The lives of many Hong Kong protesters have changed radically over the past year, as China pushed new national security laws eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms.
One protester, a 24-year-old woman who asked to be identified as “K,” told VOA how the political controversy has been a deeply personal struggle.
A year ago, she lived comfortably with her parents and elder sister. Among three siblings, she was closest to her parents. But everything changed on Father's Day last year.
On June 16, 2019, 2 million people in Hong Kong took part in a march opposing China’s new Anti-Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which was widely believed to expose Hong Kong citizens to political prosecutions from mainland China.
K was among them.
After the march, she went home and was criticized by her mother.
"Growing up, I was the most filial one at home. But it was unfair to me that my mother accused me of not being a good daughter because I marched," K said.
Her sister sided with her parents, who thought the demonstrators undermined the stability of society.
As the protests continued over subsequent weeks, the news became a source of endless arguments in the family. K began avoiding family dinners, dining out after work and returning home after everyone else was already asleep.
She did not stop defending her political beliefs. She recalled telling her family, “You want me to be arrested and continue to support the police beating the public, and maybe the next victim is your daughter. Sooner or later you'll see me in the papers, or in a funeral house."
On July 21, the protest movement in Hong Kong took a turn when organized vigilantes wearing white and brandishing weapons attacked protesters. K’s family called the demonstrators “cockroaches” who should have been killed. She said that was a breaking point for her.
"Now, it's about right and wrong, black and white. You will inevitably get angry when a stranger says such harsh words. But when it's your family who are so cold-blooded, it's hard to accept that those who have taken care of you for years have lost their soul,” she said.
K decided to move out. After finding a place to live, she returned home, packed her clothes and left quietly, without mentioning it to her family.
One day while lying in bed, she suddenly wondered how she had ended up there alone.
"My life had been very smooth. I was planning to work to a certain age, save enough money to buy a house with a boyfriend and get married. But now as I live alone, it’s not a problem to feed myself, but it’s impossible to save money for a house."
Still, she does not regret her decision. She even blocked her parents' mobile phone numbers.
This year, she was alone for the first time for the New Year’s holiday. Her mother collected traditional red envelopes filled with money for her and passed them to her through relatives. A handwritten note with blessings from her mother was inside an envelope. K burst into tears.
"I wanted to be closer to my parents over the years because I knew they wouldn’t have a lot of time left to spend with us. My mother's health also began to deteriorate. I hope there will be more opportunities to care for them. It was just earlier last year when I invited my mother to travel in Japan. I didn’t expect to cut off contact with my parents to take part in this social movement."
China's National People's Congress announced the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law last month. The sudden announcement prompted K to take to the streets again.
"We often say that the dawn is coming, and we are liberating Hong Kong. It’s always darkest before dawn. We often say we are willing to perish together, and we expect such a dark day. We can only be reborn after perishing together.”
It was the movement that showed K that Hong Kongers can be united.
Sacrifice for freedom
K said she was willing to give up her own future in exchange for Hong Kong’s, like many other Hong Kongers.
"The sacrifice I'm making now is just a way to get freedom in the future, and I think it's worth it. I can go on with the simple life I used to live, but I will lose my freedom. I wouldn’t be able to use Facebook. I wouldn’t be able to talk about politics. And there are more people who have sacrificed even their own lives and their own future."
K once believed that Hong Kong had an independent judicial system. But she now realizes that the entire Hong Kong government — the judiciary, executive and legislative branches — is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
"The only thing we should fight for now is Hong Kong's independence."
She said she is working with a group of determined people who have not given up.
“At least we have tried. No matter whether Hong Kong will finally be independent, in my mind, Hong Kong has become independent.”
K has been trying to forgive her parents. She secretly asked neighbors to take care of her parents while she was away. She said while she would regret anything happening to her parents, there is little she can do to repair their relationship while the political struggle is so intense.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.