Holidays and Festivals
Events will be held all over Hong Kong today to commemorate the 17th Anniversary of the city’s return from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Some will be celebrations, and others will be protests.
There will be a flag raising ceremony at Tamar Park at 12.30 pm, and carnivals will be held at venues throughout the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
But the largest gathering of all will undoubtedly be a massive pro-democracy march. Protesters will gather at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island.
They will then march slowly through the streets of Causeway Bay, Wanchai, and Admiralty to the SAR Government Headquarters at Tamar – carrying placards, chanting slogans, waving flags.
If Chinese language media reports in Hong Kong are to be believed, the protesters will number in their hundreds of thousands. This is in a city of just over 7 million. Do the math. That’s an impressive number.
Half a Million Marchers?
Taking to the streets on Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, as the holiday is officially known, has become a tradition.
It dates back to 1 July 2003, when half a million protesters marched on the fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China. I was there, and I can assure you, the massive turnout took everyone by surprise – not least of all, the organizers.
Because most of the people that showed up were not a part of organized groups. They were just friends or families that – on the spur of the moment – decided to take a stand.
Public transport was overwhelmed. I have personal knowledge that many people that wanted to go couldn’t get there because they couldn’t stuff their ways onto overcrowded trains.
I also know that many of the people that made it to Victoria Park got sick (after standing in the heat and humidity for three hours) and couldn’t march so they went home.
So many of the people that wanted to march couldn’t do so and weren’t counted.
And others that did march, marched down side streets because the main street was too crowded (I was one of them). So they didn’t passed the designated counting points.
So I believe that the half a million figure is a bit low. I think 700,000 to 1 million is more like it.
A proposed anti-subversion law – which many people in Hong Kong saw as an assault on their cherished freedoms – was one of the key elements behind the massive turnout in 2003.
Anxiety over the SARs outbreak and high unemployment were contributing factors.
Universal suffrage – or one man, one vote – is one of the goals that prompts people in Hong Kong to take to the streets on 1 July and other key dates.
However, allegations of corruption, the spiraling cost of housing, and a growing wealth gap are also prime causes of widespread popular dissatisfaction in the former British Crown Colony.
And then there is that issue of, wushi nian, bu bian – translation: “No change for 50 years”.
Has this pronmise been kept? Yes, and no … On BOTH sides …
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
With apologies to American author Mark Twain, I have one more thing to say. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Nobody knows for sure how many people will march for democracy in the streets of Hong Kong today, but I can assure you of one thing.
The police estimates of the size of the crowd will be far lower than the claims made by organizers. And you will be able to gauge a newspaper’s political sympathies based pretty much on whose figures are reported as fact in tomorrow’s coverage.