This year’s October 1, or Chinese National Day, is a day that will be forever remembered in history. To mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing was awash in fireworks, thousand-person performances, and an extravagant parade in front of Tiananmen Square. The massive-scale celebrations were a stark contrast to what was happening in Hong Kong, where thousands of pro-democracy protesters flooded the streets, clashed with police, and set Chinese national flags on fire.
The contrast in sentiment was encapsulated in an incident on the eve of National Day at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). A mainland student claimed that she and her two roommates, who are also from mainland China, were harassed by local students supporting the protests after she put up a flag outside the window of her dorm room on the night of September 30.
Per a WeChat blog post (in Chinese) written by the alleged victim, Sophie Yan, a junior at the CUHK business school, hung the flag around 9 p.m. that evening and expected to have it placed for a whole day on October 1 as a sign of patriotism. But about two hours after she put up the flag, a post appeared in a Facebook group full of CUHK students. Accompanying a photo of the controversial display, the post’s owner wrote, “Ahead of October 1, beware of a flag bearer.”
The post swiftly attracted a number of comments from local students who denounced the activity. “It’s time to go wild,” a person wrote, suggesting retaliation against the mainland students. In response, another person wrote, “Don’t kill them.”
According to the WeChat article, the verbal threats on social media soon escalated into real-life harassment and vandalism. Around midnight, people started to congregate outside the dorm. Yan wrote that the protesters cursed at her in Cantonese and some of them tried to break into her apartment. Terrified of a potential altercation, the student called the contact person for emergency issues in the dorm building. But after some school staff members came and forced the crowd to leave, protesters assembled again on the floor of Yan’s dorm room and started sticking photos of CCP leaders in the hallway.
On October 1, the alleged victim filed complaints with CUHK authorities and decided to move the flag inside per their suggestions. But the dispute didn’t end there. On Monday evening, local students convened again outside her dorm, singing “Glory to Hong Kong,” a Cantonese march song that has been adopted as a symbol of the pro-democracy movement. Some protesters also directed laser pointers at Yan’s dorm room. After consulting with the security department of the school, Yan and her roommates were transferred to another dorm for their safety.
“I put up the flag not because I love my country blindly or I was hot-blooded for a moment. I was purely intending to express my simple patriotism on a campus littered with wounds and scars,” Yan wrote. “These protesters had no idea who we are and had no interest in learning about our thoughts.”
Originally posted on WeChat, the article, full of audio and video recordings that documented the harassment, was widely shared on multiple social media platforms on the Chinese internet. On WeChat, it has been viewed more than 100,000 times and has received more than 20,000 likes.