Tens of thousands of protesters took to the street on Sunday in Hong Kong. They gathered to commemorate the 15 years since Hong Kong was integrated into Chinese rule. Before 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony.
The many protesters wound their way around the city’s streets for more than four hours before dispersing. Reports vary on how many people participated in the massive march on Sunday. Authorities claim that only about 55,000 joined in the demonstration. Organizers claim that at least 400,000 were involved in the march.
Citizens of Hong Kong still have wider access to democracy, civil rights and commercial activities than citizens on the Chinese mainland. The very fact that such a large gathering of protesters was allowed in the city of Hong Kong illustrates this dichotomy. Still, demonstrators at Sunday’s proceedings expressed concern about the waning democracy in Hong Kong.
Sunday not only marks 15 years of Chinese rule but also the swearing in of Hong Kong’s new leader, a businessman named CY Leung. He was sworn in by Chinese president Hu Jintao. Many citizens feel that Leung was chosen based on political interests in Beijing. The BBC points out that a college of 1,200 business leaders elect the officials of state for Hong Kong, and most of those businessmen have extremely close ties to the power structures in Beijing.
Before the march on Sunday, CY Leung was sworn in in front of an audience of about 2,300 people. One heckler called on Mr. Hu to end one-party rule in China and condemned the 1989 massacre and military crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Other demonstrators burned portraits of Mr. Leung in retaliation of the debunked voting system.
The crowd was most likely bolstered by newly released reports that revealed Leung, a noted real estate investor, had built a number of illegal structures on his property. He has maintained ignorance in the case but has also made a public apology, NPR reports.
The Hong Kong government has denied any wrongdoing in the face of so much worry on the part of citizens. The New York Times quotes a statement issued by the government:
The Government will uphold the core values of Hong Kong and protect the freedom and rights of the people… The chief executive and his team will honor their pledge to hold themselves accountable to the people. They will go to the districts to listen to people’s views and aspirations and work together with them to address the deep-rooted problems in a pragmatic manner, improve people’s livelihood and promote harmony and stability in society.
Despite the clear tensions at Mr. Leung’s swearing-in, the march continued on in full force. A wide variety of groups were represented at the march, including a number of pro-democracy political parties shouting slogans. They were joined by singers, dancers and citizens holding up bold banners.
One vivid posterboard showed a large hand displaying the middle finger telling Beijing to go away, in so many words. Even a spiritual group, called Falun Gong which is banned on the mainland, made an appearance at the march. NPR reports that many citizens in Hong Kong do not align their national identity with China, but rather call themselves citizens of Hong Kong.
Photo Credit: Ahleong