At 23, Hong Kong Lawmaker Promises Feisty Protests Aimed At China : Parallels Nathan Law is the youngest elected official ever in Hong Kong. He plans more protests against China and he says he's willing to go to prison for his beliefs.
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At 23, Hong Kong Lawmaker Promises Feisty Protests Aimed At China

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At 23, Hong Kong Lawmaker Promises Feisty Protests Aimed At China

At 23, Hong Kong Lawmaker Promises Feisty Protests Aimed At China

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Thailand refused to lead in a prominent Hong Kong student activist today. The student supporters believe China is behind the decision. They say this is just the latest example of the communist, one-party mainland trying to exert its authority over the democratic island. We're going to meet two young people caught up in this political struggle.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We'll start with 23-year-old Nathan Law. He helped lead the Umbrella Democracy. That was a protest that closed Hong Kong's financial district for weeks in 2014. Last month, voters made him the youngest elected official in the city's history. Here's NPR's Rob Schmitz.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Nathan Law meets me on a windswept terrace overlooking the glass and steel towers of downtown Hong Kong. He's dressed like a student - shorts, T-shirt, backpack. That's because he is a student. He's still taking college courses, and he's already scored a job.

What do you make now that you're an elected official? What's the salary?

NATHAN LAW: It's around 12,000 U.S. dollars per month.

SCHMITZ: That's pretty good.

LAW: Yeah. In Hong Kong, that is.

SCHMITZ: Law plans to donate more than half his salary to social causes. He prefers to live as he's always lived. Law grew up in public housing. His father was a construction worker. His mother took care of him and his two older brothers. They lived paycheck to paycheck.

LAW: If you really look around Hong Kong, there is actually a lot of people living here living a very underprivileged life.

SCHMITZ: Law says for every Mercedes Benz in Hong Kong, there's a senior picking through trash. Now that he's a legislator, he'd like to help these people. But when I pressed him about specific legislation, Law returns to what he knows best - protesting China's grip over the city.

LAW: One thing to change is by changing the political system. And, also, I will keep organizing civil disobedience. That is very important for us.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking in foreign language).

SCHMITZ: Two years ago, in the heat of protest in Central Hong Kong, Law led protesters in chanting - return the square to us. The square is a public one in front of the government headquarters. Law and two others were arrested for storming it hours later. He avoided a prison sentence and is now doing community service, but if he keeps it up, prison could be a likely result.

LAW: I don't mind to be locked in prison, to be honest, because I have, like, enough mental preparation. But one thing I worry is that people may get used to these kind of unjust things.

SCHMITZ: Law's worried Hong Kongers will have a fatalistic attitude about civil rights now that a timetable is in place for China to regain sovereignty over the city in 30 years.

How do you feel that you could actually create change when it seems like things are already predestined?

LAW: We will experience a lot of fear and damage and trauma in the process of that, but if it stops you and if it scares you, then I could guarantee you that the ending of Hong Kong and our society and the people who really live here will be worse.

SCHMITZ: Law, who insists on being called Nathan, readjusts himself, pushes his glasses up and picks at a pimple on his chin. The 23-year-old still lives at home, and I can't help but think about his parents.

LAW: Actually, they are really worried because they came from mainland China, and they escaped from mainland China because of economic factors and also political factors. There's one, like, quote they always say. Like, just don't mess up things because, like, Communist Party is very scary - things like this.

SCHMITZ: Because Communist Party is very scary, he says. But Law also says that after many heated family arguments, both his mother and father have begun supporting him and his cause. They've realised, he says, that they can't control their kid. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Hong Kong.

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