Humans of KCL writer Niya Namfua interviews student Wesley Chan on how Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis has affected the city and himself.
A change in career path
“In my first year, I was too preoccupied with the political situation in Hong Kong to prioritize my studies. I did well, but it wasn’t my major source of stress. As law students, we have an almost predestined path in some way – study, then internships and eventually training contracts. It is a very stable route. However, now this route is broken down and it makes me consider what I want to do next. My initial goal was to become a lawyer but now I wonder if I really am a ‘lawyer person.’ I have been discovering a renewed interest in politics, community service, and activism … much more than pure legal analysis. The movement in Hong Kong, it is somehow intersectional, if that’s the word, as it engages with philosophy, politics and law. Studying [a Politics, Philosophy and Law degree] has really helped me find a vision and has also helped me through these difficult times.”
The situation back home
“At home, there is a lot of fear and anxiety, especially when I talk to my friends studying here. University to them is a phase they have to get through for their next employment. The movement triggered a massive uprising, but people still have to follow all these rules because there is no real alternative. When I study abroad, I get a fresh perspective. This month, however, I have felt really existential. Since the first of December, there have been mass arrests, trials and politicians going into exile… It is a very bleak reality.
“The scariest part is that all of this is happening at an increasingly accelerated rate – every day we are bombarded with news, watching principled people fighting for justice being punished. We are really heading in the direction of totalitarianism. It makes me wonder why I’m still studying for this degree, isn’t there anything more urgent to do? Should I go outside and rebel? I have been wrestling with these sentiments lately. I feel like there is a vacuum here. There is a cluster of problems here: the pandemic, the political situation, and people are in general struggling with the future. They don’t know where to go. I guess that’s the situation that I’m facing here.”
Coping with the mental toll of the crisis
“It is difficult to stay sane here. We are in a really hopeless situation. Initially, when I came back I was consumed by hopelessness. With all the content on social media and the news, it was really easy to give in. In Chinese we have a term for it, ‘lam chau’, which basically means at the very end of the movement people have advocated for this new sentiment, ‘if you burn you burn with us.’ It is a concept of mutually assured destruction. It is very self-destructive and it has penetrated every corner of the city since last year. This anger has consumed the city and if you stay here long enough- it consumes you too. Most of my friends don’t want to talk because they have lost hope. They are hurt
“The city itself is so broken, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by this destructive force. I have to distance myself from it because otherwise, you internalise this depressive and destructive emotion. Ultimately, action is the best medicine. I have tried to give back to my community in various ways such as volunteering at a food bank which has allowed me to talk to diverse groups of people. I think this is a way of dispelling fear, when there are people on the streets promoting hope – it gives people courage to follow suit. It is really about giving others a sense of hope and for you to find that hope as well. When I am engaged in helping and talking to people, I am not concerned about myself. I am concerned about others and when you have that shared experience- it alleviates your sense of loneliness. Everyone is going through this together. With this unwavering sense of solidarity, we can help each other out through these difficult times. Having meaningful relationships is the way to sustain yourself during this time.”
Having meaningful conversations and taking action
“I have been writing a lot since the beginning of quarantine. I find writing to be a big source of relief. Even though I do not see myself as an avid writer, writing for me enables me to clarify my thoughts when they feel tangled and form really heavy and depressing sentiments. A few months ago, I started joining reading groups- something I probably would have never done before. I enjoy talking about books with people from diverse backgrounds because as the conversation evolves, we discuss our different and similar views and values. We read books on histories of other countries, democratisation, and talk about our culture and our perspectives. Through the medium of the book, it helps us stay connected as we meet every week/ every few weeks. I have learned that the path to freedom is very difficult and very long. I need to have that patience. Learning, reading and understanding struggles of the past gives me hope that we can succeed”
“A few days ago, I hosted my first reading group, with some French and mainland students. My personal prejudice told me I shouldn’t be expressing myself too freely to these mainland students, but when we actually began to talk, it became a really meaningful experience. We spoke of our shared concerns and our thoughts about the future.
“Although we come from different backgrounds, we were able to listen to and respect each other. Even if we have very strong and different opinions, ultimately it is about restoring respect and tolerance that has become so lost in our daily interactions. This is why I want to keep doing this. It is an opportunity for Hong Kong students to share their experiences with the Western students, but also breaking down barriers with the mainland students. It is also important to talk about conflicts because it is a mutually beneficial way of conveying knowledge, tolerance, and respect. This process provides a way to connect with my community but also allows me to find an escape.”