ST. HELENA, Calif.—A crowd of Californians held a peaceful demonstration on Oct. 12 to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in front of a vineyard owned by Yao Ming, the former National Basketball Association (NBA) star.
The demonstration was triggered by Yao’s criticism of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Yao is the current president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in China. Under Yao’s leadership, the CBA has stopped its working relations with the NBA in protest of Morey’s now-deleted tweet.
“We, many Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area, are very angry at Yao Ming’s behavior,” the demonstrators’ press release stated.
The press release said that Yao “chose not to support his former mentor’s freedom of speech but immediately denounced the NBA.”
St. Helena is a small city in Napa County. Yao owns a vineyard and restaurant called Yao Family Wines, located on the city’s Main Street.
The protesters stood on the sidewalk in front of Yao’s property holding signs reading “Support Hong Kong! Oppose Tyranny,” “Stand with Daryl Morey,” “Yao Ming, Shame on You!”, “Free Hong Kong, Free China!”, and “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
The press release also suggests that Yao Ming close his businesses in the United States so that he can “focus on his role as the president of the Chinese Basketball Association.”
Main Street was busy on Oct. 12, and many drivers honked their horns in support as they passed by.
“Yao plays an ugly role to show his loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] by attacking American citizens’ freedom of speech,” Fang Zheng, one of the demonstrators, told The Epoch Times.
Fang lost his legs on the morning of June 4, 1989, during the Tiananmen Square massacre, when a CCP military tank caught him from behind. He was a senior-level student in the Beijing Sport University and an Olympic hopeful at the time.
He’s now president of the Chinese Democracy Education Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. He came to the United States in 2009 and has been an activist for democracy in China ever since.
Fang said that Yao displayed an independent personality when he was in America playing for the Houston Rockets, but that he changed after he returned to China and became an official under the regime.
“He is now a part of China’s dark political system,” Fang said.
Zhao Changqing, another demonstrator, criticized Yao for enjoying an American lifestyle and having his family and business in the United States, while opposing the constitutional rights of the American people. “Yao Ming has a split personality,” he said.
Zhao is also a democracy activist who was a college freshman at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre. After that day in 1989, he said he was jailed six times in China—for a total of 11 of the past 30 years—for promoting democracy. He was one of the sponsors who initiated the Global Alliance to Support Hong Kong, whose mission is to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Zhao urged Yao to pay respect to freedom and democracy, or else “close his business here and take his family back to Beijing, since he likes Beijing’s tyranny so much.”
Yao has been active in China’s politics. The former NBA star became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in 2013. The CPPCC is China’s elite political alliance supporting the CCP’s ruling power.
China’s State Department has openly criticized the NBA, with the Chinese Consulate in Houston demanding that the NBA correct Morey’s “mistake.” On Oct. 4, Morey posted a photo on Twitter that read “Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong.” China’s state-run CCTV has since canceled the live broadcast of two NBA games.
Zheng Yun said she joined the demonstration outside Yao’s vineyard to pay respect to the universal values of freedom and democracy as a Chinese person.
“We want Americans to know that not all Chinese people are brainwashed,” she said.
The athletic spirit is supposed to be a noble part of humanity, she said, but now its nobility is threatened by China’s communist regime.
Zheng is the president of the Northern California branch of the Federation for a Democratic China.
Yao Family Wines declined to comment on the protest.