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710: Umbrellas Down

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

When I first heard about the new Chinese national security law that went into effect this month in Hong Kong, the person I wanted to talk to about it is this Hong Kong protester that I will call Jennifer. Jennifer is somebody who I and a couple of other producers from our show spent time with and went to protest with last fall.

So many things that she said to us back then would now be illegal under the new Chinese law. In fact, any criticism of China or the Hong Kong government, anybody calling for democracy in Hong Kong anywhere in the world, could be prosecuted under this law.

Calling for the United States to support the protesters, which Jennifer did, that is illegal. If the Chinese decide that talking to reporters like us is collusion with foreigners, that would be illegal. Chanting at protests about Hong Kong independence has been declared illegal. Damaging subway stations is categorized as terrorism with severe penalties.

Books by activists have been removed from public libraries. People have been arrested for carrying pro-independence flags. China is setting up its own separate national security apparatus in Hong Kong to handle these cases. Maximum penalty-- life in prison.

What we're going to do today on our program is play you the episode that we made last fall about the Hong Kong protesters, where we tried to explain the feelings and the ideals behind the protests. And then, at the end of the hour, we will play you the interview that I just did with Jennifer this month on the second full day that the new law went into effect about the law.

If you're listening to the podcast version of our show and you heard this episode when we first put it out in the fall and you just want to jump to the new part with Jennifer, the new interview, it starts around 14 minutes from the end. OK, here's the episode.

It's nearly 2:00 in the afternoon when we reach Jennifer's family's apartment. She's just gotten up. She's still eating a very late breakfast.

Jennifer

I'll finish my noodles, then I'll start packing.

Ira Glass

I'm with my co-worker, Emanuele Berry, and we're in a quiet working class neighborhood in the part of Hong Kong that's called New Territories. It's a Sunday, so Jennifer is getting ready to do what she does every weekend-- what she did yesterday, in fact. That's why she slept late. She's going to a protest-- with a little backpack.

Jennifer

So this is the bag that I usually bring.

Ira Glass

So this is a maroon bag.

Jennifer

It's a very small one. We have to keep everything light. So I always have a bottle of water and many tissues. I have to bring a lot of tissues, because we need to wipe our eyes when there is tear gas. And because I know how to do first aid, I always bring my first aid kit.

Ira Glass

The first aid kit is a little zip-up bag with roller bandages and gauze and gloves and stuff to sterilize a wound. Jennifer started at the volunteer ambulance corps in seventh grade and has used all this stuff at demonstrations. She packs her wallet and her AirPods.

Jennifer

Because I have to listen to songs.

Ira Glass

Two batteries for her phone, because she's on it constantly during protests, checking the continuously-updated online maps that show where the police are and show escape routes. She packs a black T-shirt. The uniform of the Hong Kong protesters is black shirt, black pants, surgical masks to disguise their identities-- though she's wearing a striped maroon shirt for the bus ride to the protest.

Jennifer

Yeah, I wear a normal T-shirt when I go out so that no one can identify I am going to a protest. And sometimes I bring makeup so that I can transform myself after the protest.

Emanuele Berry

I don't understand. How do you transform yourself? Like, what's the--

Jennifer

I bring foundation-- very small, but can do everything.

Ira Glass

How different are you going to look with that foundation?

Jennifer

No, it looks like you're not going to protest. Because girls who are going to protest, they barely do makeup. But if girl is doing makeup, they're probably meeting someone. And so I bring this one. And then of course, I bring my brow pencil. Because it really can make you look like another person.

Emanuele Berry

Eyebrows are very important, I agree.

Jennifer

Yeah. [LAUGHS] And I bring lipstick. I'm sorry, it's a very small room.

Ira Glass

So we're in your room. Your room has pink walls. And there is a bunk bed with the bed on the top and a desk underneath it.

Jennifer

Yeah, it's very typical Hong Kong girl's room.

Ira Glass

For a Hong Kong protester to live at home with her mom and dad, that is not unusual in any way. If you know anything about the demonstrations that have overtaken Hong Kong since June, you know it's mostly young people in the city where rents are high. Jennifer is 22 and just graduated college. She's working her first entry-level job at a public relations firm.

I came to Hong Kong because there were things about the protests that I really did not understand. And we'll get to that. One of things that fascinated me once I arrived was learning what a routine the protests have become and what that was like for the people in them. This was mid-September, the 13th week of protests for Jennifer.

Jennifer

I'm not really worried because it's just like another day. I think I will meet up with two friends of mine. But I'm not sure if I am going to because they are couple, so I don't want to be-- [LAUGHS] they are couple, so I don't want to be-- they always kiss next to me. So, mm, yeah.

[PHONE RINGING]

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Ira Glass

Speak of the devil, it's her friend, the one who kisses her boyfriend at demonstrations. And she's calling with bad news. She was going to bring gas masks to the rally today. They'd order them from Amazon, Jennifer thinks. But now she's learned that bringing gas masks would be a bad idea, because at the subway station--

Jennifer

Police are searching everybody, including men, little ones, and young people like us. They're searching their bags. And if they have any equipment with them like the gas mask, eye mask, whatever, they just arrest them. Yeah. So my friend just asked me if it is a must for me to get the gas mask. So I told her that no, it is not a must. I don't want to risk my friend getting searched. So she told the other friend not to come out with equipment.

Ira Glass

Not ideal, but she's gone without gas masks before. Jennifer grabs her knapsack, says bye to her mom, who tells her to come home early, a request that will be totally ignored. And we head outside. But then she turns and runs back.

Ira Glass

What did you forget?

Jennifer

Uh, umbrella. It is very important to have umbrella.

Ira Glass

Even if it's not going to rain?

Jennifer

Yeah. It is not for the rain. It is for tear gas and bullets.

Ira Glass

Rubber bullets, that is.

Ira Glass

It works on bullets?

Jennifer

Yes. Frankly, yes. No, no, I don't understand why, but always, those bullets, they slip off along the umbrella. edge. So they just-- they don't get through the umbrella.

Ira Glass

Also, protesters hide behind a wall of umbrellas when they're painting graffiti or dismantling a closed circuit TV camera on the street, doing anything else they don't want the police to see. As she and I and Emanuele head to the bus stop, we notice other young people carrying full-sized umbrellas on this totally sunny day.

Emanuele Berry

Walking over here to the bus, are you looking around to see if-- other people you think are going to protest?

Jennifer

Yeah, you always want to know how many people are around you, right? Yeah.

Ira Glass

OK, and so there's some young people on our left, two people standing next to you.

Jennifer

I think the girl probably is not because she brings a very small bag. But the tall guy, the tall guy in white shirt--

Ira Glass

Mm-hmm.

Jennifer

Yeah, and then the couple behind you, probably.

Ira Glass

It's like, are you on my side? Are you one of us? Once you're at the protest, everybody's in a mask so you don't really know who's on your team. Here in the neighborhood, it's kind of exciting to wonder who your allies might be.

The protests in Hong Kong have been international news for months, kicked off by people's fears that mainland China is threatening some very basic things about their city and their lives. But for all the coverage here at our show, we felt like we weren't seeing many stories where we got to know anybody very well-- who they were, what exactly they expected was going to come out of the protests, given China's intransigence.

Three of us arrived in Hong Kong in mid-September, me and Emanuele and a co-worker, Diane Wu. I have to say, one of the things that was fascinating, given the ugly state of democracy here in the United States lately, was to be among so many young people who believe so intensely in democratic ideals and yearn so deeply for the basics, like normal elections and free speech and free assembly.

Though, just in the last few weeks since we got to Hong Kong, we've watched the situation changed dramatically. It's gotten much more violent, harsh new measures by the government.

This hour, we have the story of the change that we witnessed and what we think it might mean. If you haven't been following the story at all-- maybe you've been sitting this one out-- we're going to catch you up on what you need to know. We have all sorts of people from all sides of this that we want you to meet.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. This week, overseas with a lot of people who have some very American values. Stay with us.

Act One: Cursed Generation

Ira Glass

Act One, The Cursed Generation. OK, so what politicized thousands and thousands of people this much, that they've dropped their normal lives and they're coming out every single weekend to protest? It's now been 18 straight weeks.

Take Jennifer, for instance. She's somebody who worked at Abercrombie and Fitch during college. She told me on the bus to the protests that's why her English is so good. She's somebody who wanted to be a singer. Actually got a chance to go pro when she was 16, but her mom quashed that, saying it was too much of a long shot and she should get an education and get a normal job. Jennifer was actually very surprised when I informed her that an American parent might have said the same exact thing.

Jennifer

Oh, I thought American dreams can be true, something like that, because I watched Glee.

Ira Glass

So how did this Glee watching, internet savvy college grad in her first office job, how did she end up protesting in the street every weekend with tens or-- I don't know-- maybe it's hundreds of thousands of her peers? Well, for starters, Jennifer's 22, which means she's part of a special generation in Hong Kong.

Jennifer

I'm born in Hong Kong in 1997, right before the handover.

Ira Glass

And here's a protester we're calling Alice.

Alice

And I'm born in 1997.

Ira Glass

Here's her friend we're calling Tiffany.

Tiffany

I'm also born in 1997.

Yuen

You can call me Yuen, and I'm born in 1997.

Alice

So 1997 is the year when Hong Kong was handed over back to China from the British.

Ira Glass

OK, let's just pause on these 22-year-olds for a minute for some quick history. As you may or may not know, Hong Kong sits on the edge of mainland China, right? It was a British colony for a really long time, starting in the 19th century.

And then finally in 1997, the British got out. They handed it over to China. And the idea was, there was going to be a 50-year transition period. After 50 years, China would fully be in charge. But during that 50 years, Hong Kong would be a democracy.

Chris Patten

Now Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong.

Ira Glass

That's the last British governor of Hong Kong during the handover ceremony in 1997.

Chris Patten

That is the promise. And that is the unshakeable destiny.

Ira Glass

But to be clear, Hong Kong had not been a democracy under Britain. But they were going to transition towards it over a bunch of years. And the hope was, after 50 years, in 2047, the Chinese government would let them stay a democracy-- which, at the time, did not seem like a crazy idea.

China was opening up in all kinds of ways, though it wasn't clear how this was going to play out. And at the end of the day, after 50 years, in the year 2047, China was going to be able to do whatever it wanted in Hong Kong. These are the children born the year that clock started ticking.

Ira Glass

And have you heard of the phrase, "cursed generation"?

Yuen

Yes, it was a joke among the 1997 people.

Jennifer

It was pretty much a joke or pretty much a funny thing to us, because--

Alice

I think when we first joked about it, it's really primary schools, but--

Tiffany

The cursed generation is just what we've been joking around for all those years.

Ira Glass

Originally, the joke had to do with a coincidence. They were cursed because of some weird, bad luck during some big childhood milestones they all went through together, like the year of their kindergarten graduation, the SARS virus hit Hong Kong. And the city shut down, graduations were canceled.

Six years later, when they should have had their elementary school graduation, same thing happened again, but with swine flu. And Jennifer remembers that her friends joked that when they graduated high school, it was going to be Ebola. And that's when they started using the word "cursed."

Jennifer

I think that was around the time that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yeah, so many of us-- oh, we're the cursed child. Or we say that we are the chosen one because Harry Potter was the chosen one. All of us love Harry Potter. So we always think that, oh, we are the chosen one. We have to face something special in our life. Or we are the cursed one. We have to face something bad or face something significant.

Ira Glass

Jennifer says the "chosen one" side of things didn't really kick in until their senior year of high school. It was 2014. They were 17, the 17th year since the handover. And that year, people in Hong Kong were still expecting that mainland China was going to let them start holding full-on elections, where they could choose their own leaders, as promised back in 1997. And that year, China announced it wasn't going to happen.

This led to a movement called the Umbrella Movement, headed by young people, teenagers, who'd learned their politics in these public school classes that all these 22-year-olds talk about as being instrumental in their thinking, classes that began as part of the handover called Liberal Studies classes that explained, among other things, the promises of 1997 and the rights of Hong Kong citizens.

They took to the streets, most of them for the first time, demanding to vote, carrying umbrellas, thousands of people in a vast procession down the streets in a protest movement that was almost entirely peaceful. And they lost. They didn't get the vote. After three months, the protests ended.

Alice works for a multinational company in an entry level job out of college. She's a management trainee. She says she went to some protests back then out of solidarity with her peers.

Alice

I was just amazed by the other students.

Ira Glass

But she didn't really get all the politics. That changed in June 2019, when Hong Kong introduced the bill that would allow mainland China to extradite people from Hong Kong to be tried and punished in China under Chinese law.

This was seen as a new and very menacing encroachment on the rights of Hong Kong citizens. Since 1997, they'd been ruled by Hong Kong laws and Hong Kong courts. Everybody is presumed innocent with the rights we know in most democratic countries. Now anybody could get thrown into the prisons and courts of communist China.

Alice

I would say that was the time when I first feel awakened, when I'm truly understanding what's happening when I first go to the march of the no extradition bill. And I was very, very emotional at that time, because there is only around 7 million people in Hong Kong, but 1 million walk on the street with the same demand, with the same wish of having Hong Kong to remain its current state.

Ira Glass

Wanting Hong Kong to stay like it is, with its own laws, separate from China. A week later, 2 million people came out.

Alice

At the time, I was feeling very, oh my God, this is so touching. Why is people so united? And then the next second, the government just declares that, oh, we heard your voice, but we will be continuing on the bill on Tuesday. So that was a really big contrast.

And in the morning, you see how peaceful things were. But at night, you see the police coming out and start brutally hitting people. It was really unforgettable to me because that was the first time when I witnessed with my real eyes that the police is chasing people. They are chasing students who did not do anything and start to beat them and arrest them.

Ira Glass

Other 22-year-olds also told us how radicalizing it's been to see police tear gassing and beating peaceful protesters. And at this point-- I didn't understand this before we got to Hong Kong-- a lot of the emotion driving the protests is just about the police.

Alice

Because the government is supporting them to do such things. And there is no penalty for them, even if they are doing things that are completely unacceptable to everyone.

Ira Glass

Of course, nobody knows where this is going to lead by 2047, when China fully takes over Hong Kong. But for Jennifer and lots of other people her age, things are starting to feel pretty ominous. Was Hong Kong going to become just like any other Chinese city run by the communists?

Ira Glass

When you're 50, what do you picture life here will be like?

Jennifer

I can picture that I will be super depressed because I super comment on political things. I really cannot imagine that day that I cannot speak freely on internet, that we do not have that freedom of speech anymore. And I cannot imagine that there will come a day me and my friends commenting on the government would become a crime.

Ira Glass

And you think that would happen.

Jennifer

Yes, I do, when all the things that is happening in mainland China now, especially, I would say, in-- where is it-- Xinjiang.

Emanuele Berry

Xinjiang, mm-hmm.

Jennifer

Yeah, what is happening in Xinjiang will happen in Hong Kong.

Ira Glass

She's talking about internment camps, where the Chinese are holding perhaps a million Uighurs and others.

Jennifer

They say it's reeducation, but it's basically a concentration camp. They put people who do not agree with the government into the concentration camp and educate them. And they got monitored wherever and whenever they go. Everywhere is police. Police monitors everybody's move. And I do think that if we do not fight for our future, there will come a day Hong Kong would become like Xinjiang.

Ira Glass

Because she's politically active, this does not feel like an abstract threat. When these 22-year-olds picture who China's going to crack down on, it's them. Tiffany's also in her first job out of college. She works at a bank. She asked us to replace her voice with an actor's.

Tiffany

Who knows whatever they would do to us? And the extradition bill, who knows where we will go, what time we will disappear? That's what we fear of.

Ira Glass

Tiffany's heard of the social credit system that China has started to monitor and rate its citizens. She fears that if China decides that you're anti-government, it will make it impossible for you to get the job you want or rise in society.

And the devices that China uses to monitor its population, an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras around the country with facial recognition software, they've been going up around Hong Kong, tens of thousands of them.

Tiffany

Many, like me, are scared of being monitored and rated so that we will never, ever be free to do anything that we want under the monitoring of the Chinese government.

Ira Glass

This is something else I didn't understand before I came to Hong Kong. The protesters like Tiffany and Jennifer don't just fear what's going to happen to them in the future with extradition laws or losing the internet or losing free speech.

In their daily lives right now, they believe they're watching China already transforming Hong Kong, making it less like the Hong Kong they know and more like the mainland. Jennifer points to changes in the public school curricula, like, she says, her seven-year-old nephew is speaking Mandarin in school five days a week. It didn't happen when she was a kid. Mandarin is what they speak in mainland China. In Hong Kong, people mostly speak in Cantonese and in English.

Jennifer

So all the Chinese classes are conducted in Mandarin. So he speaks Mandarin everyday, basically. He speaks Mandarin better than English.

Ira Glass

Can you explain a little bit why Cantonese is so important?

Jennifer

Cantonese is more like an identity to us.

Ira Glass

It's part of what makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong. These days, when Jennifer pictures what her life is going to be like between now and 2047, she imagines her own kids going to public schools, not studying Cantonese, coming home and parroting the pro-government line that'll be the curriculum by then.

Jennifer

So I do love kids. I really want to have kids. I want to have a football team of kids, really. But I just cannot imagine the life they will be having in Hong Kong later on. I cannot promise my kid a happy life if I am not certain about what will Hong Kong become.

Ira Glass

You don't think there are children who are raised to be happy in mainland China?

Jennifer

Not the kind of happy that I think. Mainland China people, they think that they are happy because they can still live. But then we want things more than just surviving in this society. We look for rights and freedoms and human rights. But the mainland Chinese, they ignore all those things. They just think, having a stable life, having kids, having food, a good place to live in, is already happy enough. Yeah.

Ira Glass

Another change she says she's seeing right now in Hong Kong, she's upset at other mainlanders moving there in her neighborhood, and university students that she and her friends encountered at college. So many mainlanders, she says.

Jennifer

I just feel really weird because I am born and raised in Hong Kong. I go to a local school, but then I have to be surrounded by all the mainlanders.

Ira Glass

Does it bother you to be surrounded by mainlanders?

Jennifer

Yes, actually, quite. But then we have 150 new immigrants from China to Hong Kong every day.

Ira Glass

OK, I'm just going to pause the tape right there for a second. The total, by the way, is over a million mainlanders since 1997, roughly 45,000 a year. But I'm stopping the tape because I don't know how you're feeling about Jennifer, but this was a point we came to in a few interviews with these 22-year-olds. When you got them under the subject of mainlanders, get ready for a wave of totally bigoted opinions.

Jennifer

So, especially I live in New Territories. So all the people surrounding you, you hear Mandarin. And then you start to see those less-educated people. They're squatting next to the streets. I did witness a mainland lady having her children pee at the road. And I always hear mainland people yelling, shouting out for nothing in the mall. And always, they jump into the line. Everything-- it bothers me a lot.

Ira Glass

Squatting? What do you mean squatting?

Jennifer

I don't know. They just squat on the roadside, waiting people.

Ira Glass

They just sit and squat and wait.

Jennifer

Yeah, for nothing. They can squat for an hour.

Ira Glass

People in Hong Kong don't do that.

Jennifer

Yeah, we don't because who would squat at the road? Why you can't just stand? Or why you can't just sit?

Ira Glass

They're more comfortable.

Jennifer

It just doesn't look good. It doesn't look good. It doesn't look civilized.

Ira Glass

So for all the alarm that Jennifer and the cursed generation feel about the future, their parents are often not as alarmed about China taking more control of Hong Kong and about what the island's going to be like in 2047. Like Tiffany's parents, they hate her going out to protests every weekend.

Tiffany

I mean, for my parents, they-- we really have some very serious fights.

Ira Glass

And they think, we'll just let China take over Hong Kong, it'll be fine?

Tiffany

I think with our parents, some of the older generation just don't believe, or they are not brave enough to open up their eyes and see what is actually going to happen. They just feel like they did not do anything wrong. As long as you did not do anything wrong, then you'll be fine.

Ira Glass

What's galling about this for Tiffany is that she feels like she's being the responsible one, fighting for everybody's future. And they're telling her not to protest. She was like, maybe if her parents had done this themselves years ago, things wouldn't be so bad today.

Tiffany

I'm 22 years old. And in the past, when I was younger, they have never stood up like us or fight like us to ask for what they are promised in 1997.

Ira Glass

It's funny. When you talk about it, you're mad at your parents about it.

Tiffany

I just feel like-- I mean, I don't understand why they would not want these rights or why they don't think that something bad is going to happen in the next 50 years.

Ira Glass

So Tiffany and Jennifer and so many others, they've kind of given over their lives to protesting. They work during the week, protest on the weekends. They say they don't have much time in their lives for much else. But what's interesting is, they don't think it's going to work. Most of our interviewees told us that. They don't think China is going to give in. Again, here's Jennifer.

Jennifer

I am pretty much pessimistic, actually. I do wish that one day, we all succeed. We want a democratic Hong Kong. But now, I just don't see a way out. It's been three months. We've been trying each and every step. We've broke into the legislative council. We have more than 1,000 people got arrested. But the government is still trying to ignore all of this.

Emanuele Berry

If you feel so pessimistic about the results, why still go? Why are you still going out every weekend?

Jennifer

At least the government sees that we are not that-- how do we say-- we are not that obedient. So we have to continuously tell the government that we are not satisfied with what they are giving us. So we have to do it.

Ira Glass

Again, here's Alice.

Alice

I think even if we have to lose, we need to leave our true thoughts in history. We need to let the people behind us know that we've tried.

Ira Glass

2047 is coming, and this is a very grand thing to say, but so many of these cursed generation kids feel like they have a special destiny. Alex preferred to speak to us through an interpreter. She's a frontline protester, builds barricades, has been arrested.

Alex

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

I think we're actually lucky because we grew up with people who thought the same way. And we realized that when we turn 50, it's the end of our freedoms. I'm 22 now, and I imagine that when I'm 25, that's really halfway until the bomb explodes.

And so if we don't do anything, by the time we're 50 years old, it would be awful. I don't want our children to have the same battle. And then when we're 50, we'll look back and think that we didn't do enough. Our birthday is like a countdown to the end. And so, more so than other people, I feel like my generation, we have a duty to do more.

Ira Glass

Again, here's Jennifer.

Jennifer

If we were born earlier, probably I would become my dad and mom. And if I were born later, I would probably become those little kids speaking Mandarin better than Cantonese. So I am happy that I am born in 1997. We are in the middle. We have the chance to know what is freedom. And we are experiencing that our freedom is being taken away. And that's why we are the group who step up first to fight for it.

Act Two: The Fight

Jennifer

I think we are getting off here. I think we are getting off.

Ira Glass

After an hour bus ride, we get to the protest. This is Act Two, The Fight. Once we're off the bus, Jennifer ducks into a public restroom and comes out in black shirt, black pants, black mask over her face, hair pulled back in a ponytail. And we head on to a street where we're surrounded by hundreds of people dressed exactly like her.

A big shopping district, the stores closed, and no cars. All the side streets have been blocked off with barricades by the protesters-- scaffolding and fencing, trashcans, and orange construction cones piled in the street. They do an efficient job. We meet up with Jennifer's friends by a big Victoria's Secret store.

Jennifer

My friend, Hugo.

Friend 1

Nice to meet you.

Ira Glass

Nice to meet you. Ira.

Hugo

Nice to meet you, mate. Yes.

Ira Glass

Very nice to meet you.

Jennifer

The couple who always kiss in front of me.

Friend 1

What? I'm not.

Hugo

No, we didn't. We didn't.

Ira Glass

For the record, I'm with them all afternoon. No kissing at all. The city is giving permission for fewer protests these days. And this is an unsanctioned demonstration we're at, which means that everybody here is breaking the law. Anyone is subject to arrest, which affects crowd size. The maximum penalty is 5 years-- 10 years, if you're convicted of rioting-- which is why all the protesters are so scared of getting arrested all the time.

But despite that, the beginning of the protest has the feeling of a block party. People strolling, chatting-- you see a few parents and kids. Some non-protesters cut through the crowd, running errands. But an hour into all this, I look around and realize-- no families, no kids. It's not feeling like a block party at all. People are standing on top of fences, trying to see what's ahead of us. They're starting to put on gas masks.

Ira Glass

Describe what you're seeing.

Jennifer

The protesters in the Thomas Street are moving backwards. So we assume that there are riot police on the other end of the road. There is tear gas fired over there.

Ira Glass

It's like two or three blocks away. We walk towards the police and the tear gas, past teams of protesters who are knocking bricks out of the sidewalk with long steel tools.

Ira Glass

And the idea is what?

Jennifer

To put on the road so, later on, the riot police cannot run that fast.

Ira Glass

Also, people throw bricks at police. We march straight to the front lines, where hundreds of protesters are massed on a side street. The police are just half a block away, but we can't really see them through the crowd. And then a whole wave of tear gas canisters arcs towards us, hits us.

And lots of people, us included, run back a ways, half a block away. Jennifer calmly administers saline solution into strangers' eyes. The controls on my recorder got knocked around running through the smoke, so I do not have a decent recording of that.

This is the role that she's assigned herself in the protests-- first aid, helping anybody who requires it. She even brought energy candy specifically to give out to people whose energy is flagging. After being driven back, Jennifer and her two friends and I wait for the smoke to clear.

Ira Glass

So this happens at every protest.

Hugo

Yes.

Jennifer

Basically.

Hugo

Basically.

Ira Glass

So what do we do now?

Jennifer

We tidy up ourselves and go again.

Ira Glass

And when you get to the police, what are you going to do?

Jennifer

We're going to stand in front of them. If we have a chance, we're going to fight them back. Our goal is to make them to reach their front line.

Ira Glass

After a couple minutes, we head back toward the front line.

Ira Glass

OK, we're walking forward to its corner, where it's this blue-- [COUGHS]

Jennifer

Take this out.

Ira Glass

And then we wait around.

Jennifer

Don't take it off.

Ira Glass

A water cannon goes off, blasting water that is dyed blue, laced with stuff that stings your skin. More tear gas, and we pull back a little. Then we move forward, wait again.

Ira Glass

This is both suspenseful and boring.

Jennifer

[LAUGHS] Sometimes there's not always a purpose. Sometimes we sitting at the back is just a support. We just add our support to those at the front.

Ira Glass

Support like, if something happens, you'll do first aid?

Jennifer

Something like this, but also, they know that there are many people behind them. It is important to give them some mental support as well. Yeah.

Ira Glass

So many protesters are like Jennifer. They think it's their job to support the people at the front, who are the hardcore ones, who push back against police and throw Molotov cocktails and chase police with sticks and metal rods and tear stuff down to build barriers to slow the police, wearing full gear, helmets, goggles, and gas masks and gloves.

Finally, the front liners yell that they want room to retreat. And so we need to retreat. And so we fall way back, a couple blocks.

Ira Glass

So now we're just standing here.

Jennifer

Yeah, because we always support. Our assistance is like a support to those in the front line.

Ira Glass

But I don't understand. So the police want us out of there. They push, they fire tear gas. They spray blue water on everybody. We move back. And then we stand here. And what's our goal?

Jennifer

This has been a very frequently asked question. Nowadays, we're just trying to stand on our own ground, not to be dispersed that easily.

Ira Glass

That's it. Just, the goal is to just stay out as long as you can.

Jennifer

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And then, eventually, the police will push you off the street? So in other words, it's exactly like the entire protest movement leading to 2047. Just try to slow them down as much as you can.

Jennifer

Yes.

Ira Glass

In the end, China will win. But for as long as you can, you'll just stand here in the street.

Jennifer

It is pretty sad to say so, but I guess that's pretty much accurate. Yeah, that's--

Ira Glass

What are they yelling?

Jennifer

They ask people to start moving.

Ira Glass

And there we headed to a massive retreat, as the police advanced towards us. And for the first time, there seems to be actual real fear. We're running down streets and side roads. We get separated from Jennifer's friends and from Emanuele, dodging the police, and finally, taking refuge in a church. There are safe houses like this around Hong Kong that protesters duck into.

It takes over an hour, and finally, the coast is clear. And Jennifer calls a friend to pick her up. They're volunteer drivers for the protesters, part of the infrastructure they've created. Jennifer changes out of her black T-shirt into civilian clothes. No makeup-- she's too tired, she says. And no need if she's getting picked up.

Jennifer

Bye.

Ira Glass

And she heads home.

Jennifer

Say goodbye to Emanuele for me as well. Thank you.

[SIRENS]

Ira Glass

Coming up, we hear from people in Hong Kong who welcome China's takeover of the city with open arms and how one of them came to feel that way. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Three: Good Cop, Dad CopĀ 

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today, we are returning to a program that we first broadcast this past fall about the protests in Hong Kong. I traveled to Hong Kong with my co-workers, Diane Wu and Emanuele Berry.

Under the new national security law that China put into effect a couple weeks ago in Hong Kong, many of the things that these protesters said to us back then that you are hearing this hour could theoretically be prosecuted. We have changed nearly everybody's name.

We will end the show today with an interview that I did this month about that law with Jennifer, who you heard in the first half of the show. For now, we have arrived at Act Three of our program. Act Three, Good Cop, Dad Cop.

So as an American visiting Hong Kong for the first time, one of the things that kind of killed me was hearing that, before the last few years of protests, people were really into the police. They were trusted. They were respected.

And it was only in the last few years, especially the last few months of protests, that changed all that. At a rally, I actually saw people chanting at a row of cops that they hoped that they and their families would die. And feelings about who to side with-- the police or the protesters-- they've gotten so intense, it's tearing families apart.

On the Telegram app, there's a whole channel for protesters who get kicked out by their parents and need a place to live. Alan Yu grew up in Hong Kong. He knows a family that is very far apart on this. The son is a protester. The dad is a retired police officer.

And Alan had them sit down and do what nobody in Hong Kong is doing-- talk to each other. There is really no dialogue between police and protesters anywhere in Hong Kong, as far as we could tell.

And can I say, listening to this story today, nine months after we first broadcast it, after weeks of protests against police violence across the United States, I really do wonder how common this kind of experience is in our country. Anyway, here's Alan.

Alan Yu

I've known this family since I was six. I knew them because of my friend, Jonathan. I rode the school bus with him every day. His father, Peter, was the first policeman I knew in real life. I was excited to talk to him because you never hear what the police think about the protests. Police here are not really allowed to talk to the press.

Peter's retired, but still very connected to the force. So before the family all sat down together, I asked Peter to get together with me and my producer, Emanuele. I hadn't seen him since I was 12. Back then, people called me "Yu-don," which means fish ball. Because the Cantonese for fish sounds like my surname, Yu, and because I was fat.

Peter

I won't recognize you on the street. I won't. I won't.

Alan Yu

Oh, yeah? Oh, OK.

Peter

Serious. I'm serious.

Alan Yu

OK, all right. I guess it's a compliment. Thank you.

Peter

He used to be very cute.

Emanuele Berry

Yeah? How?

Peter

He used to be very fat.

Alan Yu

As a kid, I liked Peter. He'd take time off work to stop by during recess and buy us chips and other snacks. My friend Jonathan would have his birthday parties at the police station, which we loved-- big barbecues, other policemen around. Peter was the cool dad.

People in Hong Kong trusted, even revered the police back then. One of the most popular TV shows was a cop show, [CHINESE], where the police were heroes. Peter's hair is gray now. He's tall, athletic. He plays tennis.

Peter

My nickname in tennis-- I don't know why. My nickname in tennis is Federer. Yeah.

Emanuele Berry

Federer.

Peter

Federer.

Emanuele Berry

Oh, are you good?

Peter

Federer Roger. I don't know why. Maybe my skill. I don't know. I don't know why. [CHUCKLES]

Alan Yu

He still likes his dad jokes. I cannot imagine Peter ever doing what I've been seeing in these videos-- beating up unarmed protesters, kicking people on the ground. I thought surely he would object to some of those things and that his views would be complicated.

Alan Yu

From what you've seen in recent months, has there been anything that the police have done that you think you would disagree with?

Peter

Nothing is perfect. But as a whole, in general, I think the police are doing a pretty good job. If it is in other police force in other countries, just look at the casualties. Just look at the column of fatal numbers. It won't be zero.

Alan Yu

I ask him about different situations the police have been criticized for. I even show him videos of police brutally arresting people, things I think are clearly wrong. But he always seems to have a justification for the way police behave. He says, you're judging the police based on what you see in these clips. That's not fair. You don't know what the officer was facing.

Peter

The social media only show the part of police hitting people. But one minute ago, they've been attacked by lots of people. So one minute later, he react to the mob attacking them. So what you can see is one minute after, but you did not see the full picture.

Alan Yu

He's not conflicted about police. And he isn't very sympathetic to the protesters. He thinks the protests are destroying Hong Kong. The extradition bill is OK. He doesn't think China will end free speech in Hong Kong. And protesters' fear of China is way overblown and naive.

Peter

Hong Kong is part of China. Come on. Wake up. People, wake up. This is the fact. Whether China is good or bad, Hong Kong is part of China. If you don't like it, those people waving the United States flag, waving the Union Jack flag, if England takes you, you can go to England. Yeah. You can go to Florida. Go to California. Yeah. Go, go. If Trump takes you, yeah, go.

Alan Yu

I'd already been worried how this family conversation was going to go. Hearing what Peter believed did not help. Peter told me he understands that Jonathan goes to protests, but doesn't ask him about it because he doesn't want any details. Jonathan said he does not ask his dad what he thinks of the way police beat and tear gassed protesters for the same reason.

Jonathan

It's just like, if he says something-- [SIGHS] if he says something that completely doesn't make sense to me, it sort of brings him down as a person. It's just like, I would feel like he's just, yeah, not who I thought he was, yeah.

Alan Yu

And it scares you to--

Jonathan

Yeah.

Alan Yu

--think that could be true.

So this family does not talk about the protests at all. Tennis, yes. Soccer, yes. Pets, great. But no politics-- till tonight. They've agreed to have the conversation they've been avoiding after dinner. Jonathan's mom, Alva, washes the dishes.

[ALVA HUMMING]

I recognize the song right away. I'm surprised she's humming it in front of Peter. It's the protesters' new anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong." Alva is on Jonathan's side. She works with lawyers, including some in the pro-democracy camp.

I ask if Peter knows what that song is. She says, maybe. That's kind of how it's been going between her and her husband. No real discussion, but the occasional passive-aggressive comment while they're watching the news, or some passive-aggressive humming during dishes. This is another reason Jonathan avoids bringing up the protests. He doesn't want to start a fight between his parents.

Alan Yu

What would the worst scenario be like?

Jonathan

Someone moving out, I guess. Yeah, because they can't stand it anymore. Yeah, I guess, living apart would be the worst case scenario, I believe. Because that sort of unofficially means that you're no longer together, sort of, yeah.

Alan Yu

That could be his mom, or his dad, or him.

We all sit at the dinner table. I don't know why they agreed to talk about this. Maybe just because I've known them for so long, and I asked. Or I hope maybe part of them wanted to talk, and I was just a good excuse.

Peter's facing me. And Jonathan and Alva are next to me. Jonathan has their dog, Loki, named after the Marvel character, on his lap. The conversation starts with all of them saying, in different ways, it's fine that we don't talk about this. We all have mutual respect.

Instead of talking to each other or looking at each other, they're talking to me or looking at the dog. It feels all very careful, proper, and calm. This continues for half an hour. Then everything changes when Peter uses the word "compromise."

Peter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

Compromise-- it's basically the government line. That's what Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam says, that the protesters should stop protesting. And after that, the two sides can talk. Alva and Jonathan hear that as meaning the protesters should back down. They both lay into Peter.

Jonathan

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alva

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

Alva says the police are the ones who need to change. They have to calm the situation. Peter says the police are doing their job. I don't know why, when the police arrest people for fighting or breaking stuff, it's treated as weird. It's illegal, so arrest them. No problem.

Peter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

Johnson says, OK, yes, arrest them. But how much force does the police need to use? Sometimes a person just asks the police a question, and they still get arrested or beaten. Or people who are already on the ground, kneeling, subdued, they still get beaten. Peter doesn't respond.

Then they argue, openly argue for the first time, about one of the protesters' main demands, something the government refused to budge on-- to start an independent investigation into police behavior.

Peter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

Peter keeps repeating the same thing over and over, like he's been backed into a corner, that there's no need for independent investigation. Now is not the right time.

Peter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

The city already has a system in place to investigate complaints about the police.

Peter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Alan Yu

They talk a little longer, but it doesn't go anywhere. Alva tells me later she had other things she could have brought up, but decided against it. She didn't want her husband to feel trapped. The word she used was [CHINESE], which translates as dead corner. No place to go. Preserving the family was more important to her than trying to win an argument.

Later, Jonathan told me he still loves his dad. But he's given up hope that his father could be a reasonable human being, at least when it comes to the police.

When I started this, I was kind of naive. I thought maybe Jonathan and his mother and father, people who actually want to understand each other, could talk about this in a productive manner, and that if they could, maybe there was hope that the rest of us could. But now, I don't have a lot of hope.

Ira Glass

Alan Yu, he's normally a reporter for WHYY's show, The Pulse. Jonathan, his brother, Chris, and Alva are now thinking seriously about leaving Hong Kong. Peter is not.

Act Four: A Slow Boat to China

Ira Glass

Act Four, A Slow Boat to China. So what about all the people living in Hong Kong who have no problem with China, who like China? There's a lot of them. And they hold their own demonstrations, which are pretty small-- flag parties where flash mobs show up at malls and wave Chinese flags and sing the Chinese national anthem.

And the big day to celebrate China normally would be October 1, National Day, the anniversary of the Communist Party founding the modern Chinese state. And this year was going to be a big one. It was the 70th anniversary.

And the people who support mainland China were kind of resentful, because this day was supposed to be this huge holiday for them, but anticipating massive protests, the city shut down. Fireworks were canceled. Trains weren't running. Almost all the malls were going to be closed. The protesters had ruined the day again.

So in defiance, the pro-China people organized an anthem singing party for the morning of the first. Our co-worker, Diane Wu, went.

Diane Wu

The party took place at 8:30 in the morning on a boat. Not just any boat-- on the Star Ferry, this iconic Hong Kong commuter slash sightseeing boat on the harbor. The ferries are these beautiful old boats from colonial times with names like Silver Star, Northern Star, Twinkling Star. And today, one of them is going to get completely covered with bright red Chinese flags.

A couple dozen people are gathering at the ferry terminal. They're mostly strangers, know each other loosely from previous flash mobs and get-togethers.

[SHOUTING IN CHINESE]

"I love China," they shout.

[SHOUTING IN CHINESE]

"Support the police."

[SHOUTING IN CHINESE]

[CHEERING]

It's kind of funny when you think about it, all these people up so early on their day off, getting on a boat to sing the national anthem together. It's also a little dark, because there's a real threat of violence against people who don't support the protest.

One of these flag parties two weeks ago at a mall devolved into a brawl when protesters showed up. People on both sides got beat up. And so going out on a ferry to shout pro-China slogans is strategic. Once you're on the boat out at sea, you ought to be safe from a counter protest. As one guy put it--

Daniel

Well, we've been living in terror for the last three months because the people on the other side, the rioters, they're really good at the terrorizing tactics. They make you feel that you should be afraid of speaking up and speaking out against them because they're so organized.

Diane Wu

In the terminal, everyone gathers in a semicircle, holding special holiday issues of the China Daily and singing the Chinese national anthem together.

[SINGING IN CHINESE]

It's a little shaky. The guy leading it told me he just learned the words a couple weeks ago. Most of the people here, best as I can tell, are not mainlanders who grew up with the anthem. The ones I talked to were all from Hong Kong. Being this into China is new for them, something that only happened when the protests got bad enough that they found themselves rallying around this new flag.

And it's not always comfortable. I'm getting on the boat with Daniel, the guy who was griping about being terrorized, when someone puts a heart-shaped sticker on him.

Diane Wu

You just got a Chinese flag sticker stuck on you.

Daniel

Yes, yeah. I feel a little cringey about this.

Diane Wu

Why?

Daniel

I'm not exactly that red. Compared to a lot of people here, I'm not the most red person.

Diane Wu

Red, in the crayon box of the Hong Kong protests, refers to being pro-China, versus blue for the government and yellow for the protesters. Daniel almost didn't come this morning, actually. It's not really his scene. He sees being this patriotic about China as kind of dorky. Moreover--

Daniel

I always tell my friends I would never want to live in China, because there's a lot of things in China that I can't accept if I were to be forced to live in China.

Diane Wu

The two things he can't accept that we end up talking about are the lack of free speech and censored access to the internet.

Daniel

But the truth is, I live in Hong Kong. And I get to retain my almost unchecked freedom for 28 more years. And it's such a sweetheart deal for Hong Kong people.

Diane Wu

I pointed out to him that after 28 years, it's very possible those freedoms would disappear. And he had the same response that I heard from other people who don't like the protests. He was like, well, sure, maybe.

Daniel

Well, I guess, you're talking me to appreciate the young people's perspectives, but in exchange for the freedom that they fight for, they're wreaking havoc, and they're destroying law and order. And--

Diane Wu

So in the balance, it's not worth it to you.

Daniel

If I were to choose between this-- if China say, in order to have law and order, I will need to sacrifice the freedom the same way Chinese people have in Hong Kong, I would accept that balance. This is unacceptable, the whole unorganized chaos, revolution, and the havoc they wrought in Hong Kong. It's completely unacceptable. I will give up the freedom the way they do in China to stop this.

Diane Wu

It's a big jump from I could never live in China to I would sacrifice my freedom just to get this to stop. But the intensity of the protests and his frustration with what he's experiencing in the city have driven him to at least try on this extreme idea.

Daniel's 40, works in finance. He lived in the US for 12 years. He's a football fan. Roots for the Chicago Bears because he likes the tenacious defense. He says he wasn't politically involved before all this. Went to one of the big peaceful protests last spring, more to watch than to participate.

But that changed one day when he was watching a livestream of the young protesters storming the legislative council. He was surprised how ferocious they seemed, how even the police officers looked a little scared.

Daniel

At that moment, I suddenly realized, oh, we're actually very close to a revolution. It could happen. It's just never occurred to me that Hong Kong would go through that. It's both stunned and anxiety about unknown, you know, anxiety. Things can change abruptly. If there isn't a revolution, it's going to force the hand of the Chinese government to crack down on it violently.

And anything can happen. I could lose all the privilege I have as a Hong Kong citizen-- protection of common law, freedom of speech, but also freedom of speech protected by common law. Nobody in China enjoy this freedom. But if it gets to a certain point, we can lose all of these privileges, which I treasure.

Diane Wu

He woke up the next morning to see that the coverage was wall-to-wall about police brutality. To Daniel, it seemed like everyone was leaving out the fact that the protesters had started it, which seemed deeply unjust to the police.

Daniel

And that's when I started turning blue. When I felt that the police were smeared unfairly, I took my side. I chose to be on the police side.

Diane Wu

Other people sided against the protest for different reasons. A big one I heard was the disruption they caused. The security guard told me he had to transfer four times to get home one night because of subway shutdowns.

A woman trying to get cash out of an ATM that had been destroyed by protesters said, if you're mad at the government, take it out on the government. You're only hurting people like me. A man said to me, sadly, Hong Kong is our home. Why are they destroying it?

[SINGING IN CHINESE]

[CHEERING]

The crowd on the boat finishes belting out the national anthem a second time, when, suddenly, everyone rushes to the railing.

Diane Wu

Everyone's waving at the sea police. They all ran to one side of the boat. It feels like it might tip over.

Everyone crammed together on one side in a position that's a little precarious. That's kind of like Daniel's world right now. He felt pushed to choose a team. Like it or not, these are his new people. He doesn't think like them exactly.

But he feels more aligned with these Chinese nationalists on this boat, waving at the police, than with the angry protesters ganging up on them, even if those protesters ultimately want the same thing he does-- to preserve their freedoms in Hong Kong.

[SINGING IN CHINESE]

Sitting on the upper deck of the Star Ferry, this was actually the first time Daniel had ever sang the national anthem in public. He told me later, as he sang, he was surprised to find that he felt something.

Ira Glass

Diane Wu. She talked to Daniel last week. With the passing of the national security law, he blames the protesters for killing the Hong Kong that he cherished, but says he accepts it as the only viable future. One of the first things, by the way, that he did when he found out about the law passing was change his Facebook profile back to his real name. Now he feels protected from the mob.

Act Five: Nine Months Later

Ira Glass

Act 5, Nine Months Later. So as we've said, China's new national security law for Hong Kong went into effect this month. Or if you want to get technical about it, one hour before the month began.

And two days into the month, I reached Jennifer, the protester that you heard in the first half of the show. She told me that since we recorded her in the fall, protests have gotten a lot smaller, nothing like what we witnessed back then.

And she has kept protesting, she said, but less often, maybe once a month or so. She told me that she had thought that China might crack down some day like this, like it did with the new law. She just didn't expect it so soon. She thought they had years before any expression of dissent could be punished, like it can right now.

Jennifer

The first thing that came into my mind was, oh my God. This is finally coming. And to be honest, it felt so-- it felt so hopeless and we could not do anything to stop this from happening anymore.

Ira Glass

Yeah. Have you noticed changes in the city already, like at restaurants and signs and posters and things like that?

Jennifer

So I am on my-- I just got off the bus. And I am walking on my way going back home. Now what I'm seeing on my way back to home, everywhere is hanging with China and also Hong Kong flag, with banners and posters around, saying-- supporting the national security law. So that's what I've seen basically changing.

Ira Glass

And the Chinese flag, was it there three days ago?

Jennifer

I didn't see it yesterday. It wasn't there yesterday. But the Chinese flag was not there yesterday. And then now we have a lot of them there. Like they are trying to support the government's decision.

Ira Glass

And how does that make you feel?

Jennifer

Oh, just really like we cannot say anything against the government anymore. The side that is fighting against the government has to disappear. And then there will be only one opinion and one type of thinking in this city in the future. So it is kind of sad, actually.

Ira Glass

Will you still go to protest?

Jennifer

I think it really depends on what kind of the protest is for and how the security law will be implemented and used in the future. I think it will still take me a period of time to observe how it is being actually taken into action.

I don't know what to say. I don't want to give up at this moment yet. I still hope that there will be a chance to change something. But then, for me, the law has passed for a day only. And there are still many unknown variation. So deep down in my mind, I still wish to go out to protests to-- perhaps a chance to change something. But to be honest, I don't really have any idea if I could actually still go out in the future.

Ira Glass

How scared are you?

Jennifer

Yeah, I feel like I am very scared right now. Because they are saying that for important case, they could actually skip Hong Kong's court. We could be directly sent to the mainland for their judiciary.

Ira Glass

Right. Are there other parts of the law that worry you a lot?

Jennifer

Oh, there is one. There is one that say Hong Kong veterans, even I am in other country, if I have said anything that could possibly divide-- I don't know if it is called dividing the country. Like, saying something anti-government or anti-communist, I could still be illegal.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Jennifer

There is something very abstract to me. I don't really know how it is being defined and where is the line. And I don't know if I will cross the line, even without being noticing. So that is something really I am afraid of as well.

Ira Glass

Do you feel like the pro-democracy movement will come to an end very soon?

Jennifer

I think it will be. I think it will be. It is like a repeat of history, like the 4th of June.

Ira Glass

Yeah, 4th of June is Tiananmen Square.

Jennifer

Yeah. People fought very hard. And then we had the Chinese government suppressing people using military force. And then for many years, 30, so many years later, you see there are so many people supporting the government, supporting the Chinese government already. And I think this history will be repeating in Hong Kong as well.

Soon after our next generation, maybe we'll become those people supporting the government, like we are mocking right now. They will probably say, oh, support Chinese government. Support communists. They made our life good. I want to leave Hong Kong if that day comes. I wish I could leave Hong Kong.

Ira Glass

Yeah, do you think there's a chance you could?

Jennifer

I would try to, but I don't know how hard it will be. I need to check if I am eligible. So that is really unknown for me right now, but I will be exploring the chance to do so.

Ira Glass

Do you have lots of friends who are leaving or trying to leave?

Jennifer

Yeah, I do. My close co-workers, they are all planning migration to Australia, some planning to go to London. And then some of my friends have decided to go to Canada already. Really quite a lot of people around me are leaving.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Jennifer

Yeah, like everyone finding a way out of here.

Ira Glass

Do you have any feeling of relief? Like, this has been going on for so long with no end in sight, but if this law kicks in, in the way that you're saying, now you're at a point where you could say, OK, we've done everything we can do. It's impossible to do anything else. We know we're not going to make progress. And we have to stop. Do you feel any relief from that?

Jennifer

No, it won't be. It can't be a relief because we are being suppressed so that we cannot speak. So that cannot be a relief. That is something-- that is more a suppression, like even straight-toward suppression. So that can't be a relief.

Ira Glass

I'm asking that question because Emanuele talked to somebody in Hong Kong. And that's what they said. They said, OK, well, if this is how it's going to end, well, at least it's a relief that it's over, you know?

Jennifer

Yeah, I do think that there are people thinking in this way. But there is kind of-- we call it cooking a frog in the pot with warm water. I don't know how this-- that being described in English. But then--

Ira Glass

No, no, no, we have that same thing in English, yeah, where the water gets warmer and warmer.

Jennifer

Really?

Ira Glass

Yeah, and then the frog--

Jennifer

Oh.

Ira Glass

--never really realizes, like, oh, I should get out of the pot. And then I've also read, maybe that's not even true. Maybe frogs do jump out of the pot. Oh, but yeah.

Jennifer

But then I do think that some people would think in this way. They would think, at least we've tried, something like that. But for me, myself, that can't be a relief. If the movement ends, that is something that we want our next generation to remember. This has actually happened in Hong Kong. So that can be a relief. I will never feel relieved.

Ira Glass

In the fall, we talked about how it felt like there's this clock and this sort of 50-year countdown to Hong Kong losing its autonomy. Do you think by protesting, you've made this change happen faster than it would have happened?

Jennifer

Mm, to be honest, I think maybe the majority was thinking the way that I am thinking, is that our rebellion would make the Chinese government not do anything because of the international views, international opinion, international support. We thought that the movement would slow down the countdown. None of us have expected that it will fasten it up.

Ira Glass

You started the movement to slow the countdown, and you didn't think it would make it go faster. Yeah.

Jennifer

Yeah. It was supposed to happen on the 50 years, like the 50th year. But then maybe with the Chinese government ambition, it was going to happen in the 40th year. But then now, it's even earlier. So that is totally out of expectation.

Ira Glass

And much worse.

Jennifer

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Do you regret protesting, seeing that?

Jennifer

No, really. I am not regret for doing it. Because we all knew that we were only fighting for that tiny chance. And even if we failed, at least we tried. So it is really so sad. We could not get what we wanted. The situation is even worse than the time that we started the whole movement.

But then everything we've been doing is now-- I cannot say it is wasted because this one year have changed many people, like in a good way or in a bad way. So I won't say it is wasted. The political scope in Hong Kong is totally changed, how people see each other, and then the society changed a lot. So it's still worth it.

And we have made a declaration to the world that we don't want the Chinese government to come. That is the statement that we are making. Even though we failed, even though we are being controlled by the government, we still don't want to let others feel that we want it, we enjoy it. No, we don't. We fought against it. Just that we failed. So the world knows that we don't want it.

Ira Glass

That's Jennifer in Hong Kong. I'm going to end our program today with a recording of the last protest that any of us attended with Jennifer. This was back in October in a soccer stadium, where she sang along with the protest anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong." This week, the song was banned from schools.

Jennifer

[SINGING IN CHINESE]

Ira Glass

This is one of the movement's most popular slogans, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times." Last week, chanting this slogan was declared illegal under the new law by the Hong Kong government.

[CHANTING IN CHINESE]

[MUSIC - EMBER ISLAND, "UMBRELLA"]

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Emanuele Berry and Diane Wu. Our brilliant field producer in Hong Kong was Yannie Chan. Thanks to our interpreters, Flora Chung, Diana Chan, and Dominic Yang.

The people who put together our show today includes Elna Baker, Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Damien Grave, Michelle Harris, Jessica Lussenhop, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Ben Phelan, Nadia Reiman, Robyn Semien, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, and Matt Tierney.

Additional production by Noor Gill and Aviva DeKornfeld. Our executive producer is David Kestenbaum. Special thanks today to Dave Hill for the cover of the theme of the cops show, Armed Reaction. And special thanks to Laurel Chor, Karen Cheung, Howard Wong, Noble Wong, Yu, Tse Sai Pei, Alanna Thiede, Jiayang Fan, and Martin Lee.

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our problem's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he'll never forget his first time on a carousel. The way he tells the story, he gets on a horse and starts to go around.

Daniel

At that moment, I suddenly realized, oh, we're actually very close to a revolution that could happen.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.