Hong Kong, China – Whereas instructing in Hong Kong in 2011, filmmaker Ying Liang was banned from going residence to mainland China after making a documentary on a Beijing mom making an attempt to save lots of her son from the demise penalty.
Ten years since turning into an unintended immigrant, Ying strives to benefit from the town’s freedoms to the fullest, at the same time as they’ve come underneath risk from the National Security Law and the continuing crackdown on pro-democracy politicians and activists.
Simply final month, Ying screened the offending movie to 2 dozen viewers at an arts hub.
“We have to cherish our freedom whereas we nonetheless have it,” he informed Al Jazeera.
For many Hong Kong-born residents, the legislation has put a damper on the liberties they’ve lengthy taken without any consideration underneath “one nation, two methods,” the framework underneath which the previous British colony was returned to Chinese language sovereignty in 1997.
China had promised the territory “a excessive diploma of autonomy” for at the least 50 years.
Earlier than Beijing’s interference over the previous 12 months, residents within the territory have been free to protest in opposition to the authorities and organise political events to face in elections.
However for mainland migrants who’ve embraced the freedoms they by no means loved rising up, the backsliding right into a extra repressive type of governance is stirring concern and anxiousness.
“I believe the crackdown will come down more durable and stronger than what you’d sometimes see within the mainland, higher to scare everybody,” stated Ying, the documentary filmmaker, who’s 34.
“This wasn’t one thing I skilled rising up in Shanghai.”
As a father of three, together with a two-month previous child, Ying says he’s most involved concerning the authorities’s push for patriotic education.
“What I discover most unsettling is what’s happening in colleges,” he stated. “Whereas I don’t assume each child would come out completely brainwashed, I do know from my expertise how this may mark you for all times. It makes you frightened of caring about politics. When the scholars got here out to protest, there was nonetheless hope for this metropolis.”
For a lot of the previous century, Hong Kong was hailed because the “promised land” for hundreds of thousands of Chinese language, each from the mainland and the diaspora.
Whilst China was torn asunder by numerous cataclysms – regime change, army invasion, world struggle, civil struggle, famines and political purges – the British colony stood out as an island of relative calm and alternative.
After successive waves of immigration from the mainland, solely barely over half of the town’s 7.5 million persons are native-born.
And because the handover, a couple of million mainland Chinese language have migrated to Hong Kong underneath a household reunification scheme.
That is why these “RIP Hong Kong” headlines annoy me.
It is as a result of of us like @HongKongCTU‘s Mung Siu Tat are very a lot alive: “one of the best ways to guard our rights is to train them so far as we will. The main focus of ‘save one breath; mild one lamp’ is to mild the lamp” pic.twitter.com/2EjoyQj4BD
— Yuen Chan (@xinwenxiaojie) April 24, 2021
In a 2016 examine on the brand new arrivals, Hong Kong’s political scientists discovered that “the immigrants from China are normally extra politically conservative and extra supportive of the pro-Beijing ruling coalition in elections.”
However not all.
Flora Chen, 35, has spent the previous 10 years exterior her native China and has sworn off ever going again
A job at a college introduced her to Hong Kong, which she noticed as “instead Chinese language society the place legislation and order and social norms are protected by establishments.
“For the generations of mainland Chinese language liberals marked by Tiananmen, the vigil in Hong Kong [shone] like a beacon of hope,” stated Chen, wistfully.
Nowhere else on Chinese language soil was the commemoration of the 1989 crackdown permitted.
However final 12 months, for the primary time ever, the Hong Kong authorities banned the annual vigil citing COVID-19 dangers. The organisers, as well as some of the thousands who defied the ban, now face prosecution.
After arriving in 2018, Chen took half within the anti-government protests a 12 months later. As an instructional in social sciences, Chen stated her analysis is equally “socially engaged”.
What worries her probably the most is that shrinking tutorial freedom will stifle her scholarship.
“As mainlanders we all know how actual the concern is. We discovered to be cautious and watch what we are saying,” Chen informed Al Jazeera.
“However now I can begin noticing concern on my college students’ face. Their faces are marked with anger and harm, by energy.”
Whilst China’s financial system has taken off over the previous quarter of a century, Hong Kong has retained its attract for a lot of mainland residents as a land of alternative, undergirded by a rules-based system that’s fairer than the one which they’re used to.
Exterior the household visa scheme, the biggest contingent of mainland migrants has come for larger schooling.
Postgraduate programmes in any respect native universities at the moment are dominated by mainland college students who benefit from the alternatives on supply within the territory as soon as they graduate.
When leaving her native metropolis simply 300 kilometres (186 miles) away to pursue a grasp’s diploma in media research in Hong Kong, Jacqueline Zhang, thought she can be away for under a few years.
However almost 10 years later, 32-year-old Zhang says she enjoys residing in a society the place honest play and transparency are the norm. Within the mainland, she says, it’s “guanxi” – a community of connections and household ties – that matter and accountability is uncommon.
As Hong Kong has come underneath the thumb of Beijing, Zhang says the “concern is compounded” for mainland residents who’ve household and pals north of the border.
Authorities are recognized to harass the relations of mainland Chinese language who’re politically lively, hoping to make use of the leverage of household stress to rein in these “troublemakers.”
Zhang says she is aware of a great variety of fellow mainland Chinese language in self-imposed exile in Hong Kong, fearing their political participation has landed them on a watch listing. They fear any journey residence would possibly set off an exit ban that may bar them from ever travelling overseas once more.
A former journalist, Zhang is just not certain if she is on any watch listing however says she doesn’t wish to take the prospect.
For now, she has discovered consolation and camaraderie within the “tribe” she has present in Hong Kong – people who find themselves not afraid to debate so-called taboo topics and recoil on the concept of censorship.
“Freedom and the rule of legislation are like air. You don’t really feel it as a lot whereas it’s there,” stated Zhang.
“You are feeling it solely after it’s taken away from you.”