Hong Kong: a timeline of protests since China handover

Police fire tear gas at unruly protesters at an unsanctioned march on Hong Kong Island on July 28. Photo by Samantha Mei Topp.
Police fire tear gas at unruly protesters at an unsanctioned march on Hong Kong Island on July 28. Photo by Samantha Mei Topp.

Anti-government protests have occasionally rocked the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong since its handover to China in 1997.

The latest series, sparked by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, are now in their ninth week, with increased violence and Beijing’s stance hardening.

Here is an overview:

2003: National security law

About half a million people march against an attempt to introduce a national security law that critics feared would curtail free speech.

It is the first mass demonstration movement since the handover.

The bill is eventually shelved.

2012: Education protests

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, many of them school children, surround the government complex for 10 days to protest an order for schools to teach “Moral and National Education” classes.

The curriculum praised China’s communist and nationalist history while criticizing republicanism and democracy movements.

It is eventually abandoned.

Some of the protest leaders, such as then 15-year-old Joshua Wong, go on to become leading democracy advocates.

2014: Umbrella Movement

In late 2014, tens of thousands of protesters paralyze parts of the city for two months with mass student-led demonstrations and sit-ins to demand reforms including the right to elect the city’s leader.

Police use pepper spray and tear gas against protesters, who wield umbrellas to protect themselves.

Police dismantle the main pro-democracy site in December.

The movement wins no concessions and many leaders are imprisoned.

2019: Extradition anger

In February Hong Kong’s government announces plans for a bill that would allow, for the first time, extraditions to mainland China.

There are fears the law will tighten Beijing’s grip on civil society and allow it to pursue political enemies in Hong Kong.

Tens of thousands of people march against it on April 28 in one of the biggest demonstrations since the Umbrella Movement.

Hong Kong’s government responds on May 30, saying the law will only apply to cases involving a potential jail term of at least seven years.

On June 9, organizers say more than one million people join the biggest demonstration since the return to Chinese rule.

The police, who make 19 arrests, put the turnout at 240,000.

Bill suspended

On June 12, a second reading of the bill is delayed after huge crowds block major roads and attempt to storm parliament.

Police use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds in the worst clashes since the 1997 handover, leaving nearly 80 people injured.

On June 15, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspends the bill, but a fresh demonstration the next day calls for its full withdrawal.

Organizers say two million people take part. Police put the figure at 338,000.

Parliament ransacked

After thousands of people come out on the streets again for the annual July 1 march to mark the return to China, hundreds of young masked protesters ransack parliament.

Police retake control of the building hours later.

On July 9 Lam says the extradition bill “is dead” but protesters dismiss her comments.

Demonstrators beaten

On July 21, following another massive demonstration, protesters are beaten up in Yuen Long, in the city’s northwest, by a gang of white-clad suspected triad members.

On July 28, police engage in running battles with pro-democracy protesters close to Beijing’s office in Hong Kong, launching volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

On July 30, 44 protesters are charged with rioting — an offense carrying a jail term of up to ten years — triggering more clashes.

‘Be water’

On August 3, for the ninth consecutive weekend of protests, demonstrators erect barricades in a popular tourist district.

Tens of thousands of protesters march through the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, embracing their mantra “be water” — a philosophy of unpredictability espoused by local martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

Protesters seize roads and briefly block a cross-harbor tunnel while riot police use tear gas against them.


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