In just a few short weeks, the 3-year accumulation of discontent among the Chinese citizens has brought them an unexpected result: Taking to the streets for the first time and winning a protest against the regime’s policy.

Hong Kong student Frank from Guangdong talked to DW China, “The people’s voices are paying off.” It made authorities change their thoughts about the people.

Still, a 26-year-old mainland student studying for her master’s degree in Hong Kong, Zoe, told DW she is not satisfied with the result. She said, “This is treating the symptoms and not the root cause.”

She believes, “The root cause refers to institutional issues, freedom of expression, and censorship. These structural issues have not been solved.”

Frank has the same idea as Zoe, he said, “On the one hand, everyone has gained, but on the other hand, (the regime) still refuses to let people speak. More state machinery has been dispatched in Shanghai, Beijing, and other places to extinguish activities with state violence. It feels quite sad.”

Zoe and Frank have participated in mourning and solidarity events in Hong Kong the past few days. Both hope for a bigger change or reform in the control system.

According to DW, Zoe and Frank were born and raised in mainland China. They left China to further their studies.

Their generation has witnessed the movement, and they all think the “zero-COVID” policy reversal is just the surface of the problem.

Frank believes that the core demands have not been met. “Freedom of speech is the most basic thing, and the simplest is to let the people speak.” As a law student, he observed that the pandemic chaos reflects that the concept of the rule of law in Chinese society is still weak. He expressed his anger, commenting that the law enforcers themselves are also “trampling the law.”

Zoe told reporters, “My biggest appeal is to solve the fundamental problem – to change the system, that is, not to be a dictatorship.”

She believes that from the Cultural Revolution to the suppression of the 1989 democracy movement, China’s rulers have had too much power, “always using oppressive means to achieve political goals, but never really admitting their mistakes,” which she said is disappointing.

When people in the protest called out the Communist Party to step down, Zoe was shocked. She said, “It is something that many people have wanted to hear for many years but dare not say it.” Seeing her countrymen risk speaking, she felt that she could not remain silent.

Frank said when the Sitong Bridge banner incident happened, he witnessed many mainlanders staying silent. What shocked Frank was that after the White Paper movement flared a month later, Chinese demonstrators even chanted the slogan of the Sitong Bridge banner in unison.

He said, “Even if the banner is taken down now, there is actually an echo. I didn’t expect everyone to remember it in their hearts and express it. It is a kind of echo that is deeply rooted in the hearts of the people.”

Through Zoe’s sharing, it can be seen that growing up in the mainland and studying in Hong Kong gave her an overview. She talks about the injustice and oppression of the social system that exists in every corner of Chinese society. She expressed a natural instinct to resist living in such a society.

She said, “This incident made me realize that although our generation’s consciousness is strictly controlled, it turns out that everyone has not been completely brainwashed.”

Talking about the conflict between the people of the mainland and Hong Kong, Zoe told DW: “In 2019, the word ‘foreign forces’ was used by the Communist Party as a tool to create antagonism between Hong Kongers and mainland people, and to turn people’s instinctive love into hatred. Its purpose has been achieved. But the real power is not outside the country but inside the country, and both Hong Kong people and mainland people are being played with.”

After carrying banners at their school and participating in protests, the two were questioned and recorded by the police. They agreed that although the demonstration space in Hong Kong is still larger and slightly wider than on the mainland, it is not as good as before.

The wave of protests in mainland China has gradually subsided, but white paper protests have blossomed around the world. Many international students and overseas Chinese groups are continuing to make plans.

Both said they were in the minority among their peers, but the experience allowed them to learn to slowly overcome their psychological fears.

Zoe recounted the moment she joined the protest, “I was both excited and a little scared; my hands were shaking. I thought, what if I was the only one who cared about this? Am I ruining my future?” She said there is a term in mainland China called “political openness,” and anyone who expresses political views will be marginalized in society. She added, “I used to think I was the only one thinking about politics, but now people are waking up.”

The white paper movement has changed her point of view about her country’s future, “For so many years, I felt that China seemed to be finished like this, and the constitution was changed. I didn’t have confidence at first, but now my confidence has suddenly increased; because I am finally not alone. This feeling is very satisfying.”

Frank and Zoe shared optimistic thoughts and plans about how they would act next, something they had never thought of before.

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