Hong Kong, July 1st, 2019: the Occupation of the Legislative Council

Published

In issue #24, Sampson Wong had written a text about Hong Kong protests’ motivations. In this new contribution, he discusses the Legislative Council’s occupation and how this event was a turning point of the revolt. Protesters developed new praxis  widely accepted and even supported by the general public. 

Article published in The Funambulist 28 (March-April 2020) Our Battles. All drawings by Roanne Moodley. Click here to access the rest of the issue. 

The Hong Kong Protest began in June 2019 and has since sustained for almost eight months. I deliberately call it “the Hong Kong Protest” (also referred to as “the movement” below) here because it has been named and renamed several times, and it is still unfolding while no one can fully predict its future direction and when it will really come to an end. It has since attracted massive global attention and there has been a tremendous amount of worldwide media coverage. As a coronavirus pandemic is looming China, Hong Kong, and the world in February 2020, one may argue that the movement has reached the end of its first phase, as mass protests are temporarily halted. As such, it might be an ideal timing to reflect on the shape of the first phase of the movement: what happened between June 2019 and January 2020 in the city, the eight months during which we have dreamed dangerously in the city?

As an active participant and as a Hong Konger emotionally attaching to the protests, I can imagine that my memory of the eight months will be dominated by a series of “major battles.” The “battles” refer to some of the days-long confrontations between the Hong Kong protesters and the police force. Although the movement unfolded in multiple ways, the citizens were protesting on various fronts and the forms and possibilities of protest were expanding rapidly, the clash with police and the storming and occupying of the street and other spaces were still arguably the most intense experiences for many. On the street today, one may easily hear protesters chanting slogans containing a specific date (for example, “8.31, they killed us!”, “10.1, they shot us!” are frequently heard in protests), pointing to a specific battle in the movement. In hindsight, many of these important “battle memories” were characterized by threats of mass arrest and (failed) collective retreat, they involved spatial memories of escapes. Also, they are shocking moments that changed the course of the movement as protesters often transform the major strategy and narrative after the events. Among all these battles that will be well remembered, the eventful July 1st, 2019 can be seen as an important turning point, as described below

The current Hong Kong Protest is usually understood to be formally starting on June 9, 2019, as a million citizens took to the streets to urge the authority to withdraw an amendment to an anti-extradition bill that would allow Hong Kongers to be extradited to China, it is thus widely understood to be the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement (Anti-ELAB movement). Towards the end of June, the movement had partially achieved its initial goal as the Hong Kong government was pressured to announce that the bill is dead. The public was not satisfied, on the one hand the authority refused to formally withdraw the bill, on the other hand it had already gradually evolved and escalated into a revolutionary movement — the public began to radicalize its demands, including the demands for full democratization, penalizing police brutality and redressing all forms of state injustices people experienced through the first weeks of the movement. Naturally, participants anticipate July 1st to be a historical day and the thought that ‘something serious would happen to transform the movement’ is in the air. July 1st is the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day,” which commemorates the end of the British colonial rule on July 1st, 1997. Due to its strong symbolic meaning concerning Hong Kong’s sovereignty and autonomy, activists have taken the day as a day for protests since 2003.