You might have heard that British people are fond of tea and to buy tea from China in the 1800’s they needed something to trade. However, the Chinese wanted very little the Brits had to offer. One thing Chinese citizens did like was opium (yes, that is the same drug that is behind the opioid crisis today).
Fortunately for Britain, it effectively ruled India from the 1750’s on and took control of India’s opium business from that point on. This ready supply meant the all powerful United Kingdom had something to trade for precious Chinese tea.
Unfortunately for Britain, in the 1830’s the Emperor of China decided that opium was too much of a problem to ignore any longer and outlawed it. The Chinese leader responsible for enforcing this law did not just confiscate the British opium stocks, he destroyed them by dumping 1000 tones of it into the harbor waters near Humen Town in Dongguan China.
“…The Daoguang Emperor, concerned both over the outflow of silver and the damage that opium smoking was causing to his subjects, ordered Lin Zexu to end the opium trade. Lin confiscated the stocks of opium without compensation in 1839, leading Britain to send a military expedition the following year.” SOURCE
That kicked off what is now referred to as the “First Opium War” and you would be correct in thinking that this name is an clue that there was more to come. The “Second Opium War” just took place about 10 years later. The end result of these wars was that the British seized a little populated island off the coast of China named Hong Kong. As part of the Treaty of Nanjing with China, Britain legally took control of Hong Kong in 1842 and that eventually lead to a 99 year lease on Hong Kong that ended in 1998.
For more than 100 years Britain ruled Hong Kong and its citizens became used to:
- free markets
- open elections
- courts that that were free from political interference
- media that was allowed to be critical of the government
These four key factors combined with unprecedented access to China lead to a booming Hong Kong economy. Citizens were happy. Given their proximity to China they were able to see the stark contrast between their capitalist way of life and the miserable life under Chinese communist state control.
In 1998 Britain followed through on its agreement to return Hong Kong to China giving way to a very unusual system the Chinese called, One Country, Two Systems. Hong Kong was to remain a free and open society with its own mini-constitution.
All that brings us to today’s uprising.
It is surprising to many how little influence China has exerted on Hong Kong for the first 15 years of its repatriation. However, there have been small interferences by the Chinese behemoth as it grew into an economic powerhouse over the last 20 years. In 1998 Hong Kong accounted for nearly 20% of China’s gross domestic product but by 2018 it accounted for only 3%. That change did not occur because Hong Kong has shrunk; it occurred because China proper has grown.
The Chinese government no longer sees Hong Kong as critical to its success and has been increasingly nibbling away at Hong Kong independence in recent years. When the Chinese appointed Governor of Hong Kong introduced legislation to make it easy for China to extradite Hong Kong citizens to answer in less-than-independent Chinese courts on the mainland, the citizens of Hong Kong had had enough and took to the streets.
Over a few weeks, the protesters won that battle and the new extradition law was first withdrawn and then cancelled outright after more protests.
You can see in the video below which was produced AFTER that law was withdrawn and cancelled, why this uprising is called the “Umbrella Protests”:
So why are the Hong Kong protesters still in the streets? The Hong Kong citizenry now see the deprecation of their systems and know that as China grows in importance, Hong Kong will further diminish. It is a now or never logic that has pushed citizens of the tiny Chinese emirate to stand up and demand full autonomy they were granted under their British system inspired mini-constitution.
If they don’t fight China now, Hong Kong will be consumed by its parent and their way of life will be destroyed.