On Saturday, Hong Kong marked the 20th anniversary of its return to China from Britain. And, as they have done since the Article 23 protest of 2003, thousands of citizens took to the streets in the afternoon to march for democracy, equal rights, and various other causes.
While the annual July 1 march has historically started at the sports pitches of Victoria Park, organizers were prevented from meeting there this year after the government granted use of the park pitches to a pro-Beijing group, who used the space to hold a science expo celebrating the handover.
Protesters instead gathered at the park’s considerably smaller Central Lawn, where they stood under the blazing sun and occasional downpour (hey, this is Hong Kong after all) listening to speeches from pro-democracy figures.
Shortly after 3pm, the scheduled setting-off time, protesters gradually began leaving the park in groups, winding their way down Causeway Road as pro-China supporters jeered from cordoned-off areas opposite the Central Library and underneath Moreton Terrace Flyover.
As expected, there was a heavy police presence dotted throughout the procession route.
Marchers carried signs and banners championing their causes; beyond the annual call for universal suffrage, posters and stickers demanding the unconditional release of Nobel laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo also proved popular.
While CY Leung was no longer chief executive by the time of the march, protesters showed that they wouldn’t forget his (alleged) indiscretions so quickly by chanting “jail CY Leung” and carrying posters which said, “investigate the UGL 50 million”, in reference to the claim that he was bribed during his time in office. Some simply lamented Hong Kong’s perceived demise in appropriately rain-sodden placards.
Onlookers observed the march from bridges, side streets, and inside glassy malls.
As the protesters made their way through Causeway Bay, prominent pro-democracy figures like veteran lawmakers and outspoken activists addressed the crowd from their party’s booths and called for donations.
One dedicated Kim Jong-un impersonator even donned a suit in the sweltering heat to protest the Communist party.
As usual, some displays were more creative and tongue-in-cheek than others, with one particularly memorable group walking through the city in white elephant costumes to protest expensive “white elephant” projects. (And don’t even get us started on the CY punching bag and yellow umbrella-toting Xi cutout.)
As the march went on, lawmakers cheered the protesters on with shouts of “add oil!”, a Cantonese slang term which roughly translates to “keep going” and “good luck”.
Also supporting the march was a small but vocal representation of the Domestic Workers Union, who chanted, “We want genuine universal suffrage” in Cantonese, winning cheers from the protesters themselves.
Also represented was the small but vocal faction of independence supporters, who waved colonial flags and carried funereal signs reading “Hong Kong: 20 Years a Slave”.
As the march went on towards Admiralty, the already sparser-than-usual crowd thinned out, having heard that a planned rally outside the government offices had been called off due to the intermittent downpours.
Later, police would say that the march had been attended by a record low turnout of 14,500 people. Organizers put the number at a more generous, but still historically low 66,000, citing police’s “hostility” towards the democracy movement and poor weather for the turnout.