Jenny Chan strode through central London on a late summer Saturday afternoon, heading for the South Bank Lion statue opposite Big Ben.
There, by the River Thames, the 57-year-old mother and her two children joined a group of fellow Hong Kong expats who had gathered to sign a banner for Anson Lo, a 26-year-old singer with Hong Kong boy band Mirror.
About 200 people, most wearing clothes in Lo's signature pink, wrote messages on the giant scroll. The banner had been hauled to the United Kingdom by Mirror fans, and its London stop on Sept. 25 was just one of many scheduled for outposts of the global Hong Kong diaspora. Its final destination is Hong Kong, where it will be presented to Lo himself.
The 12-member Hong Kong boy group Mirror originated in 2018 on the first season of King Maker, an elimination-style talent contest produced by Hong Kong's ViuTV. The producers hand-picked contestants to form a boy band around the winner, Keung To. Mirror's first release, roughly translated as One Moment in Time, debuted in November of that year.
Mirror's trajectory — from its emergence before Hong Kong's massive pro-democracy protests of 2019 to its superstar status in the Cantonese-speaking world — has made listening to the band "a type of resistance," wrote Mary Hui on Quartz, as China cracks down almost daily on Hong Kong's civil society.
Mirror members are identified more by their signature colors — Keung To's is peach — than their politics. But it was widely reported via Facebook that former journalist and activist Gwyneth Ho, detained on a national security charge and facing the possibility of life imprisonment, cried upon hearing their song Warrior, which includes a line that translates to "I'd rather die / And I won't retreat."
Such lyrics help explain why Mirror is now a common thread among those fleeing China's repression in the once freewheeling former British colony. Today, wherever Hong Kongers gather, Mirror provides the soundtrack, with hits such as Ignited and Boss.
Howard Chan, 23, and his sister Maggie Chan, 16, were studying in the United Kingdom when Maggie discovered Mirror late in 2018 on a show streaming online. She was drawn by the Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong. VOA is using pseudonyms to ensure the safety of Chan family members as China tracks people overseas under Hong Kong's national security law.
Through the band, the younger Chans told VOA Cantonese, they have connected with old friends in Hong Kong and friends who had moved to Australia.
Maggie Chan, a high school student, said she persuaded her brother, a Ph.D. candidate in engineering at a U.K. university, to join her in binge-watching Mirror's ViuTV shows.
Howard Chan became a Mirror fan.
Their mother, Jenny Chan, moved to London in August 2019 to take care of her children. She continued watching a daily sitcom on TVB, a Hong Kong station often labeled pro-China.
Her children pushed her to quit TVB, but she resisted until the COVID-19 lockdown, when she started watching ViuTV.
Jenny Chan became a Mirror fan in part because "they're handsome."
The U.K. Chans rely on Thomas Chan, a 60-year-old patriarch and an executive with an international company in Hong Kong, to collect Mirror-related material and send it to them.
When he visited in July, he pushed through jet lag by binge-watching Ossan's Love HK, which features Mirror's Edan Lui and Lo.
Thomas Chan became a Mirror fan.
Mom worries about band
Despite Mirror's popularity, Jenny Chan worries about the band's fate given China's targeting of effeminate male celebrities.
Her favorite, Lo, is known for his androgynous style.
Described by her son as politically liberal and open to new ideas, she also worries that the band's influence may upset authorities.
When hundreds of fans attended a Hong Kong birthday event for Lo in July, they ignored police orders to disperse, instead waiting for a pink double-decker bus proclaiming "Happy Birthday Anson Lo" on its side.
"I believe China would feel afraid, as a group of people gathered, and they were not scared (of the police). We were worried (about Mirror)," she told VOA Cantonese.
She is relieved the semiofficial Hong Kong Tourism Board recently invited Lo and fellow Mirror member Ian Chan to appear in a promotional advertisement.
The U.K. Chans attend fan-hosted events in the London area, the most recent on Oct. 3. Howard Chan told VOA Cantonese that the events help maintain a Hong Kong identity.
"We live in London and often see many Hong Kongers. But for some who live quite far away, there is barely any chance to speak Cantonese. These events are something where we can get together," he said.
Howard Chan recalled attending London marches supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement with his sister before the pandemic. Those felt similar to Mirror fan events, he said, in that both attracted Cantonese-speaking people to a common activity.
"When I see someone with an Asian face, I don't even have to think or ask in English whether they are Hong Kongers. I can just speak Cantonese," he said of the marches and Mirror events.
Jenny Chan, who said she could tell her son felt heavy-hearted at the protests, likes seeing him relaxed at Mirror events. "It was like going to therapists, helping him to release his emotions and get happier."