Flat White

China’s young nationalists – no holds barred and on our streets

21 August 2019

10:14 AM

21 August 2019

10:14 AM

Last Friday I turned up to the “Stand with Hong Kong — Power to the People” Rally at the State Library of Victoria, and sure enough, pro-Hong Kong democracy demonstrators were in line of sight. I had hoped that only they were there, but unsurprisingly, so were the opposition. My Facebook livestream started just after 7.00 pm.

My first peculiar encounter were the socialists you’ll typically find canvassing at Australian university campuses. They were pro-HK, pulling the recycled ‘we stand in solidarity with the oppressed in HK’ angle, trying to not make it obvious that their ideology is what led to communism in China. I was already close to the civilised pro-HK crowd gathering on the footsteps in front of the Sir Redmond Barry memorial statue, listening to speakers on the mic, but in the distance, I spotted crowds, cramped by onlookers, ready to witness a fight or two to break out. And so my adrenaline kicked in.

For the next 40 minutes or so before the police turned up to crowd-control the situation, numerous fights, mostly verbal, plus some pushing and shoving, broke out between notably middle-aged pro-HK people and predominantly younger pro-Beijing people. It didn’t matter too much that I couldn’t speak or understand Mandarin or Cantonese, as they say that over 90 per cent of communication is nonverbal. Some fights were in English. One of the few yelling matches up close and personal in English which I recorded, went roughly as follows:

Pro-HK girl: “Freedom to protest, right?”

Pro-Beijing guy: “Tell me, you can want freedom, or you can protest. Which one do you want?”

Pro-HK girl: “Freedom is protesting. The ability to protest is freedom. If you protest in China, you’ll die.”

Pro-Beijing guy: “No!”

Admittedly, I was so incensed by the suggestion that freedom does not include freedom of speech and assembly that I yelled out “Tiananmen Square” repeatedly. The pro-HK girl and others behind me followed suit, and the pro-Beijing guy moved on without further retort. That yelling match best summed up the sentiments divided between the two camps.

The irony of what looked like predominantly young mainland Chinese students studying in Australia making up the majority of the pro-Beijing crowd, exercising freedom of speech and assembly in Australia, was not lost on the pro-HK crowd. More ironic was that some of the pro-Beijing demonstrators accused masked pro-HK demonstrators of cowardice. Funny that, given the deliberate attempt of the pro-Beijing camp to derail what was intended to be a peaceful rally.

I was disappointed in the behaviour of a number of middle-aged pro-HK men, who couldn’t control their temper, and fell for the baits laid by their younger pro-Beijing counterparts. Unsurprisingly, the older men were provoked into a few pushing and shoving matches. I did the best I could to defuse those situations. At one point, the pro-Beijing crowd pointed and yelled at me and a fellow pro-HK livestreamer. It must’ve included insults, because there were moments of laughter amongst the crowd. I kept my cool.

Eventually, a fight broke out in front of the peaceful pro-HK demonstrators, which led to police turning up in numbers to split the two camps apart, and crowd-control. The night continued with both camps yelling at each other, and trying to drown each other in English and Mandarin/Cantonese chants. With all the flag-waving, mainly the display of the PRC flag on smartphones, coming from the pro-Beijing camp, the chants and singing appeared fervently nationalistic, and no doubt the yelling of insults also occurred.

From the pro-HK camp, the chants included “free Hong Kong”, and the counter-chant “Two Systems” in response to the pro-Beijing chant “One China”. It was disappointing to see however, insults coming from the pro-HK camp degenerating slowly into racism. Such insults started off with “go back to where you came from”, eventually going down to the level of “go home, we’ve run out of formula”.

There was a joke thrown around in the pro-HK camp that accused the opposition camp of being astroturfs. I didn’t believe that for one second. Real astroturfs wouldn’t display the youthful fervent nationalism that was on display that night. They were dead serious and unquestioning about their support for Beijing. It makes sense, most of them looked like they were born after 1989, and I imagine that you’d have to at least come from a middle-class family to afford university education in Australia.

That’s scary. It’s scary because they appear to be a generation representative of the future of China, a future where Beijing will do whatever it takes to continue to grow a comfortable middle-class to maintain their system of government. They represent a China that’s not ashamed of infiltration outside of China to grow their influence. Some from the pro-Beijing camp infiltrated the pro-HK camp after the police split both camps apart, to either start fights or display pro-Beijing paraphernalia. It was as shameless and unapologetic as the Chinese Communist Party’s concerning influence on Australian institutions. The behaviour of Beijing supporters at pro-Hong Kong democracy rallies across Australia is a sign of what’s already happening in Australia, and a sign of things to come.

This piece was originally published at https://medium.com/@danapham.au

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