From Tiananmen to Occupy Central to the Umbrella Movement to today's General Strike: understanding the Hong Kong uprising

Today, Hong Kongers are staging a general strike, the latest peak in a series of escalating protests over democratic reforms in the face of increased pressure from Beijing and its autocrat-for-life, Xi Jinping.

Writing in the London Review of Books, Chaohua Wang -- an exiled leader of the pro-democratic student uprising that was crushed with the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square -- provides a history of the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, showing how the Tiananmen massacre only hardened the resolve of the surviving activists, and how that spirit has been nurtured in Hong Kong, with successive waves of protesters adapting their tactics to survive the increasingly brutal suppression that Beijing has visited upon Hong Kong.

It's a vital piece of historical context, illuminating the long history that has led to this moment, while also demonstrating just how brave, smart, principled and resourceful today's strikers have been. It shows the lessons that Hong Kong's pro-mainland puppet regime were too arrogant to learn, and explains how Beijing has been caught flat-footed by the uprising.

The protests have not diminished over the last two months. They have instead become ever more confrontational, vis à vis the police, the Hong Kong government and even the central government’s liaison office. Yet public support has not waned. There is a silent consensus that the not-yet-named protest movement is a collective vote of no confidence in Beijing. Beijing must understand this, more or less, but it has not acknowledged as much. Its first press conference on the current situation in Hong Kong was given by the Hong Kong Macau Office of the State Council in Beijing on 29 July. A spokesperson reiterated the central government’s support for Carrie Lam, and echoed the Hong Kong police chief in describing the clashes of 12 June as a ‘riot’. The emphasis of the press conference was firmly on stability and economic development, reminding me of Deng Xiaoping’s strategy in the mainland after the Tiananmen massacre: ‘Stability is the top priority’ and ‘Development is the irrefutable truth.’ It reminded me too of Chan Koonchung’s conviction that Beijing wants the Hong Kong CE to be an extension of its own will, and the people of Hong Kong to be entirely depoliticised.

This last wish is remote from the reality on the ground. It also speaks to Beijing’s perception that a ‘colonial’ mindset has impeded its efforts to make Hong King a vehicle for its own interests. The crucial period in this respect, I think, was the first thirty years of the PRC, when it declined to take Hong Kong back. Hong Kong’s sense of itself began to flourish in the 1970s. Some in Hong Kong sincerely wanted to adopt a mainland view, or even a mainland identity, but identification with the mainland could never be truly be rooted in experience. The CCP’s approach means that people in Hong Kong either come to see themselves as second-rate citizens of the PRC, no matter how much richer they may be than many on the mainland, or feel ever more alienated, their sense of themselves as citizens of Hong Kong growing ever stronger.

Hong Kong v. Beijing: The Protests in Hong Kong [Chaohua Wang/London Review of Books]