HONG KONG • Medical sector worker Tana has attended peaceful lunchtime rallies in Hong Kong regularly for months, along with thousands of others protesting against Beijing’s influence and calling for greater democracy in the global financial hub.
Now, a year on from a mass rally that kicked off a large-scale and often violent anti-government movement, the 37-year-old and her husband fear not enough has changed.
The protests succeeded in forcing a backdown by the Hong Kong government on proposed legislation that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.
But a year later, the Beijing authorities are drafting national security laws that activists fear would further curb freedoms in Hong Kong.
For Ms Tana and her family, including a son born just before the protests began, pragmatism is beginning to trump idealism.
“I am most worried about my child,” she said, asking for her surname to be withheld for security reasons. The family has already shifted its savings abroad, she said, adding that “emigration might be an option”.
Among supporters of the protest movement, feelings range from slim hope to acute fear of oppression. After a relative respite during the coronavirus pandemic, protesters are again taking to the streets against the proposed security laws.
Officials said the laws would target a small number of “troublemakers” with provisions against secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
A retired 63-year-old woman, Ms Ng, is among those looking back at the past year with pride, and has pledged to keep demonstrating.
“A single spark can start a huge blaze,” she said, also asking to be identified by one name only. “The more the government suppresses us, the more resistant we become.”
Mr David, 22, who works in insurance and also declined to give his surname, said a mix of violent and peaceful tactics was needed for international attention.
The demonstrations have often turned violent, with protesters blocking roads, vandalising shops perceived to have pro-Beijing links, and throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails at the police, who have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
However, Mr Isaiah Choy, 21, who studies in Britain but came back to Hong Kong last year to take part in peaceful protests, said violent tactics should be abandoned. He also said he is frustrated with Hong Kong being treated as a “pawn” in US-China conflicts.
Washington – which has traded barbs with Beijing over trade, the coronavirus pandemic and other issues – says China has quashed the high degree of autonomy that Hong Kong was promised for at least 50 years when it was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing has dismissed the claim and urged Washington not to meddle.
The protests have strong support among Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people, according to opinion polls, with only about one-third of the population opposed.
A retiree who wanted to be known only as Mr Fu has embraced the often chanted slogan “if we burn, you burn with us”, referring to the belief that as a magnet for global capital, Hong Kong is the goose that lays the golden eggs for the mainland economy.
Mr Fu, 64, said he has lost many childhood friends because of his stance, but he has no regrets. “I’m a diehard fan of mutual destruction and Hong Kong independence,” he said.