Late Breaking: Hong Kong’s Current Protests in Historical and Global Perspective

AHA Session 300A
Monday, January 6, 2020: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Trianon Ballroom (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Rebecca Karl, New York University
Brian Tsui, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Julia Bowes, University of Hong Kong
Denise Ho, Yale University
Yidi Wu, Saint Mary’s College

Session Abstract

Since the summer of 2019, Hong Kong's politics has reached a turning point. In June, citizens took to the streets in massive numbers of an estimated two million, marching in opposition to an extradition bill introduced by the Hong Kong government in March. This bill, which would have allowed individuals to be extradited to China, was seen as a serious threat to Hong Kong's autonomy under the principle of "one country, two systems." The protests have since expanded in both character and scope; frontline protestors have taken on increasingly militant strategies in response to police violence, and the initial demand to withdraw the extradition bill has expanded to encompass calls for universal suffrage, a central theme of the Umbrella Movement in 2014. The current movement is largely leaderless and anonymous, which has been both a strength and a weakness. As protests have continued into the fall, it is difficult to see an endgame that would be satisfying to anyone; the Hong Kong government--including its police force--has lost much of its legitimacy, and Beijing has preferred to distance itself from Hong Kong authorities while fanning nationalistic propaganda within China. The Hong Kong protests have taken an increasingly global dimension: Hong Kong's reputation as an international hub is under threat, a Hong Kong Human Rights Bill is before the American Congress. While China has exercised a new "sharp power" in policing public opinion around the world, the United States has taken the opportunity to assert its own state interests through the bill. The Hong Kong protests have become, consciously or otherwise, a proxy for twentieth-first century great power rivalries.

In this roundtable, four historians--two based in the United States and two based in Hong Kong--contextualize recent events in historical and global context. Brian Tsui outlines the protests in a larger context of decolonization, Denise Ho compares the current situation to other protest movements since 1997, Yidi Wu examines the protests as seen from the lens of mainland China, and Julia Bowes offers an international comparative perspective as a historian of U.S. social movements currently teaching in Hong Kong. The second goal of the session is to discuss ways in which to incorporate teaching about Hong Kong into syllabi as events develop. Teaching in Hong Kong, Brian Tsui and Julia Bowes discuss the challenges of sensitivities of teaching as the protest movement unfolds, balancing the ongoing participation of some students in the movement, the ambivalence of other Hong Kong students and the difficult position faced by mainland Chinese students in Hong Kong. From the perspective of the United States, Yidi Wu talks about her teaching on student activism in 20th-century China. Denise Ho discusses her "Hong Kong and China" syllabus and shares her experience with moderating contentious issues.

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