For Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joseph Cheng, dramatic changes occurred quickly in his city, leading him, like so many others, to leave his home. He says that his Catholic faith has given him the strength to accept suffering for the sake of the values he holds dear.
“The changes have been rapid and have been beyond the expectations of ordinary Hong Kong people, of ordinary supporters of the pro-democracy movement,” Joseph Cheng told CNA on July 23.
“Among my friends who are activists, who are staunch activists, it is quite a sad story. Most of them have been detained,” he said.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested in Hong Kong since the 2019 anti-government protest movement brought over a million people into the streets.
In the first year under the national security law imposed in June 2020, 117 were arrested and more than 60 politicians, activists, journalists, and students were charged under the law, according to AP.
“Many of the young activists have been leaving in recent months,” Cheng said.
“Almost two-thirds of the most active participants in the pro-democracy movement are either being detained or they are being prosecuted and therefore they cannot leave or they have gone,” he said.
It is estimated that up to a million people may leave Hong Kong, which has a population of 7.5 million, in the next few years.
Cheng is one of many from Hong Kong who has already opted to leave in response to the threat posed by the national security law. He left with his family for Australia in July 2020 and has since settled in Auckland, New Zealand.
Others from Hong Kong have gone to the United Kingdom or Taiwan, which have both offered special visas in light of the situation.
“I never expected to leave Hong Kong,” said Cheng, a 71-year-old retired political science professor.
“I was quite prepared to retire in Hong Kong … but I was severely attacked by the pro-Beijing mass media … and I was very worried that I may be arrested and prosecuted.”
Cheng said that due to recent events, many people are pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future, and he did not think that he would be able to return in the foreseeable future.
Yet he said that his Catholic faith had helped to give meaning to his suffering and shape his belief that values are worth fighting for even when one understands that “not much can be achieved, and the situation probably will continue to deteriorate.”
“As a Catholic, we believe in the afterlife, and we believe in everlasting life. And we believe that love of God, maintaining our faith, maintaining our love for … members of the society are important,” he said.
“And because of our belief in these things, we tend to accept sufferings, hardships, challenges in the present world … in a more prepared manner.”
For Cheng, this may also explain why “many of the pro-democracy leaders and activists are Catholics.”
“They have received a Catholic education,” he said. “And I am among those who hold these beliefs, who hold these values and am, therefore, slightly more willing to sacrifice, and to engage in activities to uphold the values that we treasure.”