Anywhere between 2,40,000 and 10,00,000 people took to the streets in Hong Kong, and clashed with police, protesting a proposed law that will allow those facing criminal charges in the former British colony to be extradited to mainland China. The scale of the protests, the largest since Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony in 1997, is staggering.
The hope for retaining the residues of autonomy it carries vis a vis China is more subdued. For, in the year that marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, the message from the brutal way in which that movement was crushed remains very much alive.
In the 1980s, a new China had emerged, one which welcomed free trade, where Deng Xiaoping’s “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” had puritan Marxists wondering what was left of socialism. That question was answered, with extreme prejudice, when students and then other sections of society tried to demand democratic reforms to accompany those to the economy. The Communist Party made it clear it was in control, that free markets can thrive without free people, by killing and injuring thousands. The new social contract that was put in place in China in the late 1980s seems to have held.
With China’s superpower status and its technological advancement, the mechanisms of control at the disposal of the state have only become deeper. Since its accession to China, a condition of which was that Hong Kong would maintain its public institutions, including courts, the contradiction of a relatively free and prosperous Hong Kong in the Party-controlled country has remained.
The current protests are heartening since they show denizens will fight to protect their autonomy. But at Tiananmen Square, the writing is still on the wall.