Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 6 News List

HONG KONG PROTESTS: Chinese baffled, inspired, irritated by protests in HK

NY Times New Service, HONG KONG

Chinese tourists walk past a sign that reads “True Democracy for HK” outside a luxury store in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

For the tens of thousands of Chinese crossing the border into Hong Kong on Wednesday, the first day of China’s week-long National Day holiday, the pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the territory were an unexpected addition to the itinerary.

Unable to stage such demonstrations in China without fear of being detained or imprisoned, some said confidentially that they saw the student-led protests as an inspiration — something China’s leaders have been at pains to prevent.

State censors have suppressed reports of the Hong Kong demonstrations on the mainland, scrubbed mentions from social media and recently blocked the photosharing app Instagram.

On Wednesday, Chinese travel agencies began suspending visas for group tours to Hong Kong, said Joseph Tung (董耀中), the head of the territory’s Travel Industry Council. Individual tour visas, which account for the majority of Chinese visitors, appear unaffected, he added.

Human rights groups on Wednesday said that more than 20 people have been detained for expressing support for the protests, but for many Chinese tourists, the widespread sit-ins that have brought some of Hong Kong’s busiest boulevards to a standstill since Saturday were an inconvenience — a logistical challenge to a program of shopping and sightseeing.

“I don’t have any opinion about the politics of this,” Zhou Peng, 34, a businessman from Chengdu, said on Wednesday as he took photographs of protesters camped out on Canton Road, a normally busy three-lane street in the heart of one of Hong Kong’s most popular shopping districts for tourists.

“I came here over the holiday with my kid to see Hong Kong, but we can’t do that,” Zhou said, complaining about disruptions due to the demonstrations, which have included suspended bus routes, exceptional traffic gridlock over large parts of the territory and even the cancelation of Hong Kong’s annual National Day fireworks display over Victoria Harbor.

“This affects our trip,” he said.

Similarly, Lisa Bao, 26, from Zhejiang Province, stopped to take photographs of the protesters on Canton Road, but said they were spoiling her first trip to Hong Kong. She questioned why Hong Kongers had not staged democracy protests against their former British colonial rulers.

“In the past they had the British choose their leaders and they weren’t terribly upset,” Bao said. “Now they’re part of China and under our socialist system, and they choose to stand up. I’ve heard that the United States is influencing this.”

“It’s really a pity,” she added. “I just hope that this won’t lead to chaos.”

For the protesters, catching the attention of Chinese visitors is partly the point.

In the early hours of Wednesday, demonstrators expanded their sit-in zone to the Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon, which includes Canton Road and is home to dozens of luxury retailers, including Fendi, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Louis Vuitton.

“The most important reason for coming here is there are a lot of tourists, a lot of luxury stores and people from mainland China,” said Frankie Chan, 28, a Hong Kong securities broker who joined the occupation of Canton Road on Wednesday.

“They only have limited sources of information,” he said. “We are not stopping their shopping. We are not against mainland tourists. We want to draw their attention to what Hong Kong is fighting for.”

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