For the Hong Kong people, July 1 is a day of great significance. Fourteen years ago this day, Hong Kongers marked the end of over a century of British colonization with the turnover to Chinese rule.
Hong Kong is currently a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, where it participates in the one country, two systems scheme. While the transition has been relatively smooth and peaceful, Hong Kong has had its share of political activity.
On July 1, 1997, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China organized its first march. Since then, there has been an annual demonstration every July 1 at Victoria Park in the famous locale of Causeway Bay.
This afternoon, visitors who happened to pass through the exit at the Causeway Bay Station could see elected officials in action.
“There is absolutely no reason for this injustice,” said Audrey Eu, a current member of the Legislative Council. “We demand the right to elect our own officials.”
“And we will march. We will march from this afternoon to this evening” said Eu.
“We will march from here, all the way to Victoria Park.”
While China has cracked down heavily on protests and uprisings in the mainland, protests in Hong Kong have been generally tolerated by the mainland government.
In 2003, a similar rally was organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, which galvanized supporters to protest Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23. That protest drew an estimated half-million supporters and led to the resignations of prominent members of the Legislative Council and the withdrawal of the legislation.
Since then, the Civil Human Rights Front has led annual pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s current government is a hybrid system of citizen constituents and so-called functional constituencies, or special interest groups and business constituencies. The system is a sort of limited democracy, where a minority of the Legislative Council is elected by the citizenry. The remainder constitutes appointed officials from professional (corporate) bodies.
Today’s protest had relatively high turnout. Early estimates for today’s march neared a quarter million participants. There is widespread consensus that the number has been due to growing discontent with current administrative practices.
Despite their successes, protesters faced a number of obstacles, including limited marching space and a ban on music.
View of protesters from the sky bridge in Causeway Bay
At the sky bridge overlooking Causeway Bay, some police officers resorted to intimidation tactics to discourage photography of the protest. Many pedestrians disregarded the cues and continued to photograph the event.
Some of these restrictions encouraged the ingenuity of the protesters. To offset the ban on music, protesters resorted to making homemade instruments to let the music live on.
Another point of interest was the general demographics of the protesters--a sizable majority of the protesters were young people, indicating the growing political consciousness of the Hong Kong youth. Some donned Guy Fawkes masks in an apparent reference to the film V for Vendetta. Others carried signs demanding 1 person, 1 vote.
It is important to note that this protest is not a separatist movement. A majority of the Hong Kong people consider themselves to be Chinese. But to date, Hong Kongers still cannot elect all of their officials and there are indications that under the one country, two systems approach, human rights are shrinking in Hong Kong.
Shum Wan Wa, a member of the Hong Kong Democratic Party who attended the protest, said that because so many of the officials are not elected, they seldom listen to the will of the people.
"The (Hong Kong) people are ready for true democracy," he said.
"But, we are short of support from the world. We need democracy lovers to come and share their experience with us."
An e-mail sent to Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has not received comment.
In Hong Kong, July 1 is celebrated as a public holiday.
This is the updated version of the breaking news report on the July 1, 2011 pro-democracy protest.