BEIJING — The pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong would seem to have universal appeal, a David and Goliath tale, starring young idealists, polite and considerate in their defiance, standing up to a mighty authoritarian government with a history of mercilessly crushing dissent.
But here on the streets of China’s capital, where the ruling Communist Party’s heavy hand is most keenly felt, it can be hard to find people who openly support the demonstrators and their demands, and not just because censors and Chinese security agents have been muffling the voices of protest supporters.
On social media and over shared meals at restaurants, many young professionals express suspicion and even hostility toward the students and the Occupy Central protest movement. They accuse the students of selfishly blocking roads and disrupting the lives of ordinary residents; others, parroting government propaganda, blame Western governments for orchestrating one of the most high-profile challenges to Beijing’s authority in years.
“If necessary, the protesters should be removed by force,” said Gordon Qi, 20, a dual economics and psychology major at one of the capital’s most prestigious universities.
Two weeks into the protests, aggressive censorship has left many people in mainland China with only a vague, but unfavorable impression of events in Hong Kong. Others, busy with work or wary of discussing politics, say they do not care.
But some of the most vociferous critics of the protests are young Chinese, a number of them educated abroad and able to gain access to unfiltered news by using software that circumvents China’s so-called Great Firewall.
In nearly two dozen conversations this week, they warned about the protests’ impact on Hong Kong’s economy, the paramount value of maintaining social stability and what some called the hypocrisy of trying to improve society through civil disobedience — sentiments that have dominated media coverage in mainland China since the protests began in late September.
But perhaps the most notable element of criticism was a lack of sympathy for the protesters’ central goal: greater democracy. In interviews, many people said Hong Kong residents should be content with the liberties they already have, which far exceed those on the mainland, while others warned about the dangers of truly open elections.
“We have to be wary of democracy turning into anarchy,” Wen Gao, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, said over tea at a cafe in the capital’s gleaming high-tech district of Haidian. “I think it’s a deceptive concept.”