Hong Kong’s democracy movement has been in flux in recent years as optimism about the likelihood of China’s liberalisation has dissipated and as Beijing has increased decolonisation pressures on the territory, even while mostly adhering to the One Country, Two Systems agreement. Beijing’s refusal in 2014 to allow democratic elections in the territory precipitated mass protests that involved months-long mostly peaceful occupations of major thoroughfares in three locations. Once the occupations ended, young establishment democrats changed their political stance: they became open to the idea of Hong Kong independence, even while not advocating it themselves. Their goal switched from the amorphous “China’s democratisation” to something concrete: the conducting of a referendum on Hong Kong independence to decide Hong Kong’s status after the One Country, Two Systems agreement expires in 2047. At the same time, they began to play down Chinese nationality, carving out a middle ground between the Hong Kong nationalists who want Hong Kong’s independence and won’t rule out violent means to achieve it and the Chinese patriots of the original democracy movement who seek China’s democratisation via peaceful petitioning. Hong Kong nationalists performed ethnic separatism when they attacked police with bricks in February 2016, practising their creed that anti-colonialist violence is justified. They were not abandoned by establishment democrats following the violence; indeed, they were embraced, betraying the movement’s acceptance of ethnic separatism and raising the possibility that it was the performance of violence that finally legitimised Hong Kong nationalism and the goal of Hong Kong independence. This thesis is about tracking ethno-ideological shift and millenarian-goal change in the democracy movement twenty years after The Handover.
Benjamin Garvey is a PhD candidate at the Australian Centre on China in the World in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He was based at Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2017 during a year of fieldwork.