Pro-democracy protesters shout slogans during a standoff with police outside the central government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Wednesday. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
Pro-democracy protesters shout slogans during a standoff with police outside the central government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Wednesday.
I’ve been traveling to Hong Kong since 1997, when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule. Reporting on the pro-democracy protests in recent weeks, I’ve been struck by a change in the people here. Many are no longer willing to give their full names when talking about politics and the current protests.
A couple of nights ago I was interviewing a real estate agent in a pinstripe suit on an elevated walkway as police battled and pepper-sprayed demonstrators in the distance.
The man, 27, wasn’t a protester, but supported the pro-democracy movement and explained why. When I asked him for his name, he only offered his surname, Wu. I asked him why he didn’t want to be identified.
“The speech freedom is just fading out,” he said. “I was very confident in Hong Kong 10 years ago, but things change very quick. Everything is getting worse. I have to protect myself at this moment.”
Then I asked if I had interviewed him 10 years ago about politics, would he have given me his full name then?
“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe, yes.”
In the protest tent camp below, I ran across a man named Abe, who was helping to build desks from scrap wood. The main camp stretches across Harcourt Road amid the glass-and-steel towers of Hong Kong’s Admiralty district. Using the highway’s concrete divider, protesters have built an open-air study hall so students can keep up with their homework.
“I have no experience in carpentry,” said Abe, who is Hong Kong-Canadian. “A lot of this is just volunteerism. I see people picking up garbage and I just volunteer.”
Free Speech In Hong Kong, Then And Now