by Isabella Reese
While many are familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been in light in recent years, a new movement has come up from the groundwork and is gaining speed. Occupy Central is a movement in Hong Kong, China, that has come about due to the 2017 Beijing election, and many preceding events.
On Wednesday, this student led movement began with peaceful marches protesting China’s 2017 election plan, which originally would fulfill China’s promise to grant an autonomous region with full democracy.
A little history:
In 1997, the United Kingdom handed over one of its last imperial possessions, Hong Kong, to the Chinese government. Because Hong Kong was under imperial rule, it had become a wealthy and grandiose center for commerce and enjoyed greater freedom and democracy relative to China’s mainland.
In handing Hong Kong back to the Chinese government, an agreement to universal suffrage was created as a part of the handover. This deal was known as “one country, two systems.”
A large part of this deal was that Hong Kong’s citizens would be able to democratically vote for its chief executive for the first time in 2017. However, the plan being protested now would allow for the a panel of pro-Beijing officials to hand-pick and approve candidates to be elected.
In other words, the Chinese Government’s promise of universal suffrage would not be honored. Instead, citizens would be given a sort of botched democracy. Many events like the “white paper” that was issued in July, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily attempt to portray pro-democracy movements as controlled by “external forces” and creating “chaos” while undermining economic stability, and the announcement of the current 2017 election plan in August initiated the early stages of the current protests.
In China though, protests are not abnormal, and the grievances in their vastly unequal society are shared among other Occupy movements around the world. When the Occupy Central protests began, no one thought much of it. It started with students conducting mass sit-ins in Hong Kong’s central business district with banners calling students to “shoulder their historic mission”, groups of students skipping class, and many other planned events. The movement’s leaders, Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai, and Chan Kin-man have called this an era of civil disobedience.
One of its leaders, Tai, explained that Occupy Central is a “prelude to a student civil disobedience move…that will lead various social groups to their own civil disobedience movement, together opposing unjust political power.”
However, things escalated when police intervened and surprised students with excessive force.
Notorious for it’s heavy-handed authoritarianism and its fear of democracy, which can be noted in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, it comes as no surprise that the police would react in such a violent way; emerging with guns, pepper spray, tear gas; it’s clear to see the Chinese government’s feelings towards the prospect of freedom for even some of its citizens.
These protests aren’t just about the 2017 election, but about Hong Kong’s future and their freedom. Would the Chinese government really allow Hong Kong to become fully democratic? To keep what freedom its citizens enjoyed under British rule? Will Beijing slowly erode away at the rights of Hong Kong citizens and continue into mainland China, an already unequal place?
Whether they simmer down or flare up violently, it is too early to tell what direction these protests will take, but it should be known that these protests aren’t simply because of the election. This movement is about Hong Kong, and ultimately China’s future and freedom.