HONG KONG—When Andrew Sia was 9, his adopted mother packed what they could carry and the pair fled Shanghai to join Sia’s father in the then–British colony of Hong Kong. It was 1958, and the family, successful traders before the Communist revolution, had been relentlessly persecuted in the years since, with Sia’s father taken for nightly interrogations and eventually declared an enemy of the state.
Five and a half decades later, Sia embarked on another exodus. He had gone from an orphan given to a church at birth to the head of a garment empire making lingerie for international brands such as Calvin Klein. But by 2012, the China he had escaped was catching up with him in Hong Kong, with Beijing’s heavy-handed policies having eroded freedoms in the city. Though he was not in immediate danger, he felt the need to leave.
“I’ve been running from the Communists my whole life,” he told me from New Jersey, where he now lives. When Sia moved to the United States, the mantra his father had said to him from a young age echoed in his head: Leave Hong Kong. If you want real freedom and opportunity, leave Hong Kong. There’s no hope in China.
Hong Kong’s protests are now in their fifth month, initially sparked by a law that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China, but having since expanded to calls for police accountability and political reform. And while the demonstrations have captured international attention on their own, diaspora populations have served as a crucial amplifier, raising awareness and support, leading, for example, to more than 40 rallies on a single day in September in cities across the globe, from Washington, D.C., to Paris to Sydney.