June 2019, Hong Kong: the Future Is Reopened



As the ongoing protests in Hong Kong gather millions of people against a government receiving its orders from the Chinese state, Sampson Wong reflects on the five years of activism that separates this movement from the 2014 Umbrella Revolution.

Article published in The Funambulist 24 (July-August 2019) Futurisms. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

At the time of my writing, the ongoing mass protests in Hong Kong persists. It is understood as an ‘anti-extradition’ movement that opposes the proposed amendment to relevant laws in Hong Kong that would make extradition of suspects from the city (a ‘special administrative region’) to China possible. The movement is thus narrated as a movement against “the extradition to China” (送中) in written Chinese and Cantonese. While the protests have a sharp and monolithic focus, the sense of anger and fear that has successfully mobilized the most populous march in Hong Kong history and engendered fierce confrontation between the police and the people should also be contextualized within the “post-Umbrella Movement” (傘後) context.

Sense of Hopelessness ///

Wong Funambulist2
Tear gas shot by the police against protesters outside the Central Government Office on June 12, 2019. / Photo by Dave Coulson.

The discussion and political affect that dominated post-2014 Hong Kong at first mainly concerned despair, defeat, and powerlessness. The over three-decade long struggle for democratization in the city, spanning from the colonial era to postcolonial times was seen as reaching an end. It is believed that Hong Kong’s fate is largely determined: that it will eventually become “just another Chinese city” that embraces capitalism and authoritarianism by the year of 2047, when the ideas of “one country, two systems” and “Hong Kong remains unchanged for 50 years” expire. Mourning that “there is no future” has become a popular sentiment among the youth, resistance has been seen as Sisyphean actions that barely slow down the course. Regional infrastructures and policies, including the “Great Bay Area” plan for cities in the Pearl River Delta and the opening of high speed railway connecting Hong Kong to mainland China, only further reinforced the perception that Hong Kong would no longer be culturally and politically distinctive, it is just a matter of time before it turns into a Chinese city completely.