Remembering British Rule: the Uses of Colonial Memory in Hong Kong Protest Movements, 1997-2019

Mark Andrew HAMPTON, Florence MOK

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This chapter examines five large-scale protest movements or demonstrations in post-Handover Hong Kong, all of which focused on aspects of the relationship between the territory and the Chinese nation-state: 1) the 1 July march in 2003 against implementation of a national security law, 2) the Protest against Moral and National Education Reforms in 2012, 3) the Umbrella Movement in 2014, 4) the Mong Kok Civil Unrest in 2015 and 5) the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests in 2019 (and their subsequent evolution into a list of ‘five demands’ including full democratization). All of these emerged from local concerns about the Hong Kong ‘way of life’ or impending ‘mainlandization’. Yet the discourse employed in these movements, particularly the 2014 and 2019 ones, frequently invoked the British colonial legacy. Such uses of historical memory contain their share of irony, not least because appeals to a ‘usable past’ tended to grow as actual historical memory waned; the protesters, including many of their leaders, were disproportionately young, and the movements in the 2010s included many people who would have had no personal recollections of the colonial era. In addition, the appeal to the colonial era could be jarring in the case of protests specifically calling for universal suffrage, given the lack of democratic institutions during the colonial era. Indeed, if there was a colonial legacy that could withstand historical scrutiny, arguably it was less about British democracy than the fact that, in suppressing the 2019 protests, the largest under consideration here, both the government and the police force employed measures originally developed by the colonial state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMemory and Modern British Politics : Commemoration, Tradition, Legacy
EditorsMatthew ROBERTS
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing Plc
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781350190474, 9781350190481
ISBN (Print)9781350190467
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

In addition, we grateful to Ronnie Yim for research assistance.


  • Hong Kong
  • Memory
  • Colonialism
  • Protests
  • British


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