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A brief history of Hong Kong

Since the last couple of months, there has hardly a day gone by during which Hong Kong and its political crisis were not mentioned in the news. Roughly over the last six months, this vibrant city has been the showplace of rising tensions between the government and its citizens. In this article, I will briefly elaborate on the history of the city and then further dive into the events that have led to the current turbulences.

Starting in the year 1841, Hong Kong had ever been a colony of the United Kingdom. It was the time when the Opium War was happening, and during which the Qing-dynasty tried to break the illegal opium trade that was going on. After one year of fighting the Chinese were defeated, and as a result, had to cede the island of Hong Kong to the British empire through the Treaty of Nanjing. During the next decades, Hong Kong was under the control from the United Kingdom, and the end of this government was marked by the final treaty of 1898. In essence, this treaty leased the city and its territories for an additional 99 years to the brits, and hence, was supposed to be given back to China on July 1st, 1997.

It is rather easy to understand that due to the large influence of the British empire Hong Kong and its citizens have developed very differently compared the mainland China. The biggest difference between the two worlds is determined by the political sphere. Since 1949 China has been a communist country, while Hong Kong has been prone to capitalism. It was this difference that allowed Hong Kong to thrive and experience a strong economic boost. But not only economically has Hong Kong emerged to be one of the major cities worldwide, but there have also been large differences in the social sphere, particularly when it comes to freedom of expression, and the large influence of the western culture and its norms and values. Seeing how different Hong Kong and its citizens were as compared to the rest of China, the British prime minister and the premier of China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. Through this document, Hong Kong is given more political and social autonomy for an additional 50 years after 1997. The so-called “one country, two systems” policy has been active since that year and will continue to be of importance until 2047, however, there have been many attempts of the Chinese government to gain more influence within the city. How these attempts look like will be the topic of the second part of this article, starting with the first elections that were held after 1997.

It was in May 1998 when the first elections were held, in which the pro-democracy candidates won with a significant share of more than 65 percent. However, due to China`s newly gained influence, these candidates were not able to gain a majority. In 2004 then was the next big change of law, which effectively gave China the veto power to hinder any significant attempts to remain democratic. As a response to this law, more than half a million people started to protest during July – this movement has ever since taken place in the name of democracy every year in the same month. While from the outside, after this year the situation in Hong Kong seemed to cool down, and for the next decades, there were no significant events that happened. However, the next ruling that came into action in August 2014 showed that the people of Hong Kong have not lost their values nor their willingness to fight for it. The new legislature implied that every candidate running in the elections first has to be approved by Beijing. As a response to the new law, huge protests took place all over the city. Fearing their future, particularly any students were taking part in the protests, which lasted for weeks. Nevertheless, the movement failed and most of the protest leaders were imprisoned.

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

While it becomes clear that the recent protests in Hong Kong have not been the first of this nature, however, what remains true is that the scale of the protests is not comparable to any previous ones. It is most commonly believed that the main reason for this escalation is the announcement of a bill that essentially would allow extraditions to mainland China. People fear that through this bill the Chinese government would have the power to silence critics of China. Following the months after February 2019, millions of people were on the streets to peacefully protest against this bill. While most of the protests were peaceful, a series of events brought the situation to escalate and the city of Hong Kong to become a battleground to the citizens and the government executers.

As the protests have been going on until today, it remains unclear how the situation will be resolved. As for the protesters, it is clear that unless their “five demands” are fulfilled from the government – stop police brutality, stop characterizing the protestors to be rioters, release the arrested, give more democratic freedoms, and, most importantly, withdraw the extradition bill – there is no surrender.


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