Some Chinese MIT students are working to raise awareness of the protests for democracy in Hong Kong, even as others see the protestors as too disruptive.
Earlier this month, the MIT Hong Kong Student Society set up a booth in the Student Center and passed out yellow ribbons, which have become symbols for universal suffrage. Chester Chu, a graduate student and one of the organizers of the Wear Yellow for Hong Kong Campaign at MIT, said the primary goal is not to convince people to support the pro-democracy movement, but rather to raise awareness so that people can develop an informed opinion.
“The main goal is just to speak with students, and make sure they understand what’s going on,” Chu said. “Then, if they would like, they can take a yellow ribbon.”
In addition to wearing the ribbons, many students are showing support by sharing pictures of yellow ribbons on the Internet. Xiao Yun Chang ’16, an MIT undergraduate, said that “virtually all of [her] friends from Hong Kong, and many from mainland China, are showing their support on Facebook.”
On Oct. 1, Chu and other MIT students joined other Hong Kongese at Boston Common for Candles in the Commons, a peaceful demonstration raising awareness for Hong Kong. According to Tiffany Cheung, one of the event’s main coordinators, the primary purpose of the demonstration was to advocate for peaceful protests.
“Candles in the Commons isn’t about saying the pro-democracy movement is right or wrong,” Cheung said. “We’re just asking that the students be allowed to protest safely.”
These same concerns about safety seem to have other students questioning the wisdom of the protests.
“The protesters should find more peaceful ways to show the government what they think,” one MIT undergraduate from mainland China said. “Using violence to occupy public space and blocking other citizens’ access to the area just isn’t right.”
A graduate student at the Sloan business school, who also wished to remain anonymous, worries that the protesters may become irrational and disruptive. He said that “the students are very young, many just in high school, and thus they aren’t necessarily thinking about the big picture, such as how the protests are disrupting life for other Hong Kongese.”
However, not everyone shares the same concerns. Lizhou Sha ’18, who is also from mainland China, said that “a protest wouldn’t be a protest if it didn’t cause some disruption. If the students want their voices heard, they first have to be noticed.”
Lawrence Lai, a Hong Kongese graduate student, said that if he were in Hong Kong he would have joined the demonstrations.
“The Occupy movement isn’t ideal, but now that it’s been set in motion, joining the cause is the best thing to do.” Lai said. “Those who are protesting for democracy have the interests of Hong Kong as a whole in mind, even if they are causing some disruption.”
With the protests now beginning to die down, some question whether they will have much of an impact. M. Taylor Fravel, a political science professor at MIT, believes the demonstrations have been influential.
“Within Hong Kong, this movement will definitely have a lasting impact,” he said. “Beijing has a better understanding of what the people want, and the people of Hong Kong have more confidence in their power. It will be interesting to see if there are more demonstrations going forward.”
Although the number of protesters has dwindled, a core group of demonstrators remain. Early Thursday morning, tensions escalated as pro-democracy protesters clashed with authorities. According to Reuters, Hong Kong police employed force to disperse the protesters, using pepper spray to stop demonstrators from blocking a major road.