In what represented the first clash within New York City’s Chinese community over the recent political unrest in Hong Kong, scores of pro-Beijing demonstrators this weekend staged a counter-protest in Chinatown against hundreds who came out in support of the anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Anna Cheung, an activist who founded NY4HK, which stands for New Yorkers For Hong Kong, said Saturday marked the first time her group has encountered a pro-Beijing counter-protest. Altogether, she has organized four solidarity rallies in New York since the demonstrations in Hong Kong began.
“They were throwing bottles,” she said, about the counter-protesters. “This has never happened to us before.”
The incident, which was captured on video, appeared just as the NY4HK protesters were beginning to march across the Manhattan Bridge.
Tensions at the event were already high, she said, because prior to Saturday’s event, some members of her group had discovered threats against them on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging platform. The photos, which Cheung shared with the NYPD, showed an AK-47 as well as a handgun and bullets. She said in one of the messages, which were all in Chinese, an individual said he was “ready with the AK-47.”
A WeChat message issuing a threat to pro-Hong Kong supporters. (Courtesy of NY4HK)
Hundreds of Chinese New Yorkers gathered around Confucius Plaza on Saturday to show their solidarity with the protests in Hong Kong. The rally was one of several planned in cities across the world, including London, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne. The events were meant to precede a demonstration on Sunday In Hong Kong, when an estimated 1.7 million people turned up to march in peaceful protest on the main road of a shopping district.
What democracy and peaceful protest look like: 1.7 million people marching yesterday in Hong Kong's Victoria Park. pic.twitter.com/ubJpgduSjh
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 19, 2019
The Hong Kong protests began in June as an objection to a bill that would allow suspects of crimes to be extradited to mainland China, but has since evolved into a pro-democracy movement that has included tense and at times, violent confrontations with police. China has not intervened in the protests, but in recent days a Chinese paramilitary force has been performing drills and exercises within view of Hong Kong, in what is interpreted as a warning to the activists.
In New York, the activists in support of the Hong Kong demonstrators called on the crowd to not be intimidated by the other side, who stood waving Chinese flags and carried signs the read, “Love China Love Hong Kong,” “Violence under the name of democracy still violence,” and “Stop Biased Fake News.”
“I challenge you to do the same in Beijing,” shouted one of the protesters to the pro-China group. Saturday’s rally for Hong Kong was conducted in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
Many of the members of NY4HK wore bandages or eye patches over their right eye, which has become a symbol of the protest movement after a video of a demonstrator with a bloody eye went viral earlier this month. The young woman had been hit in the eye by a projectile during a protest.
Saturday's competing protests illustrated New York's diverse and often politically opposed Chinese communities, which make up the city's second largest foreign-born demographic. The large wave of Chinese immigrants who arrived during the 1960s were mainly Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and Guangdong province in China. Over the decades, they were followed by Taiwanese immigrants and later those from the city of Fuzhou, who speak Mandarin along with their own dialect.
Zishun Ning, a tenant and worker activist at Lower East Side Organized Neighbors who frequently talks with members of the Chinatown community, said the division along the issue depends on whether the person is from Hong Kong or China. Both sides, he said, can easily mobilize through the various Chinese associations that operate in the city.
Ning, who has followed the protests but not participated on either side, said that he viewed the anger as stemming from soaring rents and working conditions, issues which have not been a centerpiece of the protests.
"I think people feel frustrated," he said, but he added that the movement "is not addressing the root cause."
Pro-Beijing sentiment become steadily more prominent in New York City in recent years. In July, when President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan visited, a pro-Beijing group showed up in front of the Grand Hyatt to protest her stay, shouting, “Down with Taiwan!” and “Unify China!” A Reuters photographer witnessed a brawl between members of the rival demonstrations that was eventually broken up by NYPD.
Several days ago, a protest installation in support of the Hong Kong uprising appeared in front of a construction site along Grand Street. The display includes roughly 100 post-it notes with messages of support, both in Chinese and English, for Hong Kong. It is labeled as a “Lennon Wall,” a reference to a wall in Prague, which was originally a tribute to John Lennon after his death but later became an emblem of Czech protests against the Communist regime.
According to Bowery Boogie, the installation is at the site of seven-story condo project.
A "Lennon Wall" installation has appeared on Grand Street in Chinatown. (Elizabeth Kim / Gothamist)
(Elizabeth Kim / Gothamist)
UPDATE: The story has been corrected to reflect that Fuzhou is a city, not a province.