While Occupy Central leaders continue to increase their efforts to raise awareness and support for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, another ally has emerged for the pro-democracy mission. Making good on a promise made earlier in the month, it was announced last week that students across the city are organizing boycotts of classes in protest of the highly controversial political reforms Beijing proposed in late August. This follows in the wake of a string recent public demonstrations by Occupy Central organisers, which saw founder Benny Tai shave his head alongside several other democracy activists and last weekend’s silent “black cloth” protest.
With the city-wide call to arms for students to join what has been described as Hong Kong’s “era of civil disobedience”, it’s unclear how much support this latest move of solidarity will garner from the HKU campus. Speaking with students, local and international, the reactions to the boycotts appear mixed at best. Mikk, an Estonian graduate student studying Law and Ethics, says:
“I’m not sure it’s going to have the influence that’s needed. I’m not planning to join it…my personal opinion is that China will more and more increase its influence [sic].”
One law student from Hong Kong, Jacqueline, admits she’s “not very likely […] to join Occupy Central”. When asked why she remains unconvinced, she cites lack of unity in Hong Kong’s population:
““Basically I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference at this stage…people are more half/half. To be able to really do something forcible, to push the government to do something…quite a lot of people are still reluctant to come out.”
Another graduate student from mainland China, Rex, expressed doubts at the motivation of the boycott.
“Sometimes some people, some leaders, or some government want to just make something look like something else, […] it’s artificial.”
A possible problem for the protests might be that many students not originally from Hong Kong feel too uneducated on the topic to comment or participate in any organised protests. Maxmilian, a business student on exchange from Germany, feels this is the case with him.
“I’m just getting it out of the newspapers, I haven’t talked with any locals….I don’t feel too well-informed.”
Annie, an accounting student from Jilin province, admits she’s only just heard of Occupy Central.
“I don’t know how the people in Hong Kong feel about this. Maybe you ask the local and they will give you the better answer.”
Despite what appear to be reservations, there are students who plan to stand with their fellow classmates in defiance of Beijing’s reforms. Joseph, born and raised in Hong Kong, says he will participate in the boycott of classes, although in lieu of attending any political gatherings, he plans to work as a lifeguard to earn extra money. He insists his heart is the right place.
“Some of my hall-mates are advocating this actually. I’m financially and politically for this.”
The week-long boycott is expected to take place from September 22nd., and with the city and its campuses seemingly divided, the turnout for Hong Kong’s latest plea for democracy could go either way; whether Beijing takes notice or not will be another matter entirely.