/ gwong1 fuk6 hoeng1 gong2, si4 doi6 gaak3 ming6 /
A rallying call. It resonates in the streets of Hong Kong, piercing through the clouds of tear gas, brimming with hopes and dreams of the future.
Hong Kong never takes anything lying down. In the face of government policies aimed at silencing dissent and limiting civil freedoms, the people of Hong Kong have a long history of taking to the streets to show their determination in resisting authoritarian rule. With social inequality reaching new heights, a deeply unaccountable government, and the stalling of promised political reform, dissatisfaction in the administration’s governance had been brewing under the surface of Hong Kong’s glittering skyline for many years.
In the spring of 2019, the Hong Kong government released a highly controversial draft law proposing amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow the extradition of accused persons to mainland China for trial. Criticism of the law came from a broad spectrum of society who feared the law would allow Chinese authorities extradite political dissidents under trumped up charges, especially with the lack of transparency and trust in China’s criminal justice system. The discontent culminated in a summer of protest across the city starting in June, which at times saw upwards of a million citizens participating in marches and demanding an end to the law, for universal suffrage, and for the resignation of the city’s leader. It also brought about an eruption of protest art, anthems, and slogans that spread faster than wildfire to every corner of the city.
But the authorities chose the path of violent crackdown rather than listening to the demands of the people. Over the course of just six months, the Hong Kong Police Force fired over 30,000 rounds of tear gas and other crowd control weapons, injuring thousands and exposing a vast majority of Hong Kong’s citizens to dangerous toxins. The police force’s blatant collusion with rural gangs in an attack on citizens at a local train station in July also ignited widespread outrage against the force. Though the extradition law was eventually shelved, incident after incident involving blood curdling police brutality caused conflict between protestors and the police to intensify well into the winter.
After a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing rules that made it difficult to continue organizing demonstrations, the Chinese government circumvented the Hong Kong legislature and put into force a draconian national security law to stifle all political dissent. The law brought with it a new era characterized by a climate of fear; protest slogans were proclaimed “illegal,” people were encouraged to rat out anyone with “seditious intent,” and political activists fled the city one after another to seek asylum overseas. The death knell for the rule of law reverberated through the city on the twenty-third anniversary of its handover.
We now live in the times where “emigration” and “VPN” have become trending search terms in Hong Kong, and living in our own city has become a dangerous affair.