chun Ying Leung, according to Leung Lai Kwok, the president of HKU Students’ Union. Tian spoke to Leung Lai Kwok on Sept. 16, and finished her first hard news story on how HKU students planed their strike on Sept. 19. 

The students boycotting classes gave Chun Ying Leung a deadline to respond, that was Sept. 25. But Leung didn’t utter a sound on the fourth day of students boycott. The boycott escalated. 

Tian saw students rushing to Government House, pushing through the road closed by the police, students holding up cardboard written “Leung is a coward,” and shouting loudly, “Down Leung Chun Ying!”

On Sept. 28, the first day of "Occupy Central." Tian and her fellow classmates readied themselves to go to Central to take photographs. They equipped themselves with rain coats and swimming goggles as protection against possible violence by the police. At the beginning, protesters sat around picnic blankets with foods and drinks in threes or fours. Then at 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., protesters began to lie on the ground.

“I’ve never seen so many people since I was born. It was even more crowded than the National Day’s Tian’anmen Square,” said Tian. 

“I saw the police wearing transparent shields and holding guns firing pepper spray, but not many people got hurt because they protected themselves,” said Tian. A great many people protected themselves like Tian.

The late night of Sept. 28, Tian heard a huge thud. “I thought it was gun, but then I saw a gigantic cloud of smoke and then I couldn’t see anything,” said Tian. She began to tear up and sweat a lot. She realized it was tear gas. “Different from my classmates, I inhaled the gas so my lung hurt a lot. Then I spitted out."

She went back home to take a rest. Due to traffic tie-up, she could only walked back home. It took her an hour and a half from Central to her home at Kennedy Town, the western end of Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island, which would only be 20 minutes by metro. 

Tian now is extremely regretful for going home early. “If I were there, I would have a lot of great shots,” Tian said. She describes the scene as “unbelievable.”

SEE ALSO: Tensions Rise Between China and Hong Kong Over Elections Reform

Tian and Jessie Chan, Tian’s mainland friend, originally planed to hang out on Sept. 28 afternoon, but the plan was ruined by tear gas.

“She's (Tian's) been awesome,” said Chan. Out of physical safety concerns, Chan has never went to the protests. “She’s brave to stand on the front line and live history,” Chan added.

“It hasn’t been one second during the whole process for me to give up practicing journalism,“ said Guan, adding, “just as my reporting instructor says, I have been plopped right into the middle of the interesting times, that’s my privilege."

Later on Sept. 28, Instagram was blocked in mainland. Tian’s few photographs couldn’t be seen by her followers in mainland anymore. She deleted her Instagram account afterwards due to concerns about her future development in mainland.

The day after getting tear gassed, Tian received an email from President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU saying, “We condemn violence of any kind by any party. We cannot understand the use of tear gas yesterday: the police and the government are accountable for that decision.”

At the same day, the Hong Kong University Students' Union drew up a joint statement demanding Chief Executive CY Leung to apologize publicly and resign immediately. 

SEE ALSO: Students Stage Mass Protest in Hong Kong For Democracy

“They shouldn’t resort to violence, especially when the protesters protesting in such a peaceful and organized way,” said Tian.

Tuesday, the traffic cones around the Government House were covered by “Dismiss The Government,” according to Tian. At the dawn of National Day of China, when Tian was exhausted and prepared to walk back home, she saw a phrase “Go Hong Kong.” She pressed her camera shutter and posted it at 4 a.m. local time on Moments, a SSN function of Wechat. But nobody in mainland could see her updates. She says she is furious about that.

She didn't write anthing like "demoncracy" on that update. It was just a photograph.

"I really can't understand why I was blocked," says Tian.

Tian has no side to stand on, neither for or against the protest. “This has disrupted my daily life so far. I get so much homework to do and there is no public transportation at all,” says Tian. “I just want a quick end of this.”

Reach Staff Reporter Tessie Yonng here.



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