Hong Kong: Year two of revolt

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Bob McGuire

On June 4, tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong, defying a ban on demonstrations, commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre by pouring into Victoria Park and Mong Kok. Neither did the ban on public demonstrations under the pretext of COVID-19 stop thousands from taking to the streets beginning on May 21 to oppose the Beijing government’s intention to impose a National Security Law directly on Hong Kong.


A full year of extraordinary popular revolt in Hong Kong began June 9, 2019, with hundreds of thousands marching against an extradition bill that would have undermined the legal autonomy of Hong Kong by sending its residents—at the whim of the Xi Jinping regime—to face certain injustice. Despite utter intransigence on the part of the Hong Kong authority under Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and violent tactics by police and hired thugs from organized gangs used against as many as two million demonstrators, weekly mass marches forced withdrawal of the extradition bill last September.

Marchers did not settle for that victory, but vowed to continue demonstrating until the rest of the movement’s Five Demands had been met: investigating police brutality and misconduct, release of all those arrested, retraction of official judgment of protests as riots, and the resignation of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive.

The movement has included labor support from the beginning, despite the ties of the local Trade Union Federation to the ACFTU that is beholden to bosses and to the Communist Party and government in China. As a result of the demonstrations, more than 85 independent unions have been newly chartered.

Huge demonstration in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. Photo by Studio Incendo.

Marchers again and again expressed solidarity with Tibetans and Uyghurs in nominally autonomous Tibet and Xinjiang, where China has incarcerated a million Uyghurs in camps and slave labor factories and taken steps to erase their language, culture and Muslim religion as “terrorist.”


Demonstrators have paid heavily, with mass arrests, beatings, tear gas, bean bag projectiles and rubber bullets that have blinded protesters and journalists. While celebrating a year of resistance in Hong Kong, they marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marchers in the U.S.

Freedom movements in Hong Kong have also paralleled Black-led U.S. movements: In 1967 Chinese youth warehoused in slums by British colonialists and energized by violent attacks against workers on strike rose up and took control of the plush areas of Kowloon, just weeks before the rebellion of Blacks in Detroit (see page 4).

On June 4, 1989, Deng Xiaoping brought troops and tanks from the country’s borders to Beijing and cleared Tiananmen Square at a cost of more than 3,000 lives. He then worked to suppress all memory of that movement that had confronted the regime in the name of freedom and democracy.

Millions strong across all of China, the movement had created autonomous trade unions as an alternative to Party-dominated ones and convinced People’s Liberation Army troops who invaded the Square in May not to turn their guns on the people.

The people of Hong Kong took the responsibility of commemorating June 4 each year while revolutionaries on the mainland could not—first under British colonial rule until 1997, then under a “one China, two systems” semi-autonomy, on paper guaranteed until 2047, under authority from Beijing.

Dominance of the streets by the people against all repressive measures gathered widespread popular support. They also swept away government control of District Council elections in November, raising the stakes for the general election this September, even though half the seats are reserved for government insiders. They have struck fear into the ruling class as can be seen as nine Hong Kong billionaires, already supporting enactment of the National Security Law to legalize “national security organs of the Central People’s Government,” set up agencies in Hong Kong “to safeguard national security.”

Hong Kong workers helped spark a revolution across China in 1925 with a year-long general strike. It is clear that the intention of the Xi regime is to stamp out all such sparks burning brightly in the current persistent mass movement in Hong Kong.

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