Lessons from Hong Kong: What Americans can learn from struggles abroad (OPINION)

More than one million protesters lined the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. Since February, these protestors have been opposing the Chinese government and advocating for a free, independent democracy. Through sweat and tears, heat and rain, these aspirants dream of an alternative future -- a future that Americans know well. 

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” model, Hong Kong operates under a system of capitalism, despite being ruled and governed by China, a communist country. Hong Kong has longed for an independent democracy for more than two decades, and now, that dream is closer than ever to reality.

Images from the protests are both inspiring and chilling -- an endless sea of colorful umbrellas huddled together in peaceful defiance, police unleashing tear gas on thousands of pro-democracy protesters, massive American flags waving in the wind as a symbol of hope.

I can’t help but empathize with the people in Hong Kong. How lucky am I to live in a country with the freedoms and individual liberty that others desire so badly?

My parents are immigrants from China. They grew up in a time where only one in every thousand people got to attend college. At that time in China, women were also discouraged from learning, so my mom had to trade the little food rations she had for books, hiding under her bed while she read each night. My parents came to America with nothing but $80 to study at the University of Pittsburgh. Doing part-time work for a professor to make ends meet, they slept on their shared office floor. Through the language barrier and financial hardship, they were both able to overcome the odds and become college math professors. They toiled and fought their way to a new future so that my sister and I could have a better opportunity in the U.S.

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Reporting on liberal bias this summer at Campus Reform, I have seen college students fight for their beliefs. But these protests just don’t resonate with me in the same way as the protests in Hong Kong

We’ve seen campuses fight against history, including the vandalism of a Thomas Jefferson statue and the protest of George Washington University’s “George the Colonial” mascot. We’ve seen students and universities fight the stars and stripes, calling it an “offensive” symbol. We’ve seen students fight against the Pledge of Allegiance through various boycotts; one Minnesota town even banned it.

These are but a few examples of what I have seen in my brief three months at Campus Reform.  

The beauty of our country is that we have the right to protest any cause under the Constitution, and this creates an irony around the students protesting the very fundamental American principles that grant them those rights in the first place.  

The people of Hong Kong are protesting for their right to protest. They’re protesting for their right to fight for what they believe in. It’s no coincidence that they view our flag as a symbol for democracy and freedom, a very different view from that of many American skeptics on college campuses who take their rights for granted.

As I prepare to go off to college in the next few weeks, you might expect a young conservative like myself to have an aporetic view of my impending college experience in an environment that tends to be hostile toward those on the right of the political spectrum.

But I am more hopeful now than ever before.

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This summer I have met conservatives who fight for free markets and the values enshrined in our Constitution. I have met kind-hearted mentors who fight against liberal bias and political injustice. I have met fellow young people who fight for the traditional values that make our country great -- even as the majority of my generation begins to concede to the false songs of socialism and moral relativity.

With all this in mind, I know that one thing holds true: some things are worth fighting for.

Whether it’s standing in the rain and blocking tear gas with a flimsy umbrella to fight for democracy, trading the only food you have for books to fight for a better future, or exposing liberal bias on campus to fight for uncensored debate and American values, fighting for truth takes on many forms and will always be necessary.

We must all remember to keep fighting the good fight -- for Hong Kong, for the future, and for freedom.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ethanycai