The events in Hong Kong right now are a fight for its future.
This link offers a very good intro/summary of what’s happening in HK right now, and why this is important for people around the world to understand and be educated about.
My FB feed has been blowing up with news from HK - friends and family have been sharing links, news articles, and even photos right from where it is all happening. Last night, I also saw a couple of articles being shared that likened what was happening in HK to what happened in Ferguson, and I would like to politely suggest for everyone to not compare these two situations, because 1) the root cause is fairly different and 2) as much as HK-ers appreciate and need international support and sympathy, to have outsiders project their own feelings about another event on an already deeply emotional event (I will explain this more below) feels a little self-centred.
As I’ve said before, the link above is a great resource to read, but if you’re really pressed for time and want a TL;DR version of the current situation in HK, here goes:
- HK was acquired by UK after the Opium Wars, after which HK spent 155 years under British rule
- HK’s status as a Commonwealth territory (instead of under China’s Communist rule) meant a certain degree of autonomy for the citizens of HK; although it sucked that HK was taken from China, it did mean 155 years of rights like the freedom of speech, the freedom to protest, etc.
- In 1997, HK was handed back over to China; citizens were extremely concerned that they would lose their civil rights under the new Communist rule, but the Chinese government promised a “one country, two systems” arrangement where HK would be run pretty much the same way as it was under British rule
- One promise that the Chinese government made was that in 2017, HK would be allowed to hold a democratic election for its Chief Executive (universal suffrage instead of what happens right now - election of the Chief Executive by a small committee)
- Recently (i.e., spring/summer 2014), the Chinese government essentially said LOL JUST KIDDING regarding the promise of a free democratic election - they said that citizens would be allowed to vote for a candidate, but candidates would be pre-selected by a committee (which is basically not very different from what happens right now and the committee is 110% likely to be pro-Beijing)
- As you can imagine, this did not go down well with citizens in HK; university/college-aged students decided to organize some peaceful protests, as did a group called “Occupy Central”
- Occupy Central was formed by a small group of academics and wanted to organize a show of “civil disobedience” on October 1 (anniversary of Communist China’s beginning); seeing the students begin to protest this week, they joined up
- Unfortunately, police in HK responded to these peaceful protests with much more force than expected, employing tear gas where it was uncalled for
- This obviously made protesters and citizens more angry, and while protests began in Central, they are now spreading to cover important streets in the financial district and some areas outside Hong Kong Island (BRIEF HK GEOGRAPHY PRIMER: HK is made up of Hong Kong Island - which is literally an island, Kowloon, and the New Territories - which are both part of the mainland)
At this point you might be like WOW HK GOVERNMENT SUCKS CHINESE GOVERNMENT SUCKS ALL THE POWER TO THE STUDENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO ARE PROTESTING WOOOOOO and yes, peaceful protests are good and ofc we always need to be cognizant of possible escalation. The reason why this event has been so emotional, apart from the whole protecting freedom and liberty bit, is that the images of thousands of students peacefully protesting is a haunting reminder of June 4, 1989, where students in Tiananmen Square also peacefully protested and were forcibly cleared away with tanks and bullets.
(Image: Aaron Tam/ Getty)
Honestly, just seeing photos of the people in HK sitting in Central this weekend makes me want to cry - and I wasn’t even born in HK. The decision of my parents to immigrate to Canada was largely informed by that tragic day when they watched young university students shot down for doing nothing more than shout their desire for democracy to the government - my mother cried in front of the television and told my father: “We have to leave. We have to leave.” The events of this weekend are a strong and sobering reminder that the Chinese government is able and has shown itself willing to use excessive force to tamp down on events that may trigger political instability.
Thankfully, I am fairly confident that these series of protests will not end in bloodshed like it did at Tiananmen Square - there is simply too much international attention to this event, and anything more than what has already happened will result in international outcry. However, what I am worried about is the aftermath - what happens after international attention dies down, when everyone goes back to business as usual? China is not going to forget this weekend and just let HK do its thing - there will be long-term consequences to the protests that occurred this weekend, and with HK’s top government officials being pro-Beijing, a lot may occur that is not in line with HK citizens’ best interests.
As a mere spectator overseas, I can only watch as the city I love struggles through this season of change and instability. The streets I walked in just 2 years ago look almost like a warzone. I can do nothing but raise awareness about this issue, and pray that people do not forget Hong Kong after this week is over. Please - do not forget Hong Kong. The more international attention HK receives, even as time goes on, the more that Beijing will have to be careful about the decisions they make about what happened this weekend, and the more likely that the regular citizens of HK will remain safe.
(*A fairly good resource for keeping up to date with events, as well as thoughtful analyses of the situation, is BBC News)