Hong Kong, China – While instructing in Hong Kong in 2011, filmmaker Ying Liang was banned from going home to mainland China after making a documentary on a Beijing mom attempting to avoid wasting her son from the demise penalty.
Ten years since turning into an unintended immigrant, Ying strives to reap the benefits of the town’s freedoms to the fullest, at the same time as they’ve come beneath risk from the National Security Law and the continuing crackdown on pro-democracy politicians and activists.
Just final month, Ying screened the offending movie to 2 dozen viewers at an arts hub.
“We need to cherish our freedom while we still have it,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
For most Hong Kong-born residents, the legislation has put a damper on the liberties they’ve lengthy taken with no consideration beneath “one country, two systems,” the framework beneath which the previous British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
China had promised the territory “a high degree of autonomy” for at the least 50 years.
Before 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.
But 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 fear and anxiousness.
“I think the crackdown will come down harder and stronger than what you’d typically see in the mainland, better to scare everyone,” mentioned Ying, the documentary filmmaker, who’s 34.
“This wasn’t something I experienced growing up in Shanghai.”
As a father of three, together with a two-month outdated child, Ying says he’s most involved in regards to the authorities’s push for patriotic schooling.
“What I find most unsettling is what’s going on in schools,” he mentioned. “While I don’t think every kid would come out totally brainwashed, I know from my experience how this will mark you for life. It makes you fearful of caring about politics. When the students came out to protest, there was still hope for this city.”
For many of the previous century, Hong Kong was hailed because the “promised land” for hundreds of thousands of Chinese, each from the mainland and the diaspora.
Even as 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 individuals are native-born.
And because the handover, multiple million mainland Chinese have migrated to Hong Kong beneath a household reunification scheme.
In a 2016 examine on the brand new arrivals, Hong Kong’s political scientists discovered that “the immigrants from China are in general more politically conservative and more supportive of the pro-Beijing ruling coalition in elections.”
But not all.
This is why these “RIP Hong Kong” headlines annoy me.
It’s as a result of people like @HongKongCTU‘s Mung Siu Tat are very a lot alive: “the best way to protect our rights is to exercise them as far as we can. The focus of ‘save one breath; light one lamp’ is to light the lamp” pic.twitter.com/2EjoyQj4BD
— Yuen Chan (@xinwenxiaojie) April 24, 2021
Flora Chen, 35, has spent the previous 10 years exterior her native China and had sworn off ever going again
A job at a college introduced her to Hong Kong, which she noticed as “as a substitute Chinese society the place legislation and order and social norms are protected by establishments.
“For the generations of mainland Chinese liberals marked by Tiananmen, the vigil in Hong Kong [shone] like a beacon of hope,” mentioned Chen, wistfully.
Nowhere else on Chinese soil was the commemoration of the 1989 crackdown permitted.
But final 12 months, for the primary time ever, the Hong Kong authorities banned the annual vigil citing COVID-19 dangers. The organisers, in addition to among the hundreds who defied the ban, now face prosecution.
After arriving in 2018, Chen took half within the anti-government protests a 12 months later. As a tutorial in social sciences, Chen mentioned her analysis is equally “socially engaged”.
What worries her probably the most is that shrinking educational freedom will stifle her scholarship.
“As mainlanders we know how real the fear is. We learned to be cautious and watch what we say,” Chen instructed Al Jazeera.
“But now I can start noticing fear on my students’ face. Their faces are marked with anger and hurt, by power.”
Even as 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.
Outside the household visa scheme, the biggest contingent of mainland migrants has come for greater schooling.
Postgraduate programmes in any respect native universities are actually dominated by mainland college students who reap the benefits of the alternatives on provide 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 could be away for under a few years.
But nearly 10 years later, 32-year-old Zhang says she enjoys living in a society the place honest play and transparency are the norm. In 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 beneath the thumb of Beijing, Zhang says the “fear is compounded” for mainland residents who’ve household and associates north of the border.
Authorities are recognized to harass the relations of mainland Chinese 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 superb variety of fellow mainland Chinese in self-imposed exile in Hong Kong, fearing their political participation has landed them on a watch checklist. They fear any journey home may set off an exit ban that may bar them from ever travelling in another country once more.
A former journalist, Zhang just isn’t certain if she is on any watch checklist however says she doesn’t need to take the possibility.
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 law are like air. You don’t feel it as much while it’s there,” mentioned Zhang.
“You feel it only after it’s taken away from you.”