‘Pursuit of freedom’: Hong Kong protests reach Orange County

Pro-Hong Kong protesters gathered outside of the Anaheim Convention Center at BlizzCon – a gaming convention run by Blizzard Entertainment – in solidarity with esports gamer Ng Wai Chung, who was punished for supporting Hong Kong protests. Photo courtesy of the City of Anaheim

Amidst the Hongkongers’ ongoing struggle to have their pro-democracy desires be heard by the Chinese government; amidst the one country, two systems 50-year agreement; amidst the threat to families and the hundreds of college-aged youth, one region remains united despite the tear gas and police brutality.

Approaching the 23rd week of public protests, Hongkongers have rallied to demand government and police reform, with subways shut down and fires set alight. Cries and chants for change have sparked fear and passion in both onlookers and participants as the protests have expanded to include American colleges like Emerson College, Wesleyan University and the University of California, Davis.

“The pursuit of freedom, democracy, justice and the like entails not just locally or nationally but internationally,” said Alexander Bay, the chair of Chapman University’s history department. “If there’s injustice anywhere, there’s a threat to justice here.”

Chapman was to join other protesting universities. Emily Lam, the president of Asian Pacific Political Association, told The Panther that a Chapman Hongkonger she didn’t want to identify was working with her to plan an on-campus event that would shed light on the region’s political climate. The student then drew out of the arrangement after considering the backlash he and his family could receive from the Chinese government, since media is heavily supervised in the country.

“He’s scared for his family and I said, ‘That’s OK, we can still work together and I won’t put your name on it. But people will know your story and how you feel,’” said Lam, a junior political science and peace studies double major. “You can find alliances with other Chinese-Americans and Taiwanese international students.”

Fear isn’t only subjected to Hongkongers. Lam heard that some Chinese students at Chapman sympathize and want to speak out on the Hong Kong protests, but are frightened by the possible retaliation their families could face from their government.

“A lot of it has to do with patriotism and nationalism and the, ‘Oh, how dare you disrespect China,’” Lam said. “Just by putting out a Hong Kong flag, it’s very disrespectful to a mainlander like, ‘China everything. We’re all one China. How dare you do this?’”

While Chapman hasn’t yet seen any rallies, BlizzCon – a gaming convention in Anaheim – recently saw a peak of 50 people protesting for Hong Kong outside of the Anaheim Convention Center Nov. 1. The protest was sparked in support of esports gamer Ng Wai Chung, who was banned from participating in esports tournaments after he had expressed his support of Hongkongers. Blizzard Entertainment, the game developer who issued the punishment, also revoked his $10,000 earnings from winning a Hearthstone video game tournament. After public outrage ensued, Blizzard’s own employees were upset by their company’s actions and covered the “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” etchings that are carved into the ground at Blizzard Entertainment’s headquarters in Irvine, California.

“I don’t think the people in the West truly realized the effect that the Chinese government has on businesses up until the recent news regarding the Hearthstone tournament,” said Weber Cheng, the co-president of the Asian Pacific Student Association. “There was massive fallout. People were cancelling their subscriptions and deleting their accounts.”

During BlizzCon’s opening ceremony, J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard Entertainment, briefly apologized for the way the company handled its political controversies. Although Chung was later reinstated his cash earnings and had his ban reduced to six months, protesters outside the convention peacefully rallied on. Some wore masks akin to those Hongkongers wear to protect themselves from tear gas. Others stood with “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Blizzard = China’s (expletive)” signs.

“They really just wanted to express themselves on this issue and we did not have any issues whatsoever with them,” said Mike Lyster, the Chief Communications Officer at the City of Anaheim. “Our goal was to make sure that those who wanted to express themselves had that opportunity to do so. But of course, folks who were coming there for the show, we wanted to make sure they had the ability to enjoy it as well.”

Lyster told The Panther that the protesters followed the direction the City of Anaheim gave and carried out their right to freedom of expression. While no protest is currently planned to take place on Chapman’s campus, Dean of Students Jerry Price said that students are more than welcome to raise awareness around the causes they believe in.

“Our goal is to send out a statement that students find supportive. But if a conflict or disagreement is at challenge between two different groups that are both on our campus, then we have to be careful because support for one might look like opposition to another,” Price said.

While Lam doesn’t currently have an event set in stone to raise cause for concern, she began her Asian Pacific Political Association club to provide an outlet for Asian-American engagement in politics and those invested in political discourse.

“In terms of Chapman, let’s be real, they haven’t done anything in general for us people of color,” Lam said. “Chapman is not very active politically, and this issue should be presented more on campus and talked about. The freedom of speech is a value of the U.S.”