Study abroad in Hong Kong: The Georgia State student studying through protest

Hong Kong has been in a state of protest for months, ever since a controversial extradition bill was proposed by its government. Seeing thousands marching in the streets, police tear gassing crowds and roads blocked by protesters have all become commonplace. For a brief period of time, the demonstrators even took over Hong Kong International Airport.


Georgia State

A Georgia State student studying abroad in Hong Kong spoke with The Signal. They requested to remain unnamed because this could affect their safety in Hong Kong and “possibly butcher [the student’s] chances of entering mainland China.”

Demonstrations are a normal part of the day-to-day experience of living in Hong Kong, according to the student.  

“It doesn’t affect every single day, but it’s very common to have it affect a regular day,” the student said. “Sometimes, they become unexpectedly large and they will shut down public transport and you aren’t able to get to places that you need to get to. I know that some people were unable to get to school at a different university because of the limited public transport options.” 

However, while the protests have a tendency to disrupt travel, the student said that most protests are nonviolent. 

“I think, for the most part, they’re pretty civil, but there are a lot of them that happen, and there are a percentage of them that do get pretty crazy and violent,” they said. “But, for the most part, I feel like they’re peaceful, and people don’t get hurt or killed.” 

The student also noted that being in the wrong place at the wrong time or even wearing the wrong colors can impact how people see you. 

“Certain colors are associated with certain things,” they said. “Black is associated with the demonstrations. Of course, it’s still ok, usually, to wear black. But if you’re located near the demonstrations, and you’re wearing black, people might think that you’re associated with the demonstrations. White is associated with China.” 

As far as the demonstrations go, the student doesn’t think that the locals are ready to give up. 

“There have been so many weeks of non-stop unrest, and I’ve spoken to locals, and they don’t see an end in sight,” they said. 

The constant turbulence has impacted the exchange student’s study abroad experience, and they are unsure if Georgia State should continue to send students there while the unrest is ongoing. 

“A little bit of me wonders if Georgia State knows the severity because I felt like, at one point, maybe, they should have cancelled the study abroad program. It does affect our study abroad experience, and I do feel like maybe my experience isn’t as pleasant as I would hope for it to be,” the student said. “Which is why I think I’m going to decide to not continue my experience next semester. Maybe this isn’t the right time for me to come here for an educational experience.” 

The Confucius Institute, an organization that is committed to promoting Chinese language and culture, declined to comment.


Is Hong Kong part of China? 

To better understand the current situation, the social and historical context needs to be explained first.

Unfortunately the answer isn’t an easy one. Hong Kong has a separate currency, maintains and patrols their border with mainland China and its citizens need “mainland travel permits” to enter China. 

China gave Hong Kong to the British in 1842 after the end of the First Opium War through the Treaty of Nanking. In 1898, after a series of subsequent wars and expansions and now in charge of the region, the British government obtained a 99 year lease on its newly conquered territory.

In 1997, at the end of the lease, the British Government handed Hong Kong back to China. However, the agreement that dictated the handover, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, mandated that the Chinese government could not interfere in the existing government or economy of Hong Kong for 50 years. 

This agreement led China to adopt the policy of “one country, two systems” plan in Hong Kong. This allows Hong Kong to remain capitalist, while the rest of China practices one-party socialism. 

So, on paper, yes, Hong Kong is part of China. But it wasn’t always, and Hong Kong’s government and economy ostensibly should remain separate from China’s until 2047.

Since the policy is temporary and mainland China restricts the flow of information and internet usage, Hong Kongers are more scared than ever of losing their relative sovereignty. 


Protests and Extradition 

So, why are Hong Kongers protesting? 

In 2018, a Hong Kong resident took his pregnant girlfriend — also a Hong Kong resident — to Taiwan and killed her. A Hong Kong police investigation resulted in a confession from the boyfriend. 

The Hong Kong police couldn’t arrest him for his confession because they don’t have legal jurisdiciton in Taiwan, where the murder took place, and they couldn’t extradite and try him in Taiwan. 

So, the Hong Kong government drafted an extradition bill, which would also allow for extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. Because the bill was widely seen as a violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the people of Hong Kong took to the streets in protest. 

Some protests were little more than groups of people standing outside of the Legislative Council, while at others, tear gas, rubber bullets and riot police were used against the demonstration. Protesters even managed to shut down Hong Kong International Airport two days in a row.

According to CNN, the protesters have five main demands: “Fully withdraw the extradition  bill, set up an independent inquiry to probe police brutality, withdraw the characterization of protests as “riots,” release those arrested at protests and implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong.”

So far, the only demand of the protesters that has been met is the withdrawal of the extradition bill.