HONG KONG (SE): “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” read one of the placards held up by one of student protesters as they knelt on the ground at St. Francis’ Canossian College on September 2, on the first day of the new school year. The students were staging school boycott in an act of defiance, calling for the government to meet the protesters’ demands, including the ouster of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Lam is an alumni of the college.
Amidst the ongoing chaos in the city over the amendment of the Extradition Ordinance, all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong started school on September 2. The heads of Catholic schools expressed their concerns that the whole society is affected by the current crisis. Therefore the schools are equipped to provide emotional, psychological and spiritual support to young people according to individual circumstances.
According to Kung Kao Po, the Yuen Long Catholic Secondary School had contacted parents of its students one week before school started to understand the situation of their students. The school psychologists and social workers were present on the school opening day to support students with emotional distress if necessary.
Yuen Long was one of the worst-hit regions during the ongoing protest. On July 21 a group of suspected gangsters in white shirts attacked the passengers in the Yuen Long MTR station and severely injuring nearly 50 of them.
Wong Kin-yee, the principal of the school encouraged the students to adhere to the values of truth, love, justice, and life and to accept different opinions. She encouraged students to learn from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, their patron to trust in God even in the face of difficulties and lack of understanding.
The protests began more than three months ago against the now-shelved fugitive offenders’ extradition bill that would have allowed people in the city to be sent to China for trial. The subsequent anti-extradition bill movement plunged the city of Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis in decades.
Various local media reported that over 10,000 secondary and university students from more than 200 schools across the city participated in the class boycott and preferred to stay drenched in rain, braving a typhoon signal 3 on September 2.
At Queen’s College, one of the most prestigious schools in Hong Kong, students and alumni chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time!” Ying Wa secondary school Kowloon witnessed dozens of students and alumni standing outside at 7.00am chanting: “Free Hong Kong! Democracy Now!”
The web portal of Time quoted Jacky So Tsun-fung, the Chinese University Student Union chairperson, as saying “If going against an evil law and tyrannical rule gives us the name of rioters, we gladly accept.” It quoted another protesting student by the name of Chan who felt that “These protests awaken me to care more about the society and care for the voiceless.”
Social media networks had shown live streaming of hundreds of students who boycotted classes and chanted slogans in the Chinese University campus. Students assembled in protests with a huge black backdrop embossed with “Students in unity boycott for our city.”
Edwin Chow Chung-tin, the acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, together with around 10 members of the federation, joined the boycott class assembly at the university mall. He told the Sunday Exminer that he boycotted class to show that the fight for justice in Hong Kong will not end as school begins and that many students, especially university students who are the main participants of the movement, will not think that studies are more important than the demands in society.
He said he supported school boycott as it is a good way to show students’ demands and opinions. He can understand that some people may question whether school boycott or campus gatherings can achieve any purpose, as they are unlikely to cause direct impact in society and are only the means to show students’ views. However, he said he will not judge other ways of protesters to express themselves, as there are different approaches for different people.
“I will urge my fellow students to exercise restraint while expressing their demands, and not be overwhelmed by hatred. However, I can understand why some protesters take more radical approaches,” he said.
RTHK reported that the protesters at the Chinese University gave the government two weeks to respond, saying they will escalate their actions if there is no response. It also quoted a girl from City University as saying that “the protesters cannot afford to lose this time”.
She said she feared if they did, Hong Kong could become like Xinjiang, where the central government has implemented a severe clampdown, including camps for millions.
But, the state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that “the end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonise China,” and warned that the protesters should “never misjudge the determination and ability of the central government.”
The news agency’s report laid out three bottom lines “that must not be crossed”: no one should harm the national sovereignty and security; no one should challenge the power of the central authorities and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR; no one should use Hong Kong to infiltrate and undermine the mainland.
Considering the military might and economic prowess of China, no one can harm its national sovereignty and security except China itself. Social movements are often tips of an iceberg, manifesting the accumulated discontent and frustration of the society. Remedial measures to tackle the social unrest must begin by addressing the growing frustration among the disadvantaged of the society.
Reneging on promises and disregarding finer human values of dialogue could pose greater threat to the nation’s social fabric. The true might of a nation lies not in reigning over it with iron fists but in understanding the soul of its people.
Later in the afternoon, over 40,000 thousand people gathered at Tamar Park in Admiralty for a rally organised to coincide with calls for class boycott and a two-day general strike. Many school children, some in their uniform, joined their adult family members for the rally arranged by the Confederation of Trade Unions.