Hong Kong and Myanmar—An Encounter on the Road to Democracy
by Annika Yan
This piece was first published HERE on Thursday 4 February 2021.
Imagine a youngster waking up one day, getting ready for their online university lessons, or their part-time job as a salesperson downtown, only to be told by their mother that all pro-democracy leaders have been arrested. Overnight, they find they are living in an autocracy, while the fresh memory of the youngster’s first vote lingers.
To an extent, this is all too familiar to students in Hong Kong, and many other Hongkongers who care deeply about the pro-democracy movement, especially after the gloomy night of 30 June, 2020 when the National Security Law came into effect. We wake up early, scroll on our phones to learn that yet another activist, or over 50 pro-democracy leaders, have been arrested. Now, it is an everyday reality for Myanmar students who also spent their childhood under a burgeoning democracy.
Yet the situation in Myanmar could be even grimmer. On 1 February, 2021, the youngster in Yangon pulls back the curtains and sees the military storming the streets outside their home. They are all armed. Their grandmother is even more worried than they are, having lived under military rule and experienced first-hand the cruelty of the Tatmadaw for half a century. She knows they would fire at you if you dare protested against them. The TV networks are cut off, and people can’t even open Facebook or call their friends. The TV is showing nothing but blackness, if one’s family is wealthy enough to afford one in the first place. They think about their university lessons, or summer classes at the institute run by the National League of Democracy (Aung San Suu Kyi’s party)—will the schools even be allowed to open again?
They can’t begin to understand how their life has turned upside down overnight. They only know that they have lost their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Unfortunately, these are true stories and sentiments relayed by my friends in Myanmar, many of whom are teenagers I taught English to for a summer at an institute run by the NLD.
In Hong Kong, we have tasted first-hand the anxiety, heartbreak and fury of being brutally deprived of our rights and freedoms. We fight for democracy amid increasingly stifling political oppression. Myanmar people who demand democracy are our allies. Thai Twitter users have been welcoming Myanmar to the “Milk Tea Alliance”—it is time for Hongkongers to welcome them too. Indeed, Myanmar is known not only for its milk tea (လဖက်ရည်), but also for its pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi since the 1980s (despite her international reputation being tarnished in recent years for defending the Rohingya genocide). Since 2011, the people of Myanmar have finally had the legitimate right to vote for their political leaders in a quasi-democratic electoral system. In one fell swoop, however, they were robbed of that hard-earned right once again. A new wave of the Myanmar civil disobedience movement has now begun.
On the day of the military coup, many youngsters changed their Facebook profile pictures to plain red (the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party), the map of Myanmar, the three-finger salute and more, expressing their discontent with the military. The next evening, Myanmar people rattled kitchen utensils such as metal pots and bowls on their balconies to protest against the military and expel evil spirits. The loud noises permeated street after street. On 3 February, front-line medical workers went on strike, wearing red ribbons to demonstrate against the military. Students declared their willingness to participate in the civil disobedience movement by sharing a Facebook post that included their age, university or profession. Some even vented their anger at the Chinese and Russian governments for refusing to condemn the military coup at the United Nations. At night, the sounds of pots being rattled and car horns grew even louder; phone screens lit up and were waved out of windows. On Thursday morning, Mandalay saw the first street protest against the military. The military is attempting to block Facebook and even the internet, but people are teaching one another how to use VPNs and shift to other social media platforms like Twitter. This is only the beginning of the civil disobedience movement.
As a Hongkonger, I closely observe the movement from 2000 km away, trying to contact friends in Myanmar and share updates from them however I can. A year ago, Hongkongers waved their bright phone torches, flocked to Twitter and Telegram and also took to the streets; healthcare workers went on strike and wore white ribbons to protest against the government. Despite the distance, Myanmar and Hong Kong now encounter each other on the road to democracy. May we reach our destination soon.
How to cite: Yan, Annika. “Hong Kong and Myanmar: An Encounter on the Road to Democracy.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 05 Feb. 2021, hkprotesting.com/2021/02/05/hong-kong-and-myanma/.
Annika Yan is a university student in Hong Kong, an activist, and a writer. She is passionate about human rights and freedoms. She protests with her pen, writing about Hong Kong so the world knows what is happening in her city. She has written fiction for Kyoto Journal and South China Morning Post, and hopes to publish her novel about Hong Kong someday. She can be found on Twitter.