While the Elm City was covered by persistent rain and dark clouds Wednesday afternoon, bright spots of yellow could be seen around campus.
After pro-democracy demonstrations began in Hong Kong last Friday, a small group of Yale students hosted a “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong” event to raise community awareness and help show solidarity for the protestors. The ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations — known as Occupy Central and named for the central business district in Hong Kong — are the culmination of years-long tension between the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese government in Beijing. Even though the protests are occurring 8,000 miles away, Yale students interviewed said they want to bring the movement to the attention of the student body.
“The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness among Yale students and show solidarity to the protestors,” Christina Wong ’16, a student involved with the “Wear Yellow” event, said. “A lot of people don’t know what’s going on given all the sides of the story.”
“Wear Yellow for Hong Kong” was led in part by Wong, who brought the idea to Yale’s campus from Harvard. National participation in the event grew quickly, with at least 43 U.S. colleges and universities participating in the awareness-raising event by press time.
And over the past week, yellow ribbons have become synonymous with the Hong Kong protests, Stefani Kuo ’17 said.
“That’s the color and the motif and symbol that are coming out of the people who are now on the streets,” said Kuo.
Throughout campus on Wednesday, ribbons were distributed and students were photographed holding up signs and umbrellas. One of the signs included the English and Chinese words for “democracy,” “freedom” and “universal suffrage.”
Beyond just raising awareness, the “Wear Yellow” event expressed hopes that the protests remain peaceful, Wong said. She added that the students who helped coordinate and implement the event share a common interest in Hong Kong but are not part of a single student group.
Siyuan Ren ’16, a student who helped with Wednesday’s event, said there was general support from the undergraduate body, but added that few people have contextual knowledge about what is happening in Hong Kong. Most students support the protesters on moral grounds, believing that universal suffrage is better than partial suffrage, Ren said.
Other students echoed Ren’s concerns, adding that their peers seemed poorly informed on the protests occurring in Hong Kong.
“I was surprised by how little people seemed to know,” Kuo said. “I feel like Yale is such a busy place [that] it’s hard to keep track of the outside world. It was more difficult than I imagined [to spread] awareness.”
Stephen Roach, a lecturer at the School of Management, said a lack of knowledge does not reduce the importance of the issue.
Roach, who currently teaches a course entitled “The Next China,” said that the pro-democracy demonstrations are influenced by the 1997 British handover and China’s subsequent agreement to grant free and open elections in twenty years. He added that the size and scope of the protests are unprecedented in recent memory.
“There have been occupy movements all over the world in the last three years,” Roach said. “Most of them have faded. None of them have gotten the mass traction and support that Occupy Central has gotten.”
According to Wong, 40,000 to 50,000 Hong Kong residents have been sitting in streets for the past week in protest of China’s un-democratic actions.
Ren said that the climax of the Occupy Central movement was October 1 because it marks the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China — a national holiday.
As the protests continue, Wong said that she hopes to organize talks and dinners that further the discussion and build camaraderie between students who share a common interest in Hong Kong.
Still, the future of the Occupy Central movement is unclear, Roach said.
“The challenge is for both sides to find a compromise,” he said.
China is the most represented country outside the U.S. at Yale.