Public Forum — An Anatomy of the Hong Kong Protests

Public Forum


Eliza W.Y. Lee, Samson Yuen, Francis Lee, Edmund Cheng


Auditorium, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU


Monday, 11 November, 2019 - 14:30 to 17:30

Hong Kong has been in turmoil since March. What originally began as a protest against the new extradition bill quickly escalated into a massive popular movement calling for more democracy and an independent investigation of police brutality.

What are the root causes, dynamics, and prospects of the democracy movement in Hong Kong? Join four Hong Kong academics at this public forum to hear their testimonies after months of extensive research on the ground.

This event is coordinated by Ivan Franceschini and Anita Chan at The Australian National University.

Free event. Registration essential. Afternoon tea included.


Eliza W.Y. Lee, University of Hong Kong
'The Rise of a Contentious Civil Society and the Pro-democracy Movement'

2003 marked the first mass protest movement in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China. Half a million people filled Hong Kong’s streets in demonstrations triggered by the Hong Kong government’s attempt to introduce a national security law prohibiting “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the Chinese government. The movement empowered civil society and played a fundamental role in shaping the political subjectivity of a new generation of young people, who are now more inclined to embrace civil liberties and democratic elections to select Hong Kong’s chief executive than materialistic grievances. At the same time, over the past decade, voter support has declined for the pro-democracy political parties, which have been marred by internal disputes, conflicts of interest, and generational turnover. The talk will analyse how these developments have set the stage for civil society activists to move to the forefront of an amorphous contentious politics, a phenomenon that has reached its climax in the latest protests.

Samson Yuen, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
'Hold your Umbrella, Be Water: From the Umbrella Movement to the Summer of Uprisings in 2019'

After a long period of abeyance since the end of the Umbrella Movement back in 2014, in March this year Hong Kong’s civil society once again became restive over a government-proposed amendment to the city’s extradition bill. What began as a protest against the bill quickly morphed into a full-fledged popular movement calling for more democracy and an independent investigation into police brutality. How do we explain the emergence of this wider protest and the massive support it has received from Hong Kong’s populace? What are the legacies of the Umbrella Movement, and how did they shape the attitudes, behaviour, and strategies of the protesters? The talk will use onsite survey findings from the two movements to address these questions, and to show that despite many differences, the Umbrella Movement has left an indelible mark on the present protests.

Francis Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong
'Understanding Radicalisation in the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement'

One intriguing aspect of the current anti-extradition bill movement is that, between late June and early October, despite the escalation in protest actions and protesters’ use of violence, public support and the solidarity of the movement’s participants have not subsided much. On the contrary, there is increasing popular acceptance of a movement heading toward radicalisation. This presentation will highlight three main factors contributing to this: a) continued governmental irresponsiveness and police brutality; b) repeated onsite experiences of mass solidarity in the streets and repression; and c) widespread social-media communication and exercise of collective restraints. The talk will show that radicalisation in the movement was conditional, stepwise, and restrained.

Edmund Cheng, City University of Hong Kong
'The Hong Kong Regime’s Efforts and Limits in Managing Dissent'

In the face of several waves of political upheavals, the Hong Kong regime has adopted hard and soft strategies. Its counter-mobilisation strategies include direct repression by the police, outsourced contention through satellite groups, and coordinated state propaganda. In this talk, I examine how these counter-mobilisation strategies are embedded in China’s ‘united front work’ to cultivate patriots and  a pro-Beijing alliance made up of politicians, the business elite, and mass organisations. However, its organic support in local society remains weak. Consequently, the regime has had to intensify policing and permit the spread of violent counter protests this summer. These efforts did not effectively deter protest actions but instead further eroded regime legitimacy and generated new rationales to take to the streets.



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