Hong Kong, China – As Beijing celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China with a massive military parade on Tuesday, 2,000 kilometres south the city of Hong Kong ground to a halt, with major malls closing for the day in anticipation of more clashes between police and protesters.
There was no sign of the mainland Chinese tourists who used to flock to the territory during their October 1 week-long holiday, but the detritus of last weekend’s skirmishes – mangled umbrellas, discarded face masks, torn placards — has been largely swept away.
Since Monday, the government has also deployed a contingent of cleaners to many neighbourhoods to scrape clean the Lennon Walls; the mosaics of protest flyers that have sprung up across the city.
Earlier in the morning, government officials and their invited guests watched the traditional flag raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square inside the convention centre.
Absent were Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her 200-plus entourage of legislators, ministers and other top officials who had joined the celebrations in the capital.
Protesters have branded Tuesday a “national day of mourning”.
While police banned a proposed march through the city centre, they are planning to walk anyway, gathering around the city from around lunchtime.
The metro operator shut down several stations as a pre-emptive measure in the morning, after the transport system become a target of arson and vandalism after riot police were allowed in and pepper sprayed passengers on a stalled train.
Over the past 16 weeks Hong Kong has been plunged into the throes of anti-government protests that were triggered by a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland but have morphed into a pro-democracy movement.
Demonstrators are also demanding an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality in suppressing the protests, a blanket amnesty for all those charged with offences stemming from participating in demonstrations, and a retraction of police claims that protesters are guilty of rioting – a charge that carries a heavy prison sentence.
Most important of all, protesters want to be able to elect the top leader and all the legislators.
Even before the current political struggle, fewer and fewer people in Hong Kong identifed themselves as part of China. Shortly after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Hong Kongers who took pride in being Chinese have been increasingly outnumbered by those alienated by endless scandals and relentless suppression.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, which guaranteed Hong Kong people rights and freedoms largely absent in mainland China.
However, in recent years as Beijing has increasingly interfered in the territory and postponed free and fair elections, resentments have bubbled up.
The latest survey, conducted last June by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion program, showed more than three-quarters of respondents describing themselves as Hong Kongers, with fewer than one in five identifying themselves as Chinese citizens.
Among those under age 30, the percentage of self-identifying Chinese is in single digits.
“Young people know only a strong China so they can’t accept the cognitive dissonance of China being a complicated developing country full of contradictions,” Stephen Chiu, a sociologist at the Education University of Hong Kong who has researched the city’s youth and social movements, told Al Jazeera.
“They can’t really reckon with China, and their mixed feelings become hard feelings. We’re seeing more and more of them initiated into political activism against China.”