Author: Lauren Meyer, Loyola University
The images are astounding: throngs of people, tens of thousands of citizens, lined up throughout the streets rallying for their voice to be heard. Violence has not ensued; rather demonstrations are taking place in the form of a civil disobedience movement, as protestors remain restrained, though confronted with tear gas and multiple warnings. This has been the scene in Hong Kong since Friday, September 26th, when protestors took to the streets in opposition to the Chinese government’s decision to vet and review those individuals who would be candidates during the election for Hong Kong’s leader, which will take place in 2017.
After the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong to China, after 156 years under British control, back in July 1997, Hong Kong became a “Special Administrative Region” of China. This means that Hong Kong remains an autonomous region with a significant degree of self-rule. The anger among citizens ignited because officials in Beijing stated that the potential candidates would need to be vetted by Chinese leadership. This contradicts with Article 45 of the Basic Law, which is Hong Kong’s official constitutional document. In part, Article 45 states, “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” The people of Hong Kong finally believed that they would be able to vote for their own leadership without any obstruction from China. Student protestors have been at the forefront of these rallies, many urging the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying. As of October 2nd, Leung, who is backed by Beijing, has refused to resign, igniting even more retaliation among the protestors. The difficultly lies among Hong Kong and Beijing officials, where although Beijing officials are not willing to concede to the demands of the protestors, they would rather compromise instead of having a tumultuous altercation play out for the whole world to see.
The movement has been coined as the “Umbrella Revolution,” in reference to the use of umbrellas by protestors as protection from tear gas. This has become a symbolic image of the movement, with pictures and signs of solidary being shown from all across the world on social media. There seems to be no clear signal of protests ending soon, with many pro-Beijing activists attacking and trashing a pro-democracy site.
Beijing’s response to the pro-democracy protestors has been restrained, with only verbal condemnation being the government’s official response. The threat that Beijing faces is the possibility that protests could spread to mainland China, as Hong Kong is not the only region in the area that desires more independence. The reaction of those living in mainland China has been one of bewilderment and slight ignorance, as those there do not want the protests to succeed. Stark political apathy exists in mainland China and that is a product of the dominant one-party system. The Chinese government has been shielding the activities of the demonstrations from those living in mainland China through the state run news outlets. News reports have hardly mentioned the protests and any international broadcasts that may be in the country have been censored. The government has monitored websites and social media sites, shutting down Instagram and instructing many news sites to omit any mention of the demonstrations and clashes.
It is really difficult to say exactly how these protests will play out and how they will impact the Hong Kong elections in 2017. The demonstrations happening today have been more benign than the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, yet the most striking similarity has been the role that students have played in rallying together in order to have their voices heard. The world has watched with admiration at how civilized and respectful the protests have been, regardless of how high tensions have gotten. But this enduring feature of respect has encountered some trouble, as the seventh day of protests resulted in twelve people being injured in the district of Mong Kok. All eyes will continue to remain on Hong Kong and Beijing as the struggle for power continues.