Hong Kong demonstrations

The Hong Kong




baton executive hide/hid/hidden
mask identify take to the streets
bill (2) liberation press charges
deter challenge square (3)
rubber tear (2) back down (2)
bullet attempt remarkable
grant grip (2) nightmare (2)
defy appoint demand (2)
permit currency prosperity
cede autonomy run/ran/run (3)
status chief (3) obscure (2)
opium guarantee committee
erode crush (2) handover
tight concerned deteriorate
resolve campaign rule of law
install patriotic autonomy
ban swear (2) thrown/threw/thrown (2)
oath promise break down (2)
insult suffrage accountable
veil invisible invisible hand
violent disappear catastrophe
threat fuel (2) thinly veiled
punish authority at the end of the day (2)
bureau divide (2) rule that out
risk strategy demonstrator
woe intervene roll troops in
output boundary account for
access launch (2) launch pad
turmoil tolerate extradition
deploy stability lethal force
blame expatriate flee/fled/fled
explicit means (2) orchestrate (2)
protest evidence rise/rose/risen
oppose frustrate infectious (2)
rapid dispute existential
mortal collapse hold your breath (2)






This protester calls himself “Bruce”. We’ve hidden his face and obscured his voice to protect his identity. He’s one of the millions of Hong Kongers taking to the streets

Bruce, Protester: “Many people here are wearing face masks. People are hiding their identities. They fear that the government will press charges against them.”

What started as a protest against an extradition bill, has become the most serious challenge to the Communist Party’s authority since the Tiananmen Square protests three decades ago.

As the demonstrations enter a third month, neither the government nor the protesters are willing to back down.

Bruce, Protester: “The police fire tear gas, rubber bullets, and use their police baton to hit the protesters.”

But it’s not enough to deter the demonstrators.

So what happens now?

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “This is a real nightmare for the communist government in Beijing: they can either crush Hong Kong, or they can tolerate being defied, in a way that undermines everything about their whole structure of government.

They have no good choices.”

Hong Kong is one of the most important financial centers in the world.

And it has a unique status: it’s a city in China — but it’s not entirely Chinese: it has it’s own currency. It’s own passport. It’s own legal system. There’s even a boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of China; and you need a permit to cross it.

This is all down to its history. In 1842, Hong Kong was ceded by the Chinese to the British, after the first Opium War.

But in 1997, Britain gave it back to China.

Chris Patten, Last British Governor of Hong Kong: “Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong.”

With one important condition: for fifty years, Hong Kong would be governed under what is know as “one country; two systems”.

The chief executive who runs Hong Kong would be appointed by a pro-Chinese committee. But the city was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy, with its own government, legal system, and economic independence until 2047.

Over the past decade, those rights have been eroded.

Fuller democracy, promised as part of the handover agreement, has yet to be granted by China.

Emily Lau, Former Chair, Hong Kong’s Democratic Party: “(The) yellow ribbon means come back; come back democracy.”

Emily Lau was a Hong Kong politicians for 25 years. Today, she still campaigns for democracy.

Emily Lau, Former Chair, Hong Kong’s Democratic Party: “Things have deteriorated fast, particularly since President Xi Jinping came to power.

So people are very concerned. We want personal safety. We want the rule of law.”

China’s grip has got ever tighter. In 2012, the government tried to install a patriotic, pro-Chinese education system. Then five Hong Kong booksellers who sold material banned in Mainland China disappeared.

In 2016, pro-democracy opposition leaders were thrown out of Hong Kong’s parliament for insulting China when swearing their oaths.

And then in February this year, the government introduced a bill which would have allowed extradition to the mainland.

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “Very few people in Hong Kong imagine there’s going to be full-on, Western-style democracy.

But the are very angry about the way that what they believed that they were promised was something much more accountable where you’d have something close to universal suffrage.

The basic social contract between the people of Hong Kong and their government is breaking down.”

All this is fueling the protesters’ anger.

Bruce, Protester: “The invisible hand from China is getting more visible. They are putting more controls on Hong Kong’s autonomy and democracy.

Hong Kong is NOT China.”

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “People will say to you, ‘we know that 2047 is coming one day—but we don’t want it to happen now.’”

As the protests get larger and more violent, the chance of China intervening increases; Beijing has made thinly veiled threats to send in its military forces — the People’s Liberation Army.

Chinese Official: “Those who play with fire will perish by it. At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “A few weeks ago, nobody seriously thought we could see another Tiananmenet Square in Hong Kong . . .

Now you can’t rule it out.”

In 1989, a student demonstration in Beijing ended in massacre. Hundreds, maybe thousands, were shot dead.

For the Chinese government, the Hong Kong demonstrators are defying the authority of a communist leadership that cannot tolerate defiance.

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “For President Xi Jinping, his kind of north and south, his east and west, is the absolute authority, and total control of the Chinese Communist Party.

And anything that threatens that must be crushed.”

Emily Lau, Former Chair, Hong Kong’s Democratic Party: “They are afraid that it could be very infectious. And they don’t want to see such marches in the other parts of mainland China.”

Another fear is some protesters’ demand for full independence.

But military intervention would be a very risky strategy for Beijing.

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “Hong Kong for all its woes is still a very rich world financial center. To roll troops into that kind of financial center would be an economic catastrophe.”

In 1993, Hong Kong’s GDP accounted for more than a quarter of Mainland China’s. Today, China’s remarkable rise means that Hong Kong’s economic output makes up less than 3% of the Mainland’s.

But Hong Kong remains important for China: multinationals use it as a launch pad to the Mainland. And it gives Chinese companies access to the rest of the world.

Emily Lau, Former Chair, Hong Kong’s Democratic Party: “So we are very special: we are a window for China to look to the outside world, as an international city with all our connections.

It’s very valuable to China.”

So how the turmoil is resolved matters to more than just the people of Hong Kong.

Emily Lau, Former Chair, Hong Kong’s Democratic Party: “The government there said, ‘The People’s Liberation Army may be deployed.

But if that’s the case, the game is over.”

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “If China uses lethal force, then you would see an economic crash. There’s 85,000 American expatriates in Hong Kong — you’d see then fleeing to the airport.”

This all comes at a time when China and America are waging a trade and technology war. Bloodshed on Hong Kong’s streets would make relations deteriorate even further.

Beijing is now blaming outsiders for the trouble.

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “We’ve seen remarkably explicit state-media commentaries telling the people of China that these protests are not just radical and violent, but are also orchestrated by foreign forces.”

Chinese Official, two: “The Chinese government resolutely opposes any foreign forces attempts to intervene in Hong Kong affairs.”

David Rennie, Beijing Bureau Chief, The Economist: “For the Chinese Communist leadership, what’s happening in Hong Kong is evidence that as China rises as one of the world’s most powerful countries, that the West is using every means possible to divide and to frustrate China.”

For China, the situation has become much more than a dispute over a law; it’s become an existential threat.

Bruce and the other protesters are holding their breath.

Bruce, Protester: “I still worry what happens next, because the situation could deteriorate very rapidly.”

China’s Communist rulers must choose between two mortal dangers: the collapse of economic stability and prosperity; or the acceptance that protests can limit the Party’s absolute power.


*     *     *     *     *     *     *



1. “Bruce is the protester’s real name, and he agreed to give an open interview. Is this true or false?

2. Has the protests been going on for three days? Is this unprecedented in China’s history?

3. “The invisible hand from China is getting more visible.” What does this mean? Give examples.

4. Hong Kong has always been part of China. Is this right or wrong?

5. What is the goal or agenda of the protesters? Do they all have the same aim?

6. What is the viewpoint of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?

7. Is Hong Kong important or insignificant for the economy of China?

8. Does the Chinese government in Beijing face a dilemma?


A. Have there been protests or demonstrations in your city or country? What is their gripe or grievance?

B. What do people in your country think of the Hong Kong protests?

C. Should the US, UN, EU do anything?

D. What should the people of Hong Kong do?

E. What might happen next or in the future?

Comments are closed.