By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Thirty years later, his father still screams at night.
“My father was in prison doing hard labor in a communist camp for seven years,” said Tien Ha, a Seattle real estate developer who came here from Vietnam 25 years ago. “It was brutal. He is very traumatized. Up until now, I could still hear him screaming at night from the past.”
Now, as millions of Hong Kong people resist a law that could send any one of them to prison in communist China, Ha wants to do something.
“I see the parallel, they could do the same thing,” he said. “It’s the same thing going on, whether the person is guilty or not.”
Ha and others are calling for people in Seattle and around the country to support the students and others in Hong Kong that are calling for their guaranteed legal protection from arbitrary arrest, detainment, and disappearance into China’s prison system.
Students in Hong Kong are aware of reports of forced organ harvesting practiced on imprisoned members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, which China deems a cult aimed at overthrowing the government.
“The extradition bill is only the trigger for all these underlying issues,” said Corina Kwok De Los Santos.
Kwok, 35, moved to Seattle five years ago. On Aug 25, she helped lead a rally of about 70 people in Westlake Plaza to support Hong Kong. Her parents, brother, and sisters are still living in Hong Kong.
“They know that China has been doing stuff like this,” she said. “The reason why the people of Hong Kong are worrying is about the fear of the communist party, and the extradition law is the trigger.”
In a news release, organizers of the Aug. 25 rally said the purpose of the gathering was “to let Washington state and Seattle residents know about the bill that is currently in Congress, H.R. 3289—Hong Kong Human Rights And Democracy Act of 2019, and what this bill can achieve and help to solve the current crisis in Hong Kong.”
Seen and unseen fears
Another group calling for action in Seattle and around the United States is the Seattle Bruce Lee Fan Club, which 13 years ago successfully organized resistance to a wildly popular show of dead bodies from China, called “Bodies: The Exhibition.”
The bodies had been encased in plastic, but were leaking fluids, and eventually most were found to have come from political prisoners executed in northern China, according to ABC News.
“There is definitely a legitimate human rights concern by Hong Kong about China imposing an extradition law on Hong Kong given China’s human rights violations of executing prisoners,” said Charlette LeFevre, director of the Seattle Bruce Lee Fan Club, in an email.
“We became very familiar with China’s unjust court system and use of prisoners via the very visible ‘Bodies: The Exhibition’ displays,” she said.
The Seattle City Council eventually passed a resolution banning the exhibit, which had attracted millions nationwide.
The group that held the rally at Westlake Mall, a collection of volunteers calling themselves SEArious for Hong Kong, says some of what they feared has already come to pass.
They cite the disappearance of prominent publishers into China, the removal of justly elected legislators, and say that Hong Kong police have just arrested two American journalists. All these actions, they insist, are violations of the Basic Law that China signed with Britain to guarantee a different legal system for Hong Kong until 2047, under an agreement known as “one country, two systems.”
“They are trying to fight for what they are promised in the basic law,” said John Chan, 43, whose mother is still in Hong Kong. “They are not trying to overthrow the government.”
Awe from abroad
Students in Hong Kong have adopted a leaderless, flowing approach to deal with police and government violence, retreating when necessary, seeking alternate routes for protest, and scattering when necessary.
According to the Washington Post and other news outlets, their tactics are based on a saying by Bruce Lee, “Be like water.”
LeFevre said that Bruce Lee is “perhaps the most famous Chinese man in the world,” and that his approach to conflict was part of his commitment to justice and righteousness.
Residing, studying, and working as an actor for many years in Seattle, his memory ties the two cities together, she said.
“Bruce Lee was a son of Hong Kong and Seattle, and of the world. For us, there is no doubt that if Bruce Lee were alive today, he would be standing alongside the Hong Kong protesters fighting for democracy, justice, and equality,” said LeFevre.
“It is scary and frightening to be a protester,” she added, recalling her days protesting the WTO in 1999 in Seattle.
Ha, the developer originally from Vietnam, admires the bravery and persistence of the students.
“The protesters are mostly students, teenagers. They are very young and they are not afraid to stand up to speak for what they believe and what they want,” he said.
“This is the longest protest in Hong Kong history. To organize it is not easy,” he added.
A call for action
As Congress mulls a bill to support human rights in Hong Kong, called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, the supporters in Seattle are planning more rallies.
Ha is planning to support the Seattle Bruce Lee Fan Club to plan future rallies, possibly on future Sundays in Westlake Plaza or Hing Hay Park.
“The young Hong Kong people deserve support world wide. In a lot of countries, everyone is standing in awe of the protesters in Hong Kong,” he said.
However, in other cities around the world, pro-Hong Kong rallies have been met with counter rallies by people in support of the Hong Kong police and the Chinese government.
In London, Vancouver, Auckland, New Zealand, and other cities around the world, supporters of Beijing have torn down protest walls put up by supporters of Hong Kong while holding counter rallies, according to the New York Times and the BBC.
The Aug. 25 rally in Westlake did not attract any counter protesters, but organizers suspect it may have been because of heavy police presence.
As for any future rallies in Seattle, the prospects for clashes—or even the ultimate effects of such rallies—is not entirely clear.
“In terms of a march here in support of the protests in Hong Kong, it will demonstrate solidarity for what appears to be the vast majority of Hong Kongers who support the demands for the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent investigation of police behavior, and perhaps the resignation of Carrie Lam,” said David Bachman, professor at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington (UW).
“But a demonstration here is not going to affect anyone’s calculus in Hong Kong. And a peaceful march here may generate a counter demonstration by pro-PRC supporters,” he said.
But organizers are not intimidated. “I’m not worried about who is going to stand up against me, I’m only worried about what is the right thing to do,” said Ha. “Government is to serve people not to create distress or repress people.”
Still, some scholars worry that demonstrations in support of Hong Kong could be seen as a condemnation of China in general and all Chinese immigrants here.
“We should protest and promote targeted sanctions and boycotts of Chinese corporations and political leaders who benefit from the camp system in Xinjiang and who are complicit in oppression in Hong Kong,” said Darren Byler, a lecturer at the UW who studies systems of repression used in Xinjiang and other parts of China.
“The important thing is to be clear that we are opposed to authoritarian power, Islamophobia, and imperialism in all forms (including in the United States) while at the same time we embrace all immigrants, particularly from places like China,” he said.
“It is important to differentiate institutions of oppression from groups of people,” he added.
Organizers here insist they only want to help their home.
“If we can try to tell all the people in America that believe in justice and democracy and human rights, please reach out to your senators and congressional representatives and ask them to support this law for human rights and justice,” said Kwok De Los Santos.
Some volunteers from her group have offered to join future rallies organized by the Seattle Bruce Lee Fan Club in Westlake Plaza or Hing Hay Park in the Chinatown International District.
The Seattle Bruce Lee Fan Club asks anyone interested in joining future rallies to email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Seattle-Bruce-Lee-Fan-Club-2055532604738649.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.