The scenes mark a new level of intensity for protests that began this year in response to a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The storming of the Legislative Council presents the strongest challenge to Chinese control of Hong Kong, and many have argued that it is a culmination of more than a decade of popular frustration over repeated encroachments by Beijing on Hong Kong’s special status.
2003: Proposed changes to national security law spark huge protests
On July 1, 2003, the sixth anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, an annual protest held on the day swelled to its largest number, with an estimated half a million people turning out.
Many were motivated to protest proposed changes to Hong Kong’s post-colonial constitution known as the Basic Law. The legislation, backed by Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s chief executive at the time, focused on Article 23 of the Basic Law, which deals with national security.
The bill would have criminalized “subversion” against the Chinese government.
After mass protests, however, Hong Kong’s legislature indefinitely shelved the plan.
2014: Umbrella Movement protesters call for democratic reform
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets between September and December 2014, bringing much of the city to a standstill for 79 days in the biggest protests in years.
Demonstrations had begun in response to Beijing’s announcement that the candidates to be Hong Kong’s next leader, due to be selected in an election in 2017, would be vetted by Chinese authorities.
Protesters demanded instead that they should have full suffrage and direct elections in line with promises China made before the handover.
The backlash to the move marked the ascent of a new generation of young protesters in Hong Kong who borrowed the language of the Occupy movement and added their own touches, such as
using the umbrella as a symbol.
This time, however, the protests didn’t lead to concessions.
2015: Booksellers in Hong Kong targeted by Beijing
In 2015, a number of people connected with a Hong Kong publisher and shop that sold books banned in mainland China went missing.
Although the books were not sold in mainland China, tourists often snapped them up on visits to Hong Kong, eager for unvarnished and gossipy tales of Communist Party leaders.
Only later did the Chinese government admit that five booksellers had been detained for alleged criminal activity. Notably, the apparent arrest of at least one bookseller within Hong Kong by Chinese agents violated the “one country, two systems” policy in place after the handover from Britain.
“We now have confirmation of what we always suspected,” Anson Chan, a former chief secretary of Hong Kong, told The Washington Post at the time.
“We are all vulnerable to arbitrary arrest by mainland operatives, even in Hong Kong, and we cannot expect any help or protection from our own local authorities.”
2017: Xi Jinping makes his first visit as China's leader
As he was greeted by the territory’s largest military parade, he gave a speech in which he emphasized that Chinese sovereignty was paramount.
“When our country does well, Hong Kong will do even better,” Xi said during his visit, his first since becoming Chinese leader in 2013.
Xi also used the visit to swear in Hong Kong’s new leader, Carrie Lam. Lam, who had been elected under the rules that led to the protests in 2014, had the backing of much of the city’s pro-Beijing business and political elite.
The visit from the Chinese leader came amid moves that appeared designed to better connect Hong Kong with mainland China, including a high-speed rail link and a new 34-mile bridge that Xi opened the next year.
2019: Proposed changes to extradition law lead to new protests
The most recent round of protests in Hong Kong began in June in response to a proposal that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China — an idea that led to further worries that Hong Kong’s system of law and order was becoming subservient to Beijing’s harsher rules.
Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive who had supported the extradition change, has put the measure on hold and apologized for how the government handled its rollout.
But the protests have swelled into something bigger, and there are widespread calls for her to resign.
As leader of Hong Kong, Lam had pushed for a variety of pro-Beijing legislation, including one that would have criminalized mockery of the Chinese national anthem.