Protests in Hong Kong may have dominated global headlines in the past week, but they stirred much less attention on the Chinese mainland, where government censorship has been particularly strict.
Even in Beijing, many people canvassed informally on Monday said they were not aware that protests were taking place in the southern territory. On a sunny public holiday in the Chinese capital, people thronged shopping malls, restaurants and cafes, while others made their way into and around the city at railway, bus and subway stations. About half of the five dozen people questioned professed no knowledge of or said they were not following events in Hong Kong, while most of the rest said their understanding of the situation was limited to state news media reports.
Guo Lin, a 20-year-old student at lunch with a friend in a KFC restaurant in the west of the city, said she was surprised how different the information she was receiving from friends through the Wechat social media platform was from that released on state-run China Central Television.
“My friends who studied in Hong Kong told me how bad the government is there, but CCTV told me how irrational the protesters are — I don’t know who to believe,” she said. “I don’t think the protesters are aggressive. I even envy them because they have freedom of speech.”
Gauging public opinion is notoriously hard in China, where free speech on sensitive topics is extremely limited. But in conversations with a range of people in the capital Monday, there appeared to be little sympathy for the protesters’ main demand — that Hong Kong be granted full democracy — and a tendency to blame students, radicals or foreign governments for disrupting life there rather than the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing for intransigence.