“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” The slogan, heard throughout Hong Kong, expresses the urgency gripping the city over weeks of massive public protests. Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China and has existed alongside it under a policy of “one country, two systems” for twenty-two years. But the tenuous autonomy Hong Kongers enjoyed has increasingly felt threatened. The first protests were sparked by a proposed bill allowing Beijing to extradite people in Hong Kong to the mainland; in June, more than a million Hong Kongers took to the streets to rally against it. Soon after, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s unpopular, Beijing-approved chief executive, in a nonbinding statement, declared the bill “dead”: but by then momentum had built for a massive movement in favor of democratic reforms.
As of writing, there have been protests for ten consecutive weekends, with demonstrators taking to the streets, the public-transit system, and the city’s international airport. Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, and more than six hundred protestors have been arrested. The protestors’ primary demands are for the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill and for the resignation of Lam, who wasn’t elected by a majority vote. But underlying grievances against Beijing have also risen to the surface. Protestors are angered by the disproportionate influence of money and private interests on their government. They condemn triads, organized criminal syndicates thought to be working with Chinese officials and local police. They demand a third-party investigation into police brutality in Hong Kong. And they’re fighting for universal suffrage, or the right of the Hong Kong people to elect their own government. As it stands, a Beijing-backed nominating committee screens candidates before they’re put on the ballot, which means that elections carry little risk of upsetting the status quo. Just last year, the government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party.