“I’d rather die than return to Communist-ruled Hong Kong”: Anti-China protesters in exile in the U.S.

“I left Hong Kong in a rather unusual way, and not in a legal way. I’m not at liberty to tell you how,” said Kenny, 26, “My only thought at the time was that if I gave interception, I would die. I would jump into the sea and die rather than go back to Communist-ruled Hong Kong.”

It was Kenny’s fourth month in the United States. Wearing round-rimmed glasses and a red and black checkered shirt, he is reading a book entitled The Outlaw Ocean, about crime at sea. The Nikon SLR in his hand is attached to a small charm that reads “Restoration of Hong Kong”.

He lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with two roommates, also from Hong Kong, and is usually in charge of his family’s meals, which include Hong Kong-style homemade dishes such as barbecue pork, marinated chicken wings and brisket.

He has a peace sign tattooed on his arm, which he laughingly refers to as a symbol of “peace and justice”. It’s hard to connect the gentle “young man” in front of him with the “tyrant youth” in the pro-China media. Behind his seat hangs a banner that reads “Hong Kong is not China,” a vague indication of where the title may have come from.

Kenny, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, had little interest in politics in the past. With a steady job as a civil engineer and leisure time spent partying and playing games with friends, his life was not too different from most young people in Hong Kong, and the word “exile” was even more distant to him.

As he grew older, Kenny saw more and more groups from mainland China moving to Hong Kong with their own lifestyles and dialects. Although he worries that Hong Kong’s local culture will gradually fade, since it doesn’t have a personal impact on him, it’s okay to live with it.

“The Hong Kong government kept pushing people from China into Hong Kong, and their behavior was not acceptable to Hong Kong. I hated it very much at the time. But I’m not going to do anything, nasty is nasty,” he said, adding, “I’m still a ‘Hong Kong pig’ until June 2019, and I don’t care about anything.”

Kenny added that Hong Kong does have its share of sensible mainland Chinese, but the ratio is still much less than the “rampaging, buying” mainlanders common in places like Sheung Shui, Yuen Long and Tin Shui, “at a ratio of about 1 to 1,000,” he, who used to live in Yuen Long The ratio is about 1 to 1,000,” said the former Yuen Long resident.

Life takes a turn for the anti-sending campaign

In June 2019, Hong Kong’s anti-China campaign erupted, with millions of people taking to the streets to express their discontent with the Hong Kong government. Many, like Kenny, took to the streets with long-pent-up anger.

“The Send China Ordinance is really outrageous. If I said something similar on Facebook or Instagram, would I send China? Then my 20 years of so-called freedom of speech in Hong Kong would be gone, and this is something you told me I could keep, but now you’re suddenly sneaking in a law that wants to shut us Hong Kong people up, and I just don’t think it’s really okay,” Kenny said.

When the anti-China campaign first started, Kenny couldn’t even curse at police officers on the street and didn’t know how to fight, let alone do anything more drastic. But that month, he slowly saw the Hong Kong government’s negative response to people’s demands and the violence of the Hong Kong police against protesters, so excessive that he could no longer stand it.

“I knew that if I didn’t fight back, Hong Kong, myself, and my next generation, I felt that Hong Kong people would be exterminated,” he said.

Kenny has participated in almost every major demonstration since the anti-SEC demonstration, and whenever he sees news on the Internet, he drops everything he’s doing to go and support it. Whenever he saw police throwing tear gas canisters during the demonstrations, he would not hesitate to throw the smoke-filled canisters back to where the police were, laughing that he had developed an iron palm and was no longer afraid of burning his food.

In addition, from time to time, the police would ask for an early end to the demonstrations, and Kenny and his handlers stood at the forefront of the many demonstrators, confronting the police with sticks to ensure that the demonstrators at the back could leave safely.

Is Hong Kong still Hong Kong after seven or eight years of being locked up?

One day in mid-October 2019, Kenny and his friend had just finished their march when several police officers suddenly came running toward them. Subconsciously, Kenny and his friends pulled their legs out and ran, and the police didn’t stop chasing them. Just as they were about to lose the police, he heard a girl yell “Help!

“I was running fast and could have gotten away. But as an older brother, I couldn’t just run away like that. So I didn’t even think about it, I turned around and ran back to save people. After that, I accidentally injured that police officer and gave arrested.”

Kenny recalled that after his arrest, he was taken to a small room in the police station, two police officers beat him in the stomach and chest, beating until he fell to the ground, almost unconscious, but did not see the police stop. He was beaten so badly that he couldn’t open either eye and needed a doctor to open his eyes to remove the bruises, and his arm was broken.

“They called us thugs, and I think the police just beat us where no one could see us, and they acted worse than we did,” he said.

While out on bail, his lawyer told him that even if he turned himself in, he would still get seven to eight years in prison for the charge of beating a police officer. At the thought that when he gets out of prison, Hong Kong will not only have changed, but may be beyond repair, Kenny sees leaving as the only way out.

“If I get out after seven to eight years, is Hong Kong still the Hong Kong I knew? Has it become the mainland, or has it become a communist world? I just feel that if I don’t leave now, I will never be able to leave the clutches of the Communist Party,” he said.

Facing the risk of imprisonment, he had to leave Hong Kong

In the process of leaving Hong Kong, he was so determined to die that if he was intercepted, he planned to commit suicide by jumping into the sea, preferring death to returning to Communist-ruled Hong Kong. Fortunately, what he feared in the end did not happen.

“Many people said we were very brave to run away without taking anything with us. I don’t think I’m a very brave person either, I’m just a weak person. It’s because we were afraid that we left,” he said.

Seeing the 12 Hong Kong people who departed later arrested and sent to the center, Kenny couldn’t help but feel some survivor’s guilt. He lamented that if he had departed with the 12 Hong Kong people, he would not be sitting across from reporters talking now, but would have been buried at sea with his life.

In August 2020, 12 Hong Kong people were intercepted by the Guangdong Marine Police on their way to Taiwan on a speedboat while on bail, and were subsequently sent to China. Eight of them were sentenced to seven months in prison for smuggling across the border, and were transferred to Hong Kong from Shenzhen in March this year after completing their sentences, facing charges of allegedly violating the National Security Law and other charges.

Two others were sentenced to two and three years for organizing smuggling and are still serving their sentences in China. Two others, who were not charged because they were minors, were arrested and handed over to Hong Kong police on the same day.

“The 12 of them should not have to go through the situation they are in. They were simply there for the Hong Kong we live in, for the freedom we once had, and the justice in their hearts. They should never have had to leave Hong Kong by boat in the first place, and I think the Hong Kong government has really done a disservice to our new generation in Hong Kong,” he said.

Planning for a future of refuge in the United States

Kenny said he was able to leave Hong Kong and come to the United States thanks to the help and luck of many people. The U.S. government offered to assist by arranging the necessary documents and visas to come to the U.S. and explaining the asylum application. Once he had all the personal information, Kenny would begin the asylum application process. He believes it may be fate that allows him to stay in the U.S. and do something for the people of Hong Kong.

There are about 230,000 Hong Kong immigrants in the United States, mainly living in California and New York. Kenny estimates there are about 13 to 15 exiles in the U.S., a third of whom are also in Washington, D.C. He hopes that the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act will be passed as soon as possible to help more Hong Kong people come to the U.S. and increase the small force of Hong Kong people in the U.S. to implement some activities and bills in a more united manner.

In the future, he plans to join other exiles to promote Hong Kong initiatives, participate in lobbying efforts, and provide assistance to Hong Kong people planning to come to the U.S. in exile. He also plans to start his own YouTube channel to talk about the lives of Hong Kong people in the U.S. for those planning to move there, as well as to narrate the situation in Hong Kong for Americans to know, and to replace the voices of Hong Kong people who have lost their freedom of speech.

“Even if we go anywhere, as long as our hearts are in Hong Kong, we can do more to help our Hong Kong, not just run off to some other place and forget the Hong Kong we were meant to be,” he said.

Kenny believes that Hong Kong’s independence is the only way out, and that with the efforts of all people, the goal of restoring Hong Kong to the light will be achieved in the near future, and he will be able to return to Hong Kong in his lifetime. He does not regret all the things he has done in 19 years, nor does he regret leaving Hong Kong, which he sees as part of his destiny.

Kenny said, “So there will be worries in the future, but it’s okay, right, you can’t die anyway. When I left Hong Kong, after that experience, I thought, anyway, there is nothing to be afraid of, anyway, death is not afraid of it, I think it does not matter, just look ahead to rush it. Hong Kong people, we will see each other under the pot in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrators previously often go to the underground area of the Legislative Council in Admiralty to rally, post slogans and even temporarily occupy the way to express their demands. The cylindrical building of the Legislative Council Chamber is shaped like a rice cooker, which gives the area its name “under the pot.