Protests in Hong Kong that started as a backlash against a now-scrapped piece of legislation, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China, have gripped the world’s attention for months.
Extensive media coverage has led to growing concerns among those closely following the protests about dissipating freedoms and the police’s use of force in the territory.
However, in mainland China concerns over such issues are very much influenced by what media coverage people have access to.
Paul Fang, an underground church member in Hebei says he’s learned about the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong via overseas information forwarded from others on the internet.
Receiving information directly from abroad about the mass protests has not been possible, he says.
Mainland media have only reported that police have been beaten up and that the protesters were causing unrest, without saying why.
He admits that he does not trust mainland news, “there is no freedom of speech here in the mainland and real information [on the protests] couldn’t be obtained.”
Because of the protests, “information control is getting stricter with some WeChat groups being blocked … while some netizens are questioned and even detained for forwarding information.”
He says having access to outside information and a different viewpoint has helped change his perspective about the way China is governed and that he would join such a protest movement “to overthrow the evil power,” if it spread to the mainland.
However, Joseph Jiao, a Catholic from Henan, says his only source of information has come from state-run media which paints an entirely different picture by branding the protesters as subversives.
He also believes the state view that foreign media are run by hostile forces, who ” want to subvert China because it is doing well.”
He thinks the anti-extradition protesters are violent and must be severely punished, while cries for Hong Kong’s independence should not be tolerated.
“Hong Kong is an indivisible part of China. This kind of thing cannot happen in the mainland,” he says.
Not trusting state media
Father Wu, an open church priest from Hebei, says he has monitored the Hong Kong situation through software that circumvents internet censorship, so information is “more direct and timelier so people are not misled by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] media.”
He admits that he does not trust state media, especially regarding events in Hong Kong, where they are completely inverting right and wrong regardless of the facts.
He says he is not surprised that people like Jiao hold the views they do since China has been largely — but not completely successful — in blocking undesirable content on the internet with its infamous firewall.
“There is nothing wrong with those who never have access to foreign media, but for those who often breach the Great Firewall of China and pay attention to the world outside, the mainland media is a joke, doing something to cover one’s ears whilst stealing a bell.”
But despite having this access the impact of anti-extradition movement on the mainland will be next to nothing, Father Wu says.
“The awake mainland people are very few and are always watched by the CCP.”
On the mainland, even if there is turmoil caused by injustice in some places, it is soon quelled, he says.
“This is either by force or offering benefits. The mainland Chinese wouldn’t fight for justice because they can easily be bribed.”
He says after having suffered strong suppression by the CCP for decades, the hearts of mainland Chinese are fragile and easily manipulated by force.
Father Wu says that although he is unable to take any concrete actions over Hong Kong, he keeps praying and celebrating Mass for its people, hoping they stick to their guns as the justice of God is on their side.
Father Peter Li of Shanxi, another open church priest, is currently abroad and has had free access to information on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Even if he returns to China, he will still use software to access blocked information to keep up to date on the issue. However, he is also worried that some of the software will be unavailable since the authorities are upgrading firewall technology.
Like father Wu he thinks events in Hong Kong will not have any influence in China but went further by saying support from the Church in China would be very unlikely since many priests also do not have access to differing viewpoints and are also wary of upsetting the authorities.
He says he knows priests who are kowtowing to the Communist Party line speaking out against what is happening on social media to support the CCP.
He admits that many clerics on the mainland only care about their own comfort and safety, forgetting their mission as shepherds and not working to awaken the human spirit.
When referring to the situation in Hong Kong, Father Li says he feels very angry. He says the spirit of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong following the handover in 1997, has been violated by Beijing.
“This is completely roguish behavior,” he says.
Father Li believes the demands of Hong Kong’s people are reasonable and legitimate, but the people are being demonized by the Chinese Communist Party which show its lack of respect for the human rights of Hong Kong’s people.
This lack of respect will not be seen by the clear majority on the mainland, according to Joseph, a Catholic who attends an open church in China’s Hebei province, and who says he has sympathy for those protesting in Hong Kong after having seen an alternative viewpoint.
The false propaganda the mainland media can disseminate is pervading, he says, with many people thinking the protesters are rioting in search of independence.
State media has instilled hatred in many people through brainwashing, which is a most terrible thing, he says.
This brainwashing has gone on for a long time, disabling a person’s ability to freely judge what’s right and wrong, he says.
Hong Kong is a classic case, he says.
Because of the information blockade, ordinary Chinese cannot see what is really going on, which has led them to develop a serious hatred of those looking to uphold their rights.