The Battle for Hong Kong : The 2019 protests


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When Mao Zedong died in 1976, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) mutated from a totalitarian regime into a limited dictatorship under the rule, consecutively, of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. Deng foreswore the cult of personality. All three leaders resolved never to return to the days when any man could hold as much power as Mao. Slogans of “spiritual civilization” and “peaceful rise,” and promises of order with harmony, displaced the blood-soaked language of old.

Much has changed under President Xi Jinping. Not since Mao has the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) been as internally repressive and internationally belligerent as it is today. It has never been as wealthy and technologically capable of controlling its people. Forbidding rival sources of allegiance, the CCP locks up clerics and razes churches, temples, and mosques. Demanding total submission, it considers forced sterilization and mass internment to be acceptable methods of pacification. Even the compliant majority of China’s population finds its communications monitored, movements mapped, behaviors graded and recorded. That, of course, induces extreme caution—and further compliance.

Millions rallied in Hong Kong during the summer and fall of 2019 against Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor—a CCP client. Hongkongers fought to preserve their cultural and legal heritage, to defend their liberties, and to democratize their polity against a city government kowtowing to Beijing. The protest’s human cost was staggering. Between June 2019 and early January 2020, Hong Kong police arrested almost 7,000 protesters (over a third were women). Around 2,000 were aged between 11 and 19; 2,500 were students. By mid-August 2020, 22% had been prosecuted; another 1,630 still await trial. Behind these data lie scarred bodies, disturbed minds, dashed hopes, divided families, wrecked careers, cold fear, and boiling rage. It will be years before a full accounting is possible. It may never be.

Two books, each with photographs, describe how the protests began, accelerated, and stalled. Antony Dapiran’s City on Fire is a fast-paced chronicle of the turmoil that gripped Hong Kong between June and late November 2019. A Hong Kong-based lawyer and author, Dapiran witnessed much that he depicts. Though a pro-democracy partisan, he frankly acknowledges the movement’s violence, hyperbole, and paranoia. Rebel City extends the narrative into early spring 2020. Edited by Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book is a collection of articles from the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s premier English-language newspaper, where the two work. Snapshots of events are punctuated by profiles of actors, onlookers, and casualties. Fact-based reporting by 32 Post journalists is sharply distinguished from editorializing commentary, which receives its own section.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationClaremont review of books
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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