Asia

25 years of China’s slow takeover of Hong Kong in pictures

In 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China, ending more than 150 years of colonial rule.

Eric Draper/AP

In an address at the handover ceremony, Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, said “our own nation’s contribution here was to provide the scaffolding that enabled the people of Hong Kong to ascend: the rule of law; clean and light-handed government; the values of a free society.”

Eric Draper/AP

Gov. Chris Patten’s car exits the Government House on June 30, 1997.

Franki Chan/AP

Franki Chan/AP

Fireworks over the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center during the handover event.

David Brauchli/AP

David Brauchli/AP

In 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration set the conditions for the handover in which both parties agreed that “Hong Kong people will rule Hong Kong.” The city was set to operate under the experimental model called “one country, two systems,” devised by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

David Brauchli/AP

At the handover ceremony, President Jiang Zemin said the Chinese government will “strive to maintain Hong Kong’s original society, economic systems and way of life unchanged.” Under “one country, two systems,” Hong Kong would retain its capitalist economic system, judicial system, civil liberties and way of life for 50 years, separate from mainland China.

David Brauchli/AP

President Jiang Zemin speaks during the handover ceremony in Hong Kong.

Pool/Reuters/AP

Pool/Reuters/AP

In 2003, at the sixth anniversary of the handover, half a million people marched in the streets to protest Article 23 of the Basic Law, which prohibited acts of treason, secession and sedition against Beijing. Many worried that it could erode the city’s civil liberties, and the government later shelved the bill amid the protests.

Pool/Reuters/AP

A girl hands out yellow ribbons during a protest against Article 23 in 2003.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands block the streets in a rally against Article 23.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Since the handover, residents in Hong Kong have called for universal suffrage, which had been promised as the ultimate goal. Beijing intervened, however, and ensured that it could veto any reforms to election laws, sparking protests in 2007 where people demanded the right to pick the city’s leader and legislature in the 2012 election.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

In 2011, the government proposed introducing a new “moral and national education” course for the school curriculum. Joshua Wong, who went on to become a prominent activist, founded the student activist group Scholarism at age 14. Over the next year, tens of thousands, including parents, joined its demonstrations against the course, and protesters occupied the government headquarters. Some went on hunger strikes. Taken aback by the magnitude of the response, officials shelved the proposal in September.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters open umbrellas to spell out 2012 in a Hong Kong park in 2007, as they demand the right to pick the city’s leader and legislature in five years.

AP

AP

Scholarism founder Joshua Wong attends a sit-in outside the government headquarters in 2012.

Kin Cheung/AP

Kin Cheung/AP

A high school student, right, monitors others on hunger strike outside the government office in 2012.

Kin Cheung/AP

Kin Cheung/AP

Police hit protesters with pepper spray in 2014, after thousands blocked a road to the government headquarters.

Vincent Yu/AP

Vincent Yu/AP

On Aug. 31, 2014, China set conditions for who could run in the chief executive election in 2017, limiting candidates to those picked by a Beijing-appointed committee. Activists slammed it as “handpicked politics” and began a civil disobedience campaign for “genuine universal suffrage” that came to be known as the Umbrella Movement. Protesters occupied part of the financial district with colorful tents and brought books to study for 79 days, until police cleared the sites. While seen as a failure, it was a moment of political awakening for many Hong Kongers.

Vincent Yu/AP

In 2015, five booksellers disappeared, later to reemerge in the hands of Chinese law enforcement on charges of selling threatening material. The case sparked shock and fear across Hong Kong, as it mirrored the extrajudicial detentions common in the mainland. Nearly eight months after his disappearance, Lam Wing-kee, founder of the bookstore, was filmed confessing to wrongdoing. When he returned to Hong Kong, he told reporters that his confession was scripted.

Vincent Yu/AP

A student protester uses an umbrella to block pepper spray in 2014.

Wally Santana/AP

Wally Santana/AP

Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee in Taipei in 2019.

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

After the Umbrella Movement, the city saw the rise of new groups seeking to protect Hong Kong’s interests from the mainland, and civil unrest broke out in February 2016 after a government crackdown on unlicensed street hawkers in what became known as the Fishball Revolution. Violent clashes broke out, with police firing warning shots in a city that rarely saw the use of guns. The incident marked support for more radical means of protest when peaceful resistance failed.

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

In an oath-taking ceremony, two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” instead of the special administrative region of China and used a racial slur. Beijing intervened and prevented the lawmakers from taking their seats, displaying its concern over any rhetoric promoting Hong Kong’s self-determination.

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Police detain a man in the Hong Kong's Mong Kok district in 2016.

Vincent Yu/AP

Vincent Yu/AP

Pro-independence lawmakers Baggio Leung, left, and Yau Wai-ching speak to reporters outside the High Court in Hong Kong in 2016.

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

The Hong Kong government set off a storm in early 2019 when it proposed an extradition bill that would send local fugitives to mainland courts — a sign of Beijing’s growing encroachment on the city. For months, activists took to the streets to protest for the withdrawal of the bill, only to be met with brutal tactics from police. The bill was seen as a further surrender of Hong Kong’s once independent courts to mainland China and its very different justice system.

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Even when the proposal was scrapped, the demonstrations persisted. Protesters now called for genuine universal suffrage — what was originally promised to them in 1997. They also wanted amnesty for arrested protesters, an independent inquiry into the use of excessive force by the police and the retraction of the word riot to describe the rallies.

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

People protest a government ban on masks in central Hong Kong in 2019.

Laurel Chor/Getty Images

Laurel Chor/Getty Images

Police fire water cannons at pro-democracy protesters outside the government headquarters in 2019.

Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Police arrest pro-democracy protesters in the Wan Chai district in 2019.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Violent clashes between police and protesters continued. When protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs, police responded with tear gas, sponge grenades and rubber bullets on the streets and on university campuses, later arresting 20,000 people. In November, the pro-democracy camp won local elections by a landslide, reflecting the public’s intense distrust toward the government. The protests, however, dwindled under the force of the government crackdown and then the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

On June 30, 2020, Beijing passed a national security law for Hong Kong that threatened life in prison for acts vaguely categorized as secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces. Most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists were arrested for participating in a legislative primary ahead of elections. Almost a year later, Apple Daily, a newspaper that had advocated for greater democracy in Hong Kong shut down after three of the paper’s top editors and senior executives were arrested. In subsequent months, several other local independent and investigative media outlets were also closed down.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Apple Daily’s July 1, 2020, front page reads, “Draconian law is effective, one country two system is dead” in Hong Kong.

Vincent Yu/AP

Vincent Yu/AP

The Pillar of Shame, a 26-foot statue honoring those who were killed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, was removed from Hong Kong University’s campus in December 2021. “Its creation in 1997 was a touchstone for freedom in Hong Kong; its destruction in 2021 would be a tombstone for freedom in Hong Kong,” said Samuel Chu, president of the Campaign for Hong Kong.

Vincent Yu/AP

A university student walks past the Pillar of Shame in 2020.

Kin Cheung/AP

Kin Cheung/AP

In early May this year, John Lee, Hong Kong’s former security chief was elected, unopposed, as chief executive. Lee is the first chief executive for the city to have a background in security and is expected to adopt a hard-line approach when it comes to maintaining stability. He has promised to reintroduce Article 23, a bill that clamps down on “state-level spying” and treason.

Kin Cheung/AP

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee during a news conference in Hong Kong.

Kin Cheung/AP

Kin Cheung/AP

The moon rises over Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour in May 2021.

Kin Cheung/AP

Kin Cheung/AP

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Editing by Paul Schemm, Photo Editing by Morgan Coates