Like many Hong Kong residents, Candy Kwok is anxious. And it’s not just because she fears the government might use more force against her and other protesters who’ve flooded the financial hub’s streets in recent weeks.
As a single mom, Kwok worries about her 12-year-old daughter’s future in a city where home prices have surged 170% in a decade and the wealth gap keeps widening. She thinks living standards are dropping and that migrants from mainland China are siphoning resources from long-time residents.
Her concerns underscore the challenges facing Hong Kong’s government and its backers in Beijing as they try to quell the former British colony’s worst political crisis since the 1997 handover. While the demonstrations began as a fight over a controversial extradition bill, they’ve morphed into an expression of deeper anxieties that have the potential to linger indefinitely.
On a Sunday morning, Kwok rode a bike to church on Lantau Island. Dressed in a white polka-dot dress and a straw hat, the web designer cheerfully greeted fellow worshippers but steered clear of politics. Her congregation includes people who have been protesting and members of the police force, so it’s important to be considerate, she said.
After church came the most important part of the day: Marching with her daughter and thousands of other people in the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district to protest the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to jurisdictions including China. The demonstrators’ ire intensified after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the bill was “dead” but not formally withdrawn.
Kwok’s daughter marched quietly, looking at her phone only a few times and asking to go home near the end because she was tired. The 12-year-old can knowledgeably debate the implications of allowing extraditions to China and says the protests are intended to ensure that her generation can have a future.
Kwok, meanwhile, has become an active member of a group called “Housewives from Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and the Outlying Islands who oppose extradition to China.”
The group collected more than 6,000 petitions against the bill last month, and members march together and share information on Facebook.
“Mostly it’s for my daughter,” Kwok said. “I don’t want to leave behind a worse society for the children.”
Kwok worries that young people will struggle to buy their own homes because of skyrocketing prices. And she fears that an influx of people moving in from the mainland takes vital resources away from Hong Kong natives.
More than 1 million people from China migrated to Hong Kong between 1997 and 2018, and these new immigrants now represent about 14% of the city’s population, according to government data.
“There is a lot of unfairness in society, that’s why the protests can sustain,” Kwok, 40, said in her apartment in a public housing estate. “This anti-extradition law protest is just a trigger point.”
Kwok has memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, when the Chinese army retaliated against student protesters. On June 12, as the Hong Kong police fired tear gas during clashes with protesters, she grew worried about the possibility of a more violent response from the government.
Kwok and her daughter have been marching peacefully, but the recent weeks have been worrisome ones for her. During the night of July 1, when some protesters stormed the city’s Legislative Council, she watched the scenes on a Facebook live feed and couldn’t fall asleep.
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