University students in Hong Kong have dropped their books and flocked to government buildings in protest of Beijing’s refusal to allow Hong Kong to select its own candidates for the election of the city’s leader. As a result, all of the election candidates will be prescreened and approved by Beijing before the election, such has been the case since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule. More than 10,000 students are boycotting classes in a movement bearing the undertones of the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. Most universities are not punishing their students; college administrators, faculty, and the city’s biggest teachers’ union are largely sympathetic to the cause. Tied yellow ribbons, a symbol of the city’s pro-democracy movement, snake the gates of the pro-Beijing chief executive’s office. Amidst all of the chaos, People’s Liberation Army personnel carriers have moved into the city clandestinely.
Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule after being a British colony from 1841 to 1997. The city enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not found in the mainland. Beijing promised universal suffrage to the city under the “one country, two systems,” principle for a period of 50 years.
The protestors are calling on the city authorities to reject the plan issued by the National People’s Congress, the organization responsible for selecting candidates. The protestors believe that they should be allowed to nominate their own candidates. In response to their denied freedoms, the protestors have organized a nonviolent occupation protest for universal suffrage in Hong Kong known as Occupy Central. Such civil disobedience is usually not found in the mainland, where the phrase “Occupy Central,” has been censored on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. This Monday, Hong Kong riot police, in lines five deep, moved in on protestors while firing tear gas in one of the world’s major financial centers. Baton-wielding police have been seen guarding entrances into districts where protestors have gathered. Protestors have recently begun equipping themselves with umbrellas and goggles in defense against the tear gas and pepper spray used by the police. Joshua Wong, the leader of the student revolt, was arrested, according to rumors. When he was 15, Joshua managed to derail the central government’s plans to develop a nationalistic education system by rallying 120,000 protestors. The young man has been branded an “extremist” by state-run news agencies. Lastly, concerned for the safety of their staff, financial firms have advised their employees to work from home.
Communist party leaders are worried that news of conflict will spread to mainland cities and galvanize support for democracy. In Hong Kong, an informal referendum collected over 800,000 votes, mostly in support of democracy, to Beijing’s ire. In response, a few pro-Beijing groups have assembled on the streets of Hong Kong, singing patriotic songs and waving Chinese flags in support of the party’s decision. Beijing may control the big news agencies and the police, but the people of Hong Kong are willing to fight for their freedom.