HK Special: A family divided, a mum in anguish in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN) - This is part two of three stories from The Straits Times special on the Hong Kong protests.After a disagreement about the July 21 incident, Jenny Kwan's son, Choi, moved out and she has not spoken to him since.

Jenny Kwan misses her son.

Since the city's pro-democracy protests escalated in June, relations have been tense between the mother of three, who supports the government, and her youngest son, Choi, who is firmly on the other side.

After a disagreement about the July 21 incident - a pro-Beijing mob believed to be linked to triads attacked protesters and commuters at a rural metro station - Choi, 25, moved out and Madam Kwan, 59, has not spoken to him since.

"As a mother, I have my views too. Why can't we sit down and talk reasonably, but he has to feel that I'm in the wrong? That supporting China, supporting your own country, is wrong?" says the accounting executive who works in a hotel.

"In the past, we'd go out for tea once a week, have a chat... It was very wholesome. But now, it's all gone," she says, her eyes turning misty. Weekday evenings after work are mostly spent in silence in front of the television and playing with her cats. Her husband works overseas and is barely home.

Her eldest, who is 31 and works in IT, moved out in 2016, and her 27-year-old second son, a civil servant, barely goes home for dinner.

They still speak with her over WhatsApp via text messages, Madam Kwan said, but communication with Choi has been limited.

Their last contact was on Sept 24, when he asked her to cancel his mobile plan registered under her name.

"I'm not sure how to reach him after that," she says, her voice barely above a whisper.

Contacted by The Sunday Times, Choi declined to be interviewed.

With the pro-democracy movement mostly led by the young whose parents may be more accepting of the status quo, or even supportive of the government, this sort of split has been common in many Hong Kong families. Some of her friends have even come to blows with their own children, Madam Kwan says.

As for her and Choi, it started with a series of disagreements over their political views.

While her three children support democracy and universal suffrage - the right for Hong Kongers to vote for their own leaders in direct elections - Madam Kwan is comparatively more pro-establishment.

She has attended pro-police and pro-government rallies.

The Chinese government that people used to fear is no longer the same, she says, adding that her relatives living in the mainland have comparatively more prosperous lives, retiring at 60.

"No matter what your political system, I think that as long as you work for the good of the people, be it communist or something else, we'd prefer choosing something that allows your people to live good lives," Madam Kwan says. She sees it as her duty as a Chinese person to be supportive of China.

Conversely, she thinks that her sons are naive by believing that Western democratic values are best for the city, saying it has blinded them to how "the United States is behind the unrest in Hong Kong".

Beijing has repeatedly accused foreign forces of trying to start a "colour revolution" in the territory, but there has been little if any evidence of that. "I wonder what media my sons look at - that what they see and what we see are completely different," she says.

But it is a constant struggle for her every day: trying to balance between being a patriot and a mother.

Throughout an hour-long interview, she often repeats her wish for her son to "come home for soup" and for the family to go back to the way it was. An important part of Cantonese culture, soup is not just a meal: it represents family, togetherness and, importantly, a way for mothers to express love for their children.

"Hopefully the protests come to a close, then hopefully everyone can come out for a meal together. Better than not speaking at all now," she says, looking down, her voice breaking slightly. "Everything will pass, but family ties don't change."

Yet, asked if she would give up her political beliefs to reconcile with her children, she immediately says "no way". "I won't. Because ultimately, we're Chinese, how can we not support our own country?

"There are already a lot of people in Hong Kong who don't support the country, if I do that too, our country will collapse."

Read more here.