By Joycelin Wong
Chanting “Hong Kongers, add oil!” millions of protestors have occupied the streets of Hong Kong to fight for full democracy; triggered by the infamous Extradition Bill, these protesters have displayed resentment against China’s control, the police force, and the Hong Kong government. Ranging from students to the elderly, these protestors have participated in over 900 public demonstrations and continue to fight till this day. Transforming the physical composition of Hong Kong, these protests have also reshaped the minds of the Hong Kong people and the rest of the world.
Though geographically located in China, Hong Kong--a former British colony--has a different legal system than mainland China. After the British returned the nation back to China, Hong Kong was promised a great degree of autonomy; operating as its own nation, the Hong Kong government obeys the principle of “one country, two systems” and rules as a limited democracy. As opposed to their counterparts in China, Hong Kong citizens have more democratic rights.
March 2019: A Threat to Freedom
So, what sparked the protests? Essentially, the Extradition Bill. Published on March 20, 2019, the Hong Kong government enforced a mechanism that would authorize extraditions of fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions like Taiwan. Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration claimed that the act would guarantee that Hong Kong would not harbor suspected criminals. According to The Washington Post, this law would apply to “Hong Kong citizens, foreign residents and even people passing through on business or as tourists.” Concerned by the possible decay of Hong Kong’s autonomy, opponents of the bill argue that the bill would put anyone in jeopardy of China’s volatile legal system. Additionally, the measure could potentially risk Hong Kong’s economic and political relationships with countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada.
April 2019: Unavailing Amendments and the Beginning of a Revolution
On April 3, Carrie Lam and her administrators announced their ambitious plans to make amendments to the bill. However, this only provoked more anger in the critics of the Extradition Bill. Subsequently, on April 28, thousands of protesters trekked to the Parliament and demanded the repeal of the proposed laws. This march marked the beginning of the public demonstrations that would sweep the streets of Hong Kong for months to come.
May 2019: Scuffles, Clashes, and a Call to “Scrap the Evil Law”
On May 11, quarrels broke out between lawmakers and pro-Beijing supporters over the Extradition Bill. Fast forward to May 14, Hong Kong legislators argued over the matter; this further prompted democrats to cry “Scrap the evil law!” In the midst of the chaos, Ms. Lam announced on May 21 that the Hong Kong government will continue to enforce the bill despite the growing local and international opposition. Subsequently, on May 30, the government introduced new amendments to the bill, which faced further opposition. Meanwhile, nations like Canada and Britain emphasized the need for Hong Kong to remain semi-autonomous from China.
June 2019: Tear Gas, Chaos, and Empty Promises
June marked the peak of the protests; what once were peaceful protests soon became violent riots. On June 4, more than a hundred thousand secondary school students, parents, and staff signed a petition. A few days later, on June 6, Hong Kong lawyers, dressed in black, demonstrated their displeasure with the bill by conquering the streets. Black is the notorious color that is proudly worn by every protestor. Starting on June 9, calamity plagued the streets at night, and then it was business as usual in the morning. A mammoth protest to the government headquarters occurred. Vicious brawls between protestors and police swept the streets. As the government continued to be defiant about withdrawing the bill, on June 12, police launched rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas; these interactions between police and protestors prompted months of hostility between both sides. On June 13, government offices were forced to shut down due to the violence, and eventually they were forced to delay the law; this caused the U.S. to raise its concerns. For the following weeks, thousands of protestors continued to call for change.
July 2019: Men in White, Airport Sit-Downs, and Violent Clashes
Marking the 22nd anniversary of transfer from British rule to Chinese, July 1 kickstarted a string of protests across the city. On July 5, thousands of concerned mothers expressed their concerns through a peaceful protest; this was the first time a protestor was charged. Four days later, Ms. Lam claimed that the Bill was “dead” but still did not withdraw the law. Over the course of a few weeks, pepper spray, tear gas and batons were used by police during violent clashes with protestors. Despite all the demonstrators’ hostility against the police force, thousands gathered to display their support for them. On July 21, a mob of men dressed in white, the color of the opposing side and those who support China, attacked and injured protestors and civilians at a train station. Demonstrators took to the international airport for a sit-down protest and handed out propaganda to incoming visitors on July 26. Disrupted train schedules, tear gas, and rubber bullets were interrupting the once serene environment of Hong Kong.
August 2019: Laser Beams, Battle Strategies, and “An Eye for an Eye”
Seeking to spark fear in the protestors, China’s People Liberation Army Garrison published a video flaunting their military capabilities in case the demonstrations got out of hand. These protests continued to escalate throughout August, a cycle of tear gas, marches and violent clashes. Ranging from bricks to fire, these protestors sought unique and effective ways to attack the police officers; using face masks and umbrellas, they found smarter tactics to combat the tear gas. The airport was forced to shut down and hundreds of protestors were taken into custody. On August 6, a university student was arrested for purchasing a laser pointer; laser pointers were becoming the demonstrator’s choice of weapon as they attempted to temporarily blind officers. The following day, demonstrators gathered at the Hong Kong Space Museum and shined laser beams. The U.S. cautioned U.S. citizens about travelling to Hong Kong on August 8. A few days later, more flights were delayed or cancelled due to scuffles between police and demonstrators at the airport. A young woman was shot in the eye and blinded by a rubber bullet. Further fueling the civil unrest, rioters coined the chant “An eye for an eye.” On the last day of August, police sprayed blue dye from a water cannon in hopes of marking who was present at the demonstrations.
September 2019: An Official Withdrawal and an Ongoing Revolution
Despite months of violent riots, Ms. Lam finally caved and agreed to a formal withdrawal of the controversial law. Angry mobbers still vandalized train stations as police tightened their grip on them. After incidents of police brutality both on and off the streets, demonstrators continued to use force against them. September 28 marked the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, a political movement that blossomed from the 2014 pro-democracy protests, and many took to the streets in honor of this demonstration.
October 2019: Shots Fired and Anti-Mask Laws
On Hong Kong’s National Day, October 1, police emptied tear gas canisters and fired live ammunition at rioters. A student was shot in the chest. As many demonstrators used masks to hide their identities, the government enforced an anti-mask law on October 4. Malls and other local areas were being destroyed.
November 2019: The U.S. Steps in
Spread out across every part of Hong Kong, the protests and discontent continued. From November 19-27, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 passed through Congress and was signed by President Trump. This law amends the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and emphasizes that the human rights and civil liberties of the Hong Kong people should be protected. The bill further explains that Hong Kong must remain autonomous from China and requires the U.S. government to review Hong Kong’s political status and establish ways to safeguard the economic relationship between the U.S. and Hong Kong.
December 2019 and forward: An Ongoing Fight to Redefine Democracy
Marking the six month milestone of the protests, Hong Kongers assembled in one of the largest demonstrations that stretched for miles. What seems like an endless cycle of protests and clashes has greatly disrupted the livelihood of Hong Kong. However, protestors have shown no signs of stopping anytime soon. This fight for democracy, something that the U.S. and other democratic nations take pride in, is an unstoppable revolution that will redefine Hong Kong’s history.