The Road to Electoral Authoritarianism : Tracing Three Phases of State-Society Contention in Post-Colonial Hong Kong, 2003–2020

Thomas Yun-tong TANG*, Michelle W.T. CHENG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Previous studies have examined Hong Kong’s hybrid regime by investigating the interactions among activists, the local government, and the Chinese national government. This article adopts the lens of contentious politics and a multi-level approach to understand regime evolution within the local-national-regional-global nexus. It presents an original dataset that records movement tactics and state responses in four major protests and delineates three phases of state-society contention between 2003 and 2020. It explains regime evolution by highlighting five intertwining factors: activists’ tactical learning; organisational ecology in civil society; state repression strategies; regional politics in Greater China; and international political economy. It finds that the first phase (2003–2012) was characterised by an increasing use of disruptive tactics, an emergent call for de-centred mobilisation, and a limited deployment of state security forces. The second phase (2013–2015) exhibited nascent applications of violent tactics, while the state employed more forceful police repression, re-engineered the electoral field, and sponsored counter-mobilisation. The most recent phase (2016–2020) showed activists’ intensified use of violent tactics and a strong intention to seek international support. The state responded to local threats and international pressure with violent crackdowns and stricter institutional arrangements, which has resulted in an electoral authoritarian regime that is less-than-competitive.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Journal of Contemporary Asia.


  • Anti-ELAB protests
  • electoral authoritarianism
  • Hong Kong
  • hybrid regime
  • state-society relations
  • Umbrella Movement


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