An estimated 218,000 protesters marched through the streets of Hong Kong today (1 July 2011) as the former British Crown Colony celebrated the 14th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty.
It was the largest crowd since 2002, when in excess of half a million protesters took to the streets on the the fifth anniversary of the Handover amid widespread dissatisfaction with the hugely unpopular Tung Chee-hwa administration. Tung was the Hong Kong Special Administration Region’s first Chinese chief executive.
Business tycoon Lee Ka-shing and Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Donald Tseng were frequent targets of ridicule. Some protesters held banners calling for the release of political prisoners on the mainland. Mainland mothers wanted to be able to give birth to their babies in Hong Kong. Domestic workers from Southeast Asia wanted higher wages and better treatment.
“We are workers, not slaves,” they chanted.
Many protesters were unhappy with proposed changes in public security laws. Others protested the scrapping of by-elections. Still others protested high employment and the growing gap between rich and poor.
Changes in School Curriculum
Another bone of contention: proposals that “patriotic classes” be introduced to the school curriculum in Hong Kong.
“We oppose brainwashing in education,” read a banner held by one group of teachers.
If this year’s crowd seemed a bit noisier than those in previous years, it was because the police had threatened to arrest anyone making excessive noise, dancing, singing, or shouting chants. So many people went out of their ways to do just that.
Large numbers of visitors from the mainland seemed to be in attendance, and from the looks on their faces, they seemed absolutely ecstatic to witness this peaceful demonstration of political activism on Chinese soil.
The mood was overwhelmingly upbeat. I witnessed no confrontations with police, who – despite their very large numbers – seemed to be keeping a very low profile. Toward the end of the march route, volunteers were stationed to collect signs and rubbish to avoid leaving behind a massive mess to clean up.
Colonial Era Flags
I did not see one single protester waving a Chinese or Hong Kong SAR flag. But what I did see for the first time this year was a large number of protesters waving flags from Hong Kong’s colonial era.
As a journalist, I have an inquiring mind, and I wanted to know where all of these colonial era Hong Kong flags came from. There has always been a smattering here and there, but I have never before seen this many.
Asking a demonstrator that was standing next to me as I chatted with a friend, I learned that they were being handed out in Victoria Park, where the march began.
“So what does carrying this flag signify?” I asked.
“We liked Hong Kong better before the Handover,” he said simply.
Copyright: Michael Taylor Pictured: Nostalgia for the Colonial Era? (this picture was actually from last year’s march – no good pictures of this year’s march were available when I uploaded this post) Photo Credit: Benjiwong via Wikimedia Commons