Hong Kong, one of China's biggest financial centers, erupted over the weekend in clashes between pro-democracy protestors and police.
What began as peaceful protests last Wednesday escalated into a massive police crackdown by Friday. The protests began under the name Occupy Central (Central is the name for downtown Hong Kong), very similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City back in 2011.
The images coming out of Hong Kong have been quite disturbing, and reminiscent of recent scenes from Ferguson, Missouri.
Obviously, things are getting out of hand. Police have been using tear gas and pepper spray in efforts to disperse the protestors. They have also been firing rubber bullets.
Many protestors have been carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray and the effects of tear gas. Hence, this movement for democracy has been dubbed the #UmbrellaRevolution on Twitter. Let's break down why this is happening:
Hong Kong Has Always Enjoyed Special Status In China
Hong Kong was a British territory until 1997. Thus, while the rest of China became communist in 1949, Hong Kong grew into an extremely wealthy international center of commerce.
Likewise, it fostered more democratic values amongst its citizens, which have influenced its character to this day. While China is known as one of the least free societies in the world, with an extremely controlling government, Hong Kong has enjoyed relative autonomy and more freedom of choice.
When the British handed over Hong Kong in 1997, the Chinese government agreed to let it continue in its capitalistic and democratic traditions. However, there was one caveat: The Chinese government would choose the leader of Hong Kong, known as the Hong Kong chief executive.
People In Hong Kong Want To Choose Their Own Leader
When Hong Kong became part of China in 1997, the Chinese government made a promise.
The people of Hong Kong were told that they would be allowed to democratically elect their own leader for the first time in 2017. In 2007, Beijing reaffirmed that promise.
The Chinese Government Wants More Control
In August, the Chinese government made a decision, which is at the heart of these protests.
It stated that it would still allow Hong Kong to hold the 2017 elections, but all of the candidates would be of Beijing's choosing. So, the elections wouldn't be democratic at all. Accordingly, a lot of people in Hong Kong are really pissed off.
They want to decide their own future, and don't want the government to have so much control. At present, the current chief executive of Hong Kong is facing some serious criticism, as he was chosen by the Chinese government.
Some Fear That Another Tiananmen Square Could Happen
In 1989, China killed thousands of pro-democracy protestors in one of the most infamous events of the 20th century. There are already fears that a mini-Tiananmen could occur in Hong Kong.
The Chinese government is very dictatorial, and does not take kindly to anything that challenges its authority.
Many were suprised in the first place that Beijing allowed Hong Kong to retain most of its freedoms in 1997, and now some fear that China is slowly trying to erode these liberties.
The Future Is Uncertain
It's hard to say what will happen next, it largely depends on how the government responds. It seems that Hong Kong's politics are quite complicated at the moment, and not everyone is as fired up about democracy as some of the people on the streets.
Some people in Hong Kong were willing to accept Beijing's terms for the 2017 elections, as long as they got to continue their way of life.
However, if China continues with its brutal crackdown of the protests, it could sway those on the fence in favor of a more free and democratic Hong Kong. There are already thousands of people on the streets, and the Umbrella Revolution is not going away any time soon.
Top Photo Courtesy: Sophie