Hong Kong Locals Leave Home For Britain as China Reshapes the City

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Hong Kong Locals Leave Home For Britain as China Reshapes the City” – below is their description.

    Stay or move to the U.K. using the BN(O) passport? Hong Kong locals face a hard choice as China reshapes the city after Beijing imposed a national security law. They’ll miss their parents, their favorite hiking spots and the chatter of their mother tongue on the streets. Some don’t want to go, even if it means the risk of detention. There are no easy decisions for Hong Kong residents who are weighing their futures.

    For many locals, Beijing’s move to impose a national security law on the Asian financial hub has been a catalyst to consider leaving, potentially for good. A year after it was announced, the law has already tightened China’s grip on Hong Kong, alongside changes to electoral rules and a new patriotic curriculum for schools. Expats are also increasingly thinking of relocating.

    Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law, which prohibits acts of secession, terrorism and subversion and foreign collusion, was necessary for stability after protests swamped the city from March 2019 to mid-2020.

    Ferris, who only gave his first name, said he grew up in a pro-China family. They rejoiced when Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule. As a boy, he joined the youth group of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, the city’s largest pro-Beijing labor group, where his relatives remain active. “We even got a Mao Zedong statue at home,” he said.

    When hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets on July 1, 2003 — the anniversary of the city’s handover — to oppose the legislature’s first attempt to replace a colonial-era security law, Ferris looked on with displeasure. “I thought, ‘Why are these people making trouble? Are they fake protesters or what?’”

    He wrote an online post criticizing the protesters and ended up in heated debates with other internet users. By reading more about the issues, he said he came to understand why Hongkongers were so opposed to the security law proposal in 2003. “I took the chance to read what people wrote and realized I was really naïve,” he said. “I realized not everything my parents said to me is right.”

    That spirit of debate and the “freedom to speak freely” has faded in recent years, he said. “The legal system, administration and legislature used to check and balance each other. The police used to be nice,” he added. Ferris said he realized one day that he did not want to live in the city anymore.

    He said he wanted to have children, but Hong Kong was no longer appealing “given the stress, living costs and the political environment.” Over the years, he flirted with living in Japan, where he ran hospitality businesses, or Taiwan, where he said life was more easygoing. But those plans never solidified. Then the the U.K. opened up its visa scheme.

    After months of working on his immigration papers, and many sleepless nights, he and his wife received their U.K. visas in March. “It was the best day ever in my life. Even better than the day I got married,” he said. They booked one-way tickets to London.

    Ferris had been reluctant to show his face on camera while being interviewed through his BN(O) application process. He worried his criticisms of the government would get him in trouble in Hong Kong. But after getting his visa, he agreed to be photographed and filmed. One of his final moments in Hong Kong was spent getting a haircut from a hairdresser friend, saying it “symbolized a fresh start.”

    He said his family didn’t understand his decision to move, however. “They think, ‘China is so good. Why are you going to some other countries to be their second-class citizens?’” he said. His relatives sent him videos of pro-China influencers claiming the BN(O) policy is a scam and that he would face discrimination in Britain — but this failed to dissuade him.

    He quit the family messenger groups and stuck to his rule of avoiding discussing politics with relatives. “I can’t convince them anyway. Their values are rooted for decades and it’s not that easy to change.”

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