HONG KONG – My tutorial-chat today in the crowded campus cafe began innocently enough, with me asking one Chinese student from the mainland why she wanted to come study journalism in Hong Kong, and not stay back home.
After listing several reasons, she punctuated her response with: “My father says China is no good. He says the Communist Party will collapse.”
That set the other group members atwitter, in Mandarin. I asked what the buzz was about. “Oh, you can’t say that publicly in China,” one explained. Never know who may be listening.
These students have only been in Hong Kong three weeks, but quickly discover the essence of what makes this place, as I call it, “China with an asterisk.” This unique policy of “One Country, Two Systems” makes Hong Kong the one sanctuary for freedom of expression in all of China.
My student’s comment about the Party seemed to embolden her colleagues. The floodgates swung open.
A second young woman lamented that the central government “concentrates efforts on big projects, but nothing for the people at the bottom of society, who lag behind. They say all of China is in harmony, but there are so many voiceless people. I want to give them an opportunity to be heard.”
A young man who worked a short stint at China state television chimed in. “The problem is that they try to hide the reality,” he said. “One viewer criticized our station: ‘You tell us everything but the truth.’”
Then why return, asked the one Hong Konger in our group.
Hope. That’s why, explained the fourth mainlander.
“You have to believe it will get better and better,” he said, earnestly. “Even if you don’t believe it sometimes.”
From my front-row seat, I listened … in awe.