The vitriol poured in not long after Frances Hui’s (許穎婷) college newspaper in April published a column that she wrote entitled, “I am from Hong Kong, not China.”
“Your parents should be ashamed of you, they should have slapped you in your face,” one Chinese international student wrote in a public Facebook post, according to Hui, a 19-year-old student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.
As timing would have it, Hui’s piece came out before protests began to boil over in Hong Kong over a controversial bill to allow extradition from the former British colony to mainland China, a move panned by critics as a further erosion of civil liberties in the territory.
Photo courtesy of UN for Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free
In recent months, Hui has been busy organizing rallies in the Boston area in support of Hong Kong — and she is also set to be one of the speakers at this year’s UN For Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free rally in New York City, slated for Saturday.
“I think Taiwan [has] become a role model for people from Hong Kong,” Hui said in an interview.
But she added that the protests over the proposed legislation are also a lesson to Taiwanese not to accept the “one country, two systems” formula applied to Hong Kong after it was returned to China in 1997.
“The things that [Hong Kong] is facing right now would be something that Taiwan would have to face in the future,” Hui said.
The UN For Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free rally, an annual staple for nearly three decades, has typically come as the UN General Assembly kicks off its regular session, which begins each year on the third Tuesday of September.
The march and rally in Manhattan have focused on building support for Taiwan’s membership in the UN, which gave the country’s seat to China in 1971, as well as bringing attention to Beijing’s efforts to shrink Taiwan’s space in the international community.
This year’s event will highlight what organizers call the egregious use of force against protesters in Hong Kong, as well as what a US Defense Department official in May termed as the mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region, a claim Beijing has denied.
Organizers said they’re working toward a heavier focus on standing in solidarity with their allied communities, but will also echo the three appeals made by Taiwan’s government for participation in the UN.
Keep Taiwan Free co-organizer Gloria Hu (胡慧中) said they expect around 400 to 500 people to attend this year’s rally. She added that the Hong Kong protests were a factor in bumping up the date to early September.
“We just really want to showcase the intergenerational nature of the struggle of Taiwanese people, as well as Hongkongers, Tibetans and Uighurs for recognition, and to call attention to how these groups have been marginalized by the Chinese Communist Party,” Hu said.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hui came to the US at the age of 16 to begin college and study journalism. She transferred to Emerson after completing two years at a community college in Seattle.
Hui said she decided to write her essay for The Berkeley Beacon, Emerson College’s student paper, after an Asian man approached her on a bus one day and asked where she was from and if she was Chinese.
Conversing in English, she responded that she was from Hong Kong, to which the man kept telling Hui that Hong Kong is a part of China and that she was Chinese.
Hui said she wasn’t sure if the man was from China, but said he told her his father was born in Hong Kong.
“Literally I cried, because he annoyed me all the way, and wasn’t willing to listen to my point of view,” Hui recalled.
The question of identity is one that has been thrown into sharp relief as clashes between protesters and police continue unabatedly in Hong Kong.
Tensions from those protests have become palpable in the US as pro-Beijing demonstrators are increasingly showing up at US rallies organized by Hong Kong supporters, whose ranks include some mainland Chinese.
Brandishing the Five-star Red Flag, the pro-China groups often shout at the Hong Kong supporters, calling them “traitors,” and at times try to drown out their speeches by singing the Chinese national anthem.
Taiwan supporters got a taste of that treatment back in July when hundreds of pro-Beijing counter-protesters turned up outside the Manhattan hotel where President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) appeared during a stopover as part of a trip to the nation’s four Caribbean diplomatic allies.
Standing behind New York Police Department barricades, demonstrators held handmade signs, including ones that read: “Oppose Taiwanese independence” (反對台獨) and “Taiwan is China’s” (台灣是中國的).
Similar to the pro-Hong Kong rallies, they also waved Chinese flags and sang China’s national anthem.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOM
It’s unclear whether pro-Beijing counter-protesters will show up at this year’s UN For Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free rally. While past marches have gone off without a hitch, some observers say that could change given the current climate and heightened tensions in Hong Kong.
The rally kicks off at 12:30pm in Manhattan at Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street with speeches and a Lennon Wall activity. Participants are then scheduled to march to the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China on Twelfth Avenue, where there will be additional speeches and closing remarks.
Like last year, large billboards will be towed by bikes in parts of Manhattan to raise awareness about China’s treatment of Taiwan, as well as the Hong Kong protests, China’s detention of Uighurs and Turkic peoples (which Beijing denies) and the jailing of Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk.
Hui said it’s important for all these groups to be allies, adding that the pro-Hong Kong rallies in the US have attracted a diverse group of supporters that cuts across racial, religious and ethnic lines.
“What we’re fighting for is human rights and freedom,” Hui said. “And that’s a very basic universal value that everyone should embrace.”
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