The relationship between Hong Kong and China has never been simple. For more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony, 426 square miles carved out of the Chinese mainland. That all changed on July 1, 1997, known as “Handover Day,” when the Brits gave the city back to Chinese rule.
Since then, Hong Kong has been at odds with Chinese leaders in Beijing about voting rights. While Hong Kongers have far more press, speech, and internet freedoms than people elsewhere in China, their leaders are elected by a pro-Chinese committee of business leaders and elites. Many Hong Kongers want universal suffrage and elections free of Beijing’s influence. Tensions over the issue culminated in huge protests that flooded the city last autumn, shutting down traffic in the city center for more than 10 weeks.
Every year on July 1, pro-democracy Hong Kongers march down the biggest street in the city, marking the handover and calling for change. Turnout at this year’s march was lower than normal, which some say is due to protest fatigue. With Beijing standing firm against free elections and pro-democracy activists refusing to compromise, the city is perhaps at its most volatile point since the handover 18 years ago today.
Check out Today in History for more on Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy and other historical highlights.