- "Mass Protests and the Structure of Power in Contemporary Hong Kong"
On 1 July 2020, Hong Kong citizens took to the streets.1 The annual march, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, has become a staple of Hong Kong politics to protest the day Britain turned Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in 1997. In years past, organizers could expect tens or even hundreds of thousands. Reports this year, however, put numbers in the thousands, a seemingly precipitous drop, especially given that millions have been turning out over the past eighteen months in a show of frustration, anger, and defiance. Nonetheless, riot police met the protestors in force, firing pepper spray into [End Page 1] crowds as they moved at speed to corral and disperse. Red-striped white trucks patrolled the streets with mounted water cannons soaking the sidewalks and propelling any and all in their path. Police liberally discharged pepper spray, fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and made mass arrests.
While this scene has become a common, if not daily, occurrence in Hong Kong over the past year, that day was different. Police unfurled a purple banner with a stark warning printed in bold white letters and characters:
You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offenses under the HKSAR National Security Law. You may be arrested and prosecuted.
The banner referred to a new law that went into effect on 1 July 2020: the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) National Security Law, which, among other things—indeed the most immediate for protestors—criminalizes anti-China speech or expressions that advocate Hong Kong independence. Of the 370 people arrested that day, ten were accused of violating the new law, including a fifteen-year-old girl who held a Hong Kong independence flag.2
The timing of the new law aimed not only to coincide with the July 1 protests but also to help suppress the ongoing civil unrest. In March 2019, Hong Kong residents protested a bill that would expose Hong Kong to China's legal system through extradition agreements. On the day of the bill's legislative reading in early June, one million people marched in opposition to the bill. In the ensuing days, demonstrators blocked highways and streets outside of the legislative building. On June 16, 2019, estimates of two million people—over a quarter of the Hong Kong population—marched to demand a complete withdrawal of the bill.3 In July, demonstrators converged on the legislative building, smashing their way through windows and doors to occupy the floor, and painted slogans and demands on the walls and desks. In August, protestors occupied the airport, bringing all travel to a halt. Intensifying clashes with police boiled over on 1 October, meant to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), as tear gas clogged the streets and an officer fired a live round at a protester, piercing his torso. In November, protesters occupied the campus of Chinese...