On Oct. 1, an 18-year-old man was shot by police in Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong, China.
On the same day, thousands of 18-year-old Penn State students from China went about their Tuesday evenings at the University Park campus — but the act of violence that occurred that day still made its way to Penn State, even if indirectly.
Since April, protests and riots have been occurring in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world, triggered by a bill that would allow suspected criminals in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.
In the eyes of many, China has been overstepping its political boundaries, and should cede more power to Hong Kong or allow it to become independent. Meanwhile, China wishes to keep Hong Kong as a special administrative region.
The Chinese student population is University Park’s largest international student body.
There are many Chinese student organizations at Penn State, with the largest one being the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) which has over 100 officers and 20 sub-departments.
The group hosts galas, entertainment events and eSports tournaments to bridge the gap between Chinese and American students and help them become more involved.
Qiuchen Fan , the president of CSSA, is from mainland China. She said that being able to look at both Chinese and American media has allowed her to see the unequally distributed messages plaguing both sides of the Hong Kong debate.
“In the U.S., people keep saying that the police are acting violent toward the citizens of Hong Kong, but on the Chinese side, people are saying that [the protestors] are the ones beating the police up,” Fan (senior-hospitality) said. “I’m not saying that one side is fake, I believe both may happen. It’s just that both the [Chinese and American media] are one-sided.”
Fan added some of her friends from Hong Kong distrust the police, and that parents in Hong Kong are now conveying that same message to their children. She said she doesn’t think this rhetoric is a good thing.
“I try to avoid conversations about [the Hong Kong protests] with friends, because when we talk, I know there will be different opinions,” Fan said. “I think a lot of students [at Penn State] are trying to avoid political conversations. Once you reach that line, it just becomes more difficult.”
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Protests have occurred in Hong Kong, a former British colony, since its reassimilation into China in 1997 — but this series of political riots and demonstrations may hit closer to home for many students, especially those from Hong Kong.
Mingtian Yang , the communications department coordinator of the CSSA, went to high school in Hong Kong before attending Penn State. He said many of his high school friends have different opinions than he does.
“Things are different now than when we were studying together,” Yang (senior-computer science) said. “I’m worried that sharing my opinions would mean never talking to some of them again.”
However, Yang said he disagreed with Fan’s opinion that the media are biased in how they have been depicting this series of events.
He said he believes the media’s job is just to describe things that happen, which he said is what both sides have been doing.
“[The media] did describe what happened in Hong Kong. Some of [the stories] may be extravagant, but they’re still true,” Yang said. “The media just writes down what they see.”
Junsheng Shi , the graduate department coordinator for CSSA, said he felt the main reason for the protests is too much freedom in utilizing social media. He said people receive biased opinions from social media and view it as the truth, which prevents them from thinking critically.
“People from China think differently from people in the U.S., but the freedom of social media allows anyone to get out their worldviews,” Shi (senior-accounting and applied mathematics) said. “CSSA wants to encourage people to have their own thoughts. We don’t want to constrain political opinions, but we should have our own ideas, and not just about what’s on social media.”
Fan said social media can also convey a negative image about mainland China, and create a false narrative about what life is like there.
“[People from Hong Kong] don’t really understand what it’s like to live in mainland China. They think from seeing things on social media that the government monitors everything you say, but that’s not the truth,” Fan said. “I just feel really bad. I’ve seen the videos. Lots of people from mainland China work in Hong Kong, and some got beaten up by the protestors wearing black just because of that. I don’t understand why. “
“We’re from the same country.”