ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Hong Kong government has abruptly canceled talks with student leaders of the pro-democracy movement. The meeting had been set for tomorrow. Hong Kong's chief secretary said they won't meet, as long as protesters threaten more school boycotts and demonstrations. Protest leaders called the government insincere and are urging people to return to the streets, where last week tens of thousands demanded democracy.
We're going to explore the role of faith in this movement. As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, many of the organizers are Christians and some cite their faith as an inspiration.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: When Hong Kong's Occupy Central group first announced it was planning pro-democracy demonstrations, it did so in a church. The group's full name is Occupy Central With Love And Peace, in the Christian spirit and its top leaders include a minister and a law professor who's also a Christian.
JOSEPH CHENG: There are many Christians and Catholics among the pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, the older generation.
LANGFITT: Joseph Cheng teaches political science at City University of Hong Kong. He's also a pro-democracy activist and a Christian himself. Cheng says many of the movement's leaders were educated in Hong Kong's Christian missionary schools, which helped shape their beliefs.
CHENG: There is this Christian spirit. You're more willing to suffer. Social justice means more to you. Willingness to sacrifice for a just cause means more to you.
LANGFITT: And those same leaders have also shown a greater willingness to take on China's Communist Party, demand genuine democratic elections here for the next chief executive.
CHENG: Christians all over the world tend to be distrustful of the Communist parties (laughter), naturally. I mean, if you are a Christian in China, if you're a Christian in Hong Kong, you know that the Chinese Communist regime has been suppressing Christianity.
LANGFITT: David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is a long-time political observer. He says the Communist Party must be eying the Christian connection warily.
DAVID ZWEIG: Well, they see any religion that has an alternative explanation for the future, that has an organizational capacity, as a threat.
LANGFITT: Sing Ming is a pro-democracy activist, a Christian and a scholar. He emphasizes that the pro-democracy movement is not faith-based and that some Protestant churches oppose it.
SING MING: A number of pastors, they come out in a very high-profile manner, attacking our ability of this entire movement. And they have been politically extremely conservative in the past so actually, the local Protestant churches are quite divided.
LANGFITT: Christianity isn't the only belief system that's having some influence here in the protests.
Right now I'm out in the gritty neighborhood of Mong Kok. There's still a large occupation, a big tent in the middle of an intersection. And up here at the end of the street, there's a big barricade made of bamboo and someone has set up a shrine to an ancient Chinese general.
KEVIN TSANG: It's kind of a god of war, loyalty and brotherhood.
LANGFITT: Kevin Tsang is a nurse and one of the hundreds protesting today in the neighborhood.
TSANG: So the gangsters and the police both worshiped this God for - to get protection from it.
LANGFITT: The same gangsters that protesters say attacked them last week, they believe on behalf of the government. And the same police who fired tear gas at them. Tsang says protesters are trying to send a message - that general, he's on our side.
TSANG: We want this god to punish whoever tries to hurt the unarmed citizens.
LANGFITT: And if that doesn't work, they build another shrine and another barricade with a picture of Jesus and an open Bible.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Hong Kong.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.