Tens of thousands of HK students kick off unconventional start to school term with some in protest gear, human chains

04-Sep-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Tens of thousands of school and university students in Hong Kong opted for an unconventional start to the term as many donned yellow helmets, goggles and gas masks, while some formed human chains at school gates in a bid to spread their anti-government messages.

On Monday afternoon, an estimated 4,000 students, mainly from secondary schools, braved torrential rain for a rally at Edinburgh Place in Central, and attended civic education talks by teachers, social workers and health care professionals under theme of “boycott classes but not education”.

Their peers in tertiary education held an estimated 30,000-strong assembly at Chinese University, launching a class boycott expected to last for two weeks.

The rallies followed a weekend of heightened violence in the city: anti-government protesters lobbed petrol bombs and set the streets on fire while riot police fired two gunshots and used blue dye from water cannon trucks for the first time.

Students take part in the class boycott at Ying Wa College in Cheung Sha Wan. (SCMP)

Students take part in the class boycott at Ying Wa College in Cheung Sha Wan. (SCMP)

Hong Kong has been rocked by months of political unrest sparked by opposition to the now-shelved extradition bill, which if passed, would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China, among other places, for trial.

Demonstrators’ demands also include an inquiry into police handling of the protests and electoral reforms, among other things.

On Monday morning, the first day back at school for pupils after the summer break, thousands of them staged creative protests across the city.

Eight students from St Francis’ Canossian College, the alma mater of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, kneeled in front of the entrance to the girls’ school in Wan Chai, urging Lam to hear their voices.

“Compared with what the frontline protesters have done for us, kneeling down is really nothing. Don’t worry about us, let’s get some rest today and we will continue to fight tomorrow,” the group wrote on Instagram.

In Causeway Bay, about 200 Queen’s College alumni and students in the safety gear commonly worn by protesters helmets, googles and masks held hands and formed a human chain at the entrance, singing the school song and chanting anti-extradition bill slogans, including the popular rallying cry, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.

The school’s statue of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China, was geared up with a helmet, goggles and a gas mask.

I hope adults can listen to us, because it is our future that is most at stake

Billy Chan, Form Six student

In Shau Kei Wan, students and alumni from Shau Kei Wan government School, Shau Kei Wan East government School and Salesian English School also joined hands in the morning and formed a human chain.

“We hope more students can be aware of the seriousness of the extradition bill,” said Yannis Ho Tsz-yan, a Form Six student.

In the afternoon, more than 200 pupils from six schools in Chai Wan and Siu Sai Wan, including Christian Nationals’ Evangelism Commission Lau Wing Sang Secondary School and the Chinese Foundation Secondary School (CFSS), also linked arms.

A CFSS Form Six student surnamed Wong, who took part in the human chain, said she was able to balance protest and studies.

“I sacrifice my time to protest. But I still spend most of my time studying and fulfilling my responsibilities as a student. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

In the afternoon, locals in Siu Sai Wan joined in. Social worker and CFSS alumnus Frank Li, 27, was among them. “These students are trying their best to let their voices be heard,” Li said. “It just shows how much they value their future.”

Several schools had to fend off accusations police were called to maintain order. They said residents made the call.

In a statement, St Catherine’s School for Girls said: “We understand that some residents reported to police after loud chants were made by alumni gathered at the school gate. Officers arrived to take down their ID card numbers, after which the alumni left without being arrested.”

It added: “The school reiterates that our campus is a place for learning. We will seek to ensure students learn in a peaceful and respectful environment.”

Riot police were also present outside La Salle College. One student was asked to present his ID, provide his phone number, and had his backpack checked.

Education chief Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the first day of school was generally fine.

“People see many police on the scene, they were there to maintain order, to keep people safe. I don’t think we should see it as ‘white terror’,” he said.

“The opening of the term is largely good, traffic is mostly fine. Most schools told us their operations were normal,” he continued. “Of course, individual schools had students, alumni or other people making a silent stand or human chain, but those students went back into schools for lessons.”

On reports of bullying of children of police officers and personal alarms issued to them, Yeung said he was confident schools could handle the matter.

“Teachers and parents will reach their own agreement on what should be brought to school … I will leave it to individual schools to make that call,” he said.

After 12pm, more than 4,000 students arrived at Edinburgh Place to attend a strike rally organised jointly by pro-democracy groups Demosisto, Demovanile and Anti-Foo.

Most schools required a parent’s letter for students to skip classes. Two Form Three pupils said they took leave from school for the whole day and arrived at Edinburgh Place at 9.30am.

Form Six student Billy Chan from St Paul’s College said it was important to make a visible stand.

“What sets this rally apart from all others is this consists only of students, which can best represent the voices of youth. I hope adults can listen to us, because it is our future that is most at stake,” the 17-year-old said.

At the Chinese University rally, students took turns making their voices heard.

Quoting former US president John F Kennedy, a female student representative said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

A masked speaker, who claimed he was a University of Hong Kong student, said one of the five protesters’ demands had to be revised.

Instead of a probe, he said police should be dissolved.

Radical protesters struck again in the evening, damaging turnstiles and tickets machines and spray-painting slogans at University MTR station.

Meanwhile, the students’ union of City University held their own “inauguration ceremony”, marking the start of the new academic year with an anti-government rally on the Kowloon Tong campus.

Scores of students chanted slogans as they marched around the school. They also hung a big banner that read: “Five Demands. Not One Less” on the main entrance of the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre on the campus.

CityU president Professor Way Kuo led more than 20 senior campus officials to greet about 200 new students at an annual camp.

Reporting by Victor Ting, Joanne Ma, Nicola Chan, Kelly Ho, Gigi Choy, Sum Lok-kei and Linda Lew




Category: Hong Kong

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