Mainland Chinese students flee, but hope to be back in Hong Kong soon

Phoebe Zhang

When engineering student Xu Ao landed in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the first thing he did was prepare to leave.

“As I arrived at the airport yesterday I panicked and took a taxi back to my flat. I didn’t dare take any other type of transport,” he said. “I went back home, packed up my things, and left first thing this morning.”

Xu, who is studying for a master’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), was at a conference in Beijing when he heard about the clashes between protesters and police earlier on his campus.

On Thursday he joined dozens of other students from mainland China who have fled their studies in Hong Kong in search of temporary refuge in “boarding houses” in Shenzhen, just across the border in the south China province of Guangdong.

The properties, or “Grads Homes”, are linked to a programme launched in 2013 by the local Communist Party Youth League to provide temporary housing for new university graduates while they look for work.

On Wednesday morning, the league said that students fleeing Hong Kong could stay free of charge for up to seven days at any of its 13 houses in the city.

Chen Ruihong, a league official in charge of a community in the Nantou area of Shenzhen, said seven of its houses were already fully booked, although not everyone had checked in yet.

The Shenzhen Civil Affairs Bureau has been providing residents with free meals three times a day, while social workers and police have also offered support as required.

The students are offered seven days’ free accommodation. Photo: Handout

Xu said that he planned to live in Shenzhen for the time being and that his mentor had arranged for him to continue his studies at a lab at the Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation, which is owned by HKU.

If he was unable to return to Hong Kong, he said he would have to make more long-term living arrangements.

“It’s so chaotic in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that he planned to return to the mainland in the summer after completing his studies.

Many of the others living in the boarding houses are taking a similar wait-and-see approach.

A student from City University of Hong Kong, who declined to give her name, said on Thursday she had arrived in Shenzhen with a friend the previous afternoon and was waiting to hear if and when her classes might resume.

“We don’t know what the situation is yet,” she said. “If they resume classes within my seven-day stay I will go back to school. The classes have been suspended this week.”

The student, from east China’s Jiangxi province, said that she wanted to get out of Hong Kong temporarily but had no plans to return home just yet.

“I felt the need to evacuate yesterday as I saw some photos online. Also, my roommates had all left for the mainland,” she said.

If they resume classes within my seven-day stay I will go back to school

Student at City University of Hong Kong

Several Hong Kong universities have announced temporary adjustments to their teaching programmes, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which ended its school term two weeks early after becoming a battleground for the clashes between police and protesters on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology suspended classes for the rest of the week and said next week’s classes would be conducted online, while the University of Hong Kong (HKU) halted lessons and said it would keep students updated.

As well as the housing provided by the youth league, several Shenzhen schools and colleges affiliated to those affected in Hong Kong – including CUHK Shenzhen, Shenzhen Middle School and the Affiliated High School of South China Normal University – said they would provide accommodation for students and alumni.

While some internet users in mainland China have raged at what they see as students being forced out of Hong Kong, others have said the situation is not as bad as reported and that many students have opted to stay put.

A Chinese University student who moved out of Hong Kong said in a post on WeChat that even though there had been some chaotic scenes, much of the campus was unaffected.

She said she had no plans to transfer to another college and would wait and see if the situation calmed down.

“I have belongings, friends, stories here, this is my home,” she said of the Hong Kong campus. “I can't protect it but I will not abandon it.”

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