Beware the dragons of Hong Kong

Beijing's attempt to control the political future of Hong Kong has stirred its long-dormant will for freedom.


    As tens of thousands of protesters continue their sit-in on the streets of Hong Kong the words "beware dragons" spring to mind.

    Hong Kong is, after all, the Dragon City. The district of Kowloon translates to nine dragons. Its logo a stylised version of the mythic beast.

    In the years before the UK handed rule back to the Chinese in 1997, it was hard to rouse any kind of protest other than for the annual June 4 commemoration of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Up to 1.5m people had marched through Hong Kong in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 incident.

    Political apathy was the norm as there was little electorial freedom. But as the handover loomed, political awareness began to flourish.

    Parties formed and protests began to attract more than a handful of people. But there wasn’t universal suffrage. 

    After taking power, Beijing argued that Hong Kong was not ready for full democratic elections. And it was in some ways justified as there truly had been little electoral democracy before then.

    It was also convenient as China did not want its newest money-making acquisition to have any say in how it was run. They didn’t want any other regions in China getting ideas.

    And for the most part Hong Kong’s dragons have remained sleeping.

    They would gather annually to remember June 4 and also march through the city on July 1 to mark the territory’s return to Chinese rule and to remind Beijing that Hong Kong was still an autonomous region. 

    In 2003 though, the dragon was roused.  Half a million people protested about proposed national security legislation – Article 23 - which would have laid out limits to personal freedom, and defined sedition and subversion.

    It’s important to remember that many of Hong Kong’s older residents were born in mainland China and only came to the territory after 1949 to escape communist rule.

    Anything that has hinted at more control from Beijing is resisted.

    The protest cost the then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa his job - he resigned halfway through his second term through "ill health".

    Full democracy has been the chant in Hong Kong ever since.

    Under the region’s one country, two systems Basic Law constitution, there has always been a caveat that full elections for the post of chief executive – Hong Kong’s de facto leader  -would be held by 2017, two decades after the handover.

    Hong Kong’s current chief executive, CY Leung, is deeply unpopular.

    His selection in 2012 was seen as the least bad choice. And the current protests may too result in him resigning before his term is up.

    But as 2017 approaches Beijing has sought to influence the outcome of the election. The decision to limit the candidates to ‘Beijing-approved only’ is what sparked this latest show of public dissent.

    China’s national day holiday on October 1 is normally celebrated by huge crowds on the streets of Hong Kong.

    Police struggling to deal with the huge protest numbers would not be able to cope with even more people on the streets.

    The traditional fireworks display – which normally attracts thousands to the waterfront - has been cancelled.

    Protestors fear a crackdown reminiscent of Tiananmen.

    But before that event takes place Beijing needs to heed the warning: beware dragons.



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