A group of University of Manchester students protesting in solidarity with anti-government campaigners in Hong Kong were met with opposition from patriotic Chinese students.
The demonstration started near Manchester Museum on October 1, the National Day of China, which marks the 70th anniversary of Communist rule.
Campaigners chanted “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”, and started walking towards the city centre after becoming aware of a counter-protest.
One participant said: “They [the counter-protestors] were singing their national anthem, just pushing us even, that’s a big threat so that is why we [were trying to leave] our University to go to Piccadilly Gardens but they were following us.”
The protest reached a standstill on the junction of Oxford Road and Portland Street. Those in support of Hong Kong stood outside Turtle Bay and the Paramount Wetherspoons pub, while Chinese nationalists gathered opposite. A police van separated the two groups.
One participant standing with the Chinese nationalists said he had seen similar clashes in London, and he had come down to be “crowd control” as he “didn’t want to see it happen again”.
The counter-protestors held up Chinese flags, with some wearing stickers of the Chinese flag on their faces. One told The Mancunion the Hong Kong students “made a scene,” and as it was the Chinese national day they were “trying to make a statement”.
“The Chinese are very patriotic, we take the national integrity as a priority, it is a difficult situation the tension has been growing for decades… China’s side emphasises more of the ‘one-state’ [ideal] …they [Hong Kong protestors] think they should secede from mainland China, and as it is our national day, people got offended and made a counter-protest.”
The day was given extra intensity after a teenage activist in Hong Kong was shot at “point-blank range,” with witnesses commenting that the bullet was three centimetres away from his heart, according to The Guardian.
A supporter of the Hong Kong protestors said: “I don’t think they really know what’s happening, because of the state controlling the media back in China. When they see anything anti-China, anti-Chinese government they protest.”
Another supporter said she wanted the Hong Kong government to: “Treat the protestors as protestors, stop attacking them”. She held up a poster that referenced Tiananmen Square to “annoy” the counter-protest, but also highlight the similarities between the historic protest and the demonstrations going on in Hong Kong today.
Hong Kong has been a part of China since 1997 but has its own system of law and government – known as One Country Two Systems. Protests over a proposed extradition bill – that would have made it possible to extradite to China – have dominated the streets of Hong Kong since June.
That law has been scrapped but protestors have kept up their momentum and turned their campaign into a pro-democracy movement.
“The government is non-stop suppressing our protests, which are for justice for human rights for freedom. We hope the international community can stand with us” a protestor called Denis told The Mancunion.