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Transcript: Hong Kong and China: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

[Listen to the podcast here.]

In early June 2019, residents of Hong Kong took to the streets to protest proposed legislation by the Hong Kong government that would enable extradition from the city to mainland China. Over the ensuing months, heavy-handed tactics by the police only swelled the movement, which has grown to involve over a million residents of Hong Kong. The demonstrators' demands have also expanded to encompass an investigation into police brutality, the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the establishment of free democratic elections in the city.

Although the extradition bill itself has been withdrawn, protests seem certain to continue. For many Hong Kongers, the proposed legislation was merely the latest attempt by Beijing to undermine the unique "one country, two systems" status under which the city enjoys a large decree of economic and legal autonomy. What’s at stake in this standoff between protesters, Hong Kong’s government, and Beijing? How did Hong Kong’s autonomy come about in the first place, and how might it be at risk? On this month's episode of History Talk, host Lauren Henry discusses this pivotal moment in Hong Kong's history with two experts on modern China: Dr. Denise Y. Ho and Melvin Barnes Jr.

To learn more about the history of Hong Kong and China, read our feature article, Hong Kong in Protest, by Melvin Barnes Jr. Be sure to check our other coverage of the region: Remembering Tiananmen: The View from Hong Kong, The United States, China, and the Money Question, China Dreams and the “Road to Revival”, and Modern China and Its Institutions.Professor Ho has also published her own analysis of the protests in Hong Kong: Summer of protest: Are we witnessing a turning point in Hong Kong politics?
 

Transcript Begins Here:

Lauren Henry 
Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together experts to discuss current events in historical perspective. My name is Lauren Henry, and I'll be hosting solo this month in the absence of my usual cohost Eric Michael Rhodes. In early June 2019, residents of Hong Kong took to the streets to protest proposed legislation by the Hong Kong government enabling extradition from the city to mainland China. Heavy handed tactics by the police only swelled the movement, with up to 2 million Hong Kong residents taking part. After several weeks of demonstrations, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the bill suspension, but protests continue. For many in Hong Kong the bill represents only the latest attempt by Beijing to undermine the unique one country two system status under which the city enjoys a large degree of economic and legal autonomy. So what's at stake in the standoff between protesters, Hong Kong's government and Beijing? How did Hong Kong's autonomy come about in the first place? And how might it be at risk? To help get to the bottom of all this I'm thrilled to be joined today by two experts on modern China. Joining us remotely is Professor Denise Ho, Assistant Professor of 20th century Chinese history at Yale University. Professor Ho's work explores social and cultural history of the Mao period, as well as urban history and material culture. She's also lived and worked in Hong Kong, and has provided commentary on modern China for several major journalistic outfits, including our own. Thank you so much for being with us today, Professor Ho.

Denise Y. Ho 
Thanks so much for having me.

Lauren Henry 
And with me in studio is Melvin Barnes, Jr. Melvin is a doctoral candidate in modern East Asian history at The Ohio State University. A specialist in modern China whose interests include mass political movements, and Chinese film and literature, Melvin's research focuses on relations between China and the African diaspora. Great to have you, Melvin.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Lauren Henry 
So, starting from a very general background for those of our listeners who might not be familiar, what is Hong Kong's special status vis-a-vis Mainland China, and how did it come about in the first place?

Denise Y. Ho 
So Hong Kong is called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong SAR, a status that it shares from Macau. And so in China, what you have is a number of regions that can be regarded as having a certain amount of autonomy. And Hong Kong and Macau have in common, the fact that they were both former colonies, Hong Kong being a former British colony. The bigger context is that Hong Kong was a British colony since the Opium War. So China, that is to say the Ching Dynasty, the last dynasty in China, seeded Hong Kong as a result of the Opium War, and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. So over the years, Hong Kong expanded from the island, which is at the further south to Kowloon, and then the new territories. A nd so the new territories were seeded in 1898, as part of a 99 year lease. And so when people talk about the handover in 1997, July 1st, that's the end of the 99 year lease. This is how Hong Kong became a special administrative region.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
So I mean, that gives Hong Kong basically, in comparison to the rest of China, a lot of autonomy, except for in the cases of defense, and things like that. So Hong Kong has enjoyed, or Hong Kong has, the people that live in Hong Kong, they've enjoyed a great deal of political autonomy, at least in comparison to the mainland.

Denise Y. Ho 
Maybe another helpful piece to know then would be to think about what are the bases of Hong Kong as an SAR. So leading up to the handover in 1997, you have two major events or documents. One of them is the Sino British Joint Declaration, 1984, which is the result of China and Great Britain negotiations to return Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. And then that led to what's known as Hong Kong Basic Law, which is essentially Hong Kong's mini constitution. And the principle behind that is that you would have a situation which has become known as one country, two systems. So Hong Kong is part of China, it's part of one country, but it retains its own economic and political system. Which means that it can keep it's capitalist system, its political institutions and its way of life, essentially, until 2047.

Lauren Henry 
You mentioned the way of life and the political institutions of Hong Kong. How were these shaped by British rule? And by being a colony for so long? Is there a distinct British legacy that you can still see in Hong Kong today?

Denise Y. Ho 
So that's a great question. How did the British shape Hong Kong's political culture? And I think that especially comes up when you see, for example, invitations of Great Britain, or you see the British flag, sometimes in Hong Kong political protests. I think you could think about this in a number of ways. The first think of the direct political consequence of Hong Kong being a British colony. I think the British attempted to institute certain democratic reforms, especially in the few years up to when they left in 1997, including expanding the electoral base for Hong Kong's legislature, which is called the Legislative Council. So we have democratic institution building, you have strong liberal rule of law, and you have an outstanding civil service and civil service tradition. So I think those are the direct political legacies. But I think the bigger context is to look at Hong Kong's history and see that it's not just political institutions that create political culture, right, you have economic institutions. Under British rule Hong Kong becomes a link in an international trade. It's an entrepôt. It becomes a manufacturing base, especially after the war. It becomes the center of international banking. And all of these economic systems require political institutions to support them. And then the even bigger, if you want to do now all the way, the bigger legacy is things like basic civil liberties, freedom of the press, and freedom of association. And Hong Kong has traditionally had, you know, many newspapers across the political spectrum. It has a grassroots civil society. And so these, I think, are all parts of political culture. And when you see Hong Kong people on the streets trying to protect a way of life it is all of these things that people are on the street for.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
And I think that in this discussion, it's worth sort of mentioning the contrast. Because in the PRC, there's more of a tendency to sort of at times to pick the winners and losers, at least in terms of the political environment. So an issue that may come up is that Beijing may want to select the pool from which people can sort of choose the leadership, and that for people in Hong Kong kind of is a break with a longer tradition where they think that they should be able to sort of elect people without that, that hand guiding who they can choose from.

Lauren Henry 
In what ways is everyday life different in Hong Kong than in China today? And, you know, as opposed to possibly in the past?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Well, you know, here's the thing that I think is actually remarkably interesting. And Professor Ho, you know, you may agree or disagree with me on this. But to me life, in terms of life in China, and life in Hong Kong had actually, for some time had been drawing, I'd say, a little more closer together. And it's become more similar. But there are some very clear differences when you travel between the PRC and into Hong Kong which is, of course, a part of the PRC. But, you know, like we mentioned before, the the sort of proliferation of news outlets that are more open, I guess, if you want to put it that way.

Denise Y. Ho 
When you asked the question, I thought about this, in terms of the starting point. And I think the starting point should be to assume that Hong Kong is not like China, rather than to think about the ways in which it's different. If we just think of the kinds of institutions I was talking about, in my last response, Hong Kong still has the rule of law. It still has a Free Press. You still have safeguards on civil liberties. In China, instead of rule of law, we have dual bylaws. That is to say, the Communist Party is above the law. So therefore, we do not have a rule of law. The communist party controls the press, and one has in China, I think, more economic freedom than in previous decades. But one does not have as many of the political freedoms that we take for granted and I think Hong Kong people feel is eroding. Maybe to give you a concrete example, to see how things are different. Actually, in June I was first in Hong Kong for a few days for a conference and then I went across the border into the city of Shenzhen, which is a special economic zone, right across the border from Hong Kong. And so when I went, the moment I crossed the border, I no longer had free access to the internet. I couldn't see, I couldn't see news. My VPN was first working in then was not working. And so when I was in Hong Kong, you actually had these. I was observing, or not observing these protests taking place, a very short distance away, but I didn't have any way to access information. And in fact, I felt that I couldn't talk to people around me about it, because I was worried that by saying something political, I would get my friends into trouble. So to me, that's a very stark illustration of how very different things are.

Lauren Henry 
We have these differences in political culture, in economics, in a different history of you know, British colonialism. So do residents of Hong Kong have a sense of their own identity as distinct from Mainland China? How, not to sort of generalize, but in a bit to generalize, how do they think of themselves in their relationship to their city, versus the rest of the country and their identity?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
In my experience, I noticed that there has been a good bit of tension that exists between residents of Hong Kong and China. When you know, there are people that visit Hong Kong, from China and I've heard people in Hong Kong, sort of disparaging those people. But I've also heard it the other way around. People in China that have said things that are bad about the people of Hong Kong. And I think that this is the inevitable result of having such a long period of separation, and the sort of effects of, you know, having a different sort of government, different sort of political institutions, that people saw themselves differently. And I think that this really started to come into being especially in the mid 20th century, and then you get into sort of a lot more of the turmoil that was going on in China, you know, the great leap forward, and also the cultural revolution. You could see some of the differences between Hong Kong and China were more clearly laid bare. And especially with Hong Kong receiving, having that earlier level of economic success, that sort of set themselves up to see themselves as different from the people in the mainland, both politically and to a certain degree economically and in other ways.

Denise Y. Ho 
I think Melvin is right to think about this in historical perspective and to think about different generations. One way of answering your question about Hong Kong identity is to see how do people actually self identify. How do they, what do they call themselves? And I think my parents' generation, these are people who were born and grew up in Hong Kong, would call themselves as Chinese. And they come out of a previous generation that had a shared experience with mainlanders, in terms of war and invasion. There's a shared historical experience for that first generation. My generation, and I grew up in the States, but let's say people my age who grew up in Hong Kong, would identify as Hong Kong Chinese. And then I think a generation later, thinking back to my former students, when I taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I think they would identify as Hong Kongers. And you can actually do the, look at the numbers on this. And I looked at this right before we had this podcast. The Hong Kong University has this public opinion survey, and they look all the time at how people call themselves and the latest numbers, which are updated, as far as June 2019, actually show a spike. So almost 55% of respondents call themselves Hong Kongers. They call themselves 香港人 . And then almost 80% of the respondents call themselves either Hong Kongers, or a Hong Konger in China. So that's pretty high numbers there. And again, you can track those numbers over time.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
And I want to ask Professor Ho, I'd like to ask you another question, too, because there's different ways where you can see this sort of identity asserting itself. And in Hong Kong, a lot of people don't realize that in China, there are many different dialects of Chinese that are spoken. And, you know, there's a tension between sort of the, I don't want to say this influx of Mandarin language speakers and then also Cantonese speakers. Do you find that people speak Cantonese, you know, more often, or they use that as a sort of way of asserting their identity?

Denise Y. Ho 
That's a great question. I'm glad you pointed that out. So for listeners who, who may not know this, China has many different, what we call dialects. I think linguists might call them the local lex, that is dialects that are linked to a particular location. And so Hong Kong is part of South China. It's part of Lingnan culture. It is a place where people speak Cantonese. And so historically, actually in the colonial period, up until my parents' generation, English was the official language in Hong Kong. And it wasn't until later that Chinese was added as a second official language. And now we have basically three languages, we have English, we have Cantonese, which is the dialect spoken by the vast majority of Hong Kongers, and then Mandarin, or standard Chinese, which is the prevalent dialect in mainland China. And so I think you do have this, this sense of anxiety that comes up with language. And this is, this happens. This is very particularly prevalent on university campuses where there is a significant localist movement among Hong Kong students to say that actually, we are Hong Kong students, we should be speaking Cantonese. And then a lot of pushback against mainland Chinese students who are on campus and are speaking Mandarin. And this is seen as a threat, not just in the academic environment, but after graduation, and competing for the same pool of jobs.

Lauren Henry 
Melvin, when you were speaking before about the development of a distinct Hong Kong identity or experience, we were looking you were looking at the 20th century and the sort of changes that happened to the PRC during this time. How did things change after 1997 vis-a-vis relations between Hong Kong and Mainland China?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
To start off, I'll start us off and Professor Ho you can you can come in and finish it. I think that one thing that we have to keep in mind, right, is why Hong Kong was there for so long with, to begin with. And after 1949, when the PRC was established, really, you know, within a decade or so there was little that Britain could do to actually keep Hong Kong there because Britain is so far away. Hong Kong is right there on China's doorstep. Hong Kong benefited the PRC for many years, even when it wasn't a part of the PRC. It was sort of China's window to the world. They were able to get access to a lot of materials, news, things like that, that would flow in through Hong Kong and then could be redistributed throughout China. So Hong Kong served that important function for many years leading up to the the British and the Chinese negotiating the return of Hong Kong. You know, once China had its own opening in the, once Deng Xiaoping came to power, those, you know that function ceased to exist, where it was not nearly as important. So they, China began to sort of reincorporate Hong Kong. And since 1997, at least in my understanding, initially, within those first few years, they were kind of remarkable in how quiet they were. There was a

Lauren Henry 
They being the PRC?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
No, how quiet the handover was.

Lauren Henry 
Yes.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
And really, the handover was, in my opinion, within the first couple of years, pretty quiet. But slowly, but surely, PRC started to sort of make some moves to reincorporate Hong Kong more firmly into the PRC. And this kind of starts to pop up when you have certain legal cases that the PRC maybe wants to have come out a certain way. Or they start to, you know, in terms of the political, the politics, choose winners and losers. One thing that I think was very interesting was on the night of the handover, there was a collection of politicians that were sworn in that were not elected. These were people who were selected by Beijing and that was a point of tension that was a harbinger of things to come.

Denise Y. Ho 
Really, up until recent decades, the relationship between Hong Kong and China was one of coexistence and codependency. So much so that, I think, both of them, it was in the interest of both sides to maintain Hong Kong as a distinct political and economic entity. Melvin pointed us back to the immediate years after 1949. These are the years when Mao Tse-tung was in power until his death in 1976. And during those years, Hong Kong was a trading partner for China. It was a way to get around, let's say the UN blockade during the Korean War. It was the source not only of news, but of important economic material, remittances, for example, of foreign currency. So Hong Kong was important to China in those years. And in the same way, Hong Kong depended on China for not only security, but also for food and for water. So Hong Kong was getting water from China, even in the years right before and in the Cultural Revolution. It was a source of fresh water. It was a source of meat, source of vegetables. It was really a relationship of coexistence. And then in the 1980s, during the negotiations up into the handover, and even with the crisis in 1989, I think both sides recognized that they stood to benefit by Hong Kong, retaining it, the systems that led to its prosperity. And so I think when we think about the years leading up until 1997, the hope was that Hong Kong would help China change, that Hong Kong would be an example for an economic and political openness that China was beginning to see in the 1980s. With the reversal that we've had, and I think I would date it a little bit later than Melvin did. I think we really see a key change after Xi Jinping comes to power. So I think what's happened in the interim, is that there it's no longer a given that China is changing, is becoming more politically and economically open. What's happened in the interim is that China has become more powerful, and it's also become more authoritarian. So I think that's what's at stake. What happens to Hong Kong, when it no longer is useful. And that's, I think, the source of a great deal of a social and political anxiety in Hong Kong today.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Yeah, that's a really good point about the the sort of moment when Xi Jinping came into power in China, because for a long time, there was this sort of, you know, liberalisation process might be a little bit strong, but you had all of these economic changes that took place. But the political changes were coming, but they were a little slower. Then the last few years, you know, in the years following Xi Jinping's rise to power, there's been a more of a hardening a sort of a hard line stance that's been taken up. And that, you know, it's a great point that I, you know, I really should have thought about more of what happens to Hong Kong when that utility is gone.

Lauren Henry 
How have tensions between Hong Kong and Mainland China manifested in the past?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Towards the end of the 60s, there was a lot of labor unrest in Hong Kong, but a lot of that fed off of the unrest that was taking place in China. So you had a lot of the unrest that was taking place in China, I'm referencing the Cultural Revolution. And there was a lot of leftist violence that took place within the 1960s that marred Hong Kong for some time. And then today, after the handover Hong Kong is a place that has very little in terms of living space. Since the handover you've had this, a greater influx of people from China coming in and buying homes, and the prices of these homes have risen astronomically. And people living in Hong Kong have found it very difficult to actually afford a place to live. So it's one of the most most dense places in the world and you have people that are living in very, very small flats and paying a great deal of money to do so. And that's a major point of tension that has manifested within the last, you know, two decades.

Lauren Henry 
Professor Ho, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about 1989, which you alluded to in the past. And I know that you've written about for Origins before, how was the events of 1989 related to the relationship between Hong Kong and China?

Denise Y. Ho 
Well, I think 1989 was a crisis for Hong Kong. You had people coming out into the streets, in great numbers that had never been seen before. And one of the things that's notable about Hong Kong is this the only place in China where one can commemorate 1989. So every year on June 4, there is a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. I think if we wanted to look at mass protests in Hong Kong, you have basically two anniversaries every year. You have June 4th, this candlelight vigil, and you have July 1, the anniversary of the handover, which is a public March, both of these events taking place in the heat of the summer. Those are ways in which you could study and measure Hong Kong's attitudes toward China over time. So one of the things that has happened in the last few years since the 25th anniversary of 1989, is that you have a turning point in which there are some, especially younger people in Hong Kong who believe that the way in which June 4th was commemorated in the past is no longer relevant to Hong Kong people today. That this is based on the previous commemorations are based on an earlier premise, which is that Hong Kong was going to be a beacon for China. And therefore it was Hong Kong's responsibility to remember 1989. And so what's happened in the last few years is there've been calls to have an alternate commemoration. That we need to be concerned, rather than be worried about democracy in Hong Kong in China, we should be worried about democracy in our own hometown. And so that's been a shift. So thinking about the original question, how have tensions in Hong Kong and China manifested in the past, I think one way to look at these is to look at these two annual anniversaries. But then you have a number of other protests that have taken place since the handover, we might call them extraordinary moments, which are also barometers of how people feel about China. One example that I think Melvin alluded to earlier, was 2003, in which people came out to protest national security legislation. In 2012, there was a protest against patriotic education, Hong Kong parents say, no, you're not going to implement the same kind of propaganda, nationalistic education in our schools, as you have on the mainland. And then, of course, we haven't talked at all about 2014 and the Umbrella Movement, we'll talk about that later on. But I think 79 days of street protests in 2014 were really a moment of political awakening for Hong Kong.

Lauren Henry 
So what was the Umbrella Movement? And what was its impact on Hong Kong?

Denise Y. Ho 
Some people may remember this at that moment. This is five years ago, it made international news. Hong Kong people took to the streets for 79 days, occupying primarily the area around the central government buildings in downtown Hong Kong. And at that time, the protests were about the rights to have direct election of the chief executive, the name for Hong Kong's leader. The chief executive, according to the Basic Law, should be directly elected by the Hong Kong people. So what Beijing had decided was that no, Hong Kong was not going to have direct election, something that was later called universal suffrage. Rather, Hong Kong people were going to be allowed to elect their chief executive, but they had to choose from someone who had been pre-selected by a committee. So in other words, de facto pre-selected by Beijing. And so you had two movements that ended up blending together, one of them was called Occupy Central with Love and Peace. And this was a social movement, led by a member of the clergy and two professors. The idea was to teach people how to engage in peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience. So there were a number of steps leading up to this, including having a referendum, a civil referendum in terms of what people actually wanted to have. Did they want to have universal suffrage? And then planning to occupy the central business district. This is late summer of 2014. What happens is that a group of students led by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and there's a high school counterpart of high school students also taking part in a class boycott. There's a week long class boycott of storming of a central government building. And then these two movements kind of come together to become the Umbrella Movement, which is this multiple months of street occupation. And that really captivated the world. And so oftentimes, when you hear about the current protest you'll hear about that moment. But I think there are a number of differences. I think we just start with the difference in what people are actually calling for. So in 2014, during the Umbrella Movement, people were calling for something new, they were calling for direct election of the chief executive. In this past summer, with the anti-extradition protest, those people have been calling for the preservation of something that already exists. And so that's the fundamental difference. And I think when you think about how there's so much more social support for the current moment part of it has to be understood in those terms. And then I think we could talk a little bit further, if you'd like to talk about how the demands are different, how the strategies are different. The current protests on the street are seen as largely leaderless in a way to protect people from the prosecution. As we speak, some of those leaders of the Umbrella Movement are in prison, are serving out prison sentences in maximum security prison. So it is, it doesn't have the same kind of leadership as before. It's much more technologically savvy. People are organizing via all of these special apps in order to protect our identities, and to be more spontaneous, and we have much wider social participation. But I think over the last month or so you've seen occurrences of violence, both on the part of demonstrators, and by what can best be described as moblike, have really changed the tenor of the protest.

Lauren Henry 
What is the extradition bill? And why was it so controversial?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
This bill came about following a murder. There were two Hong Kong residents that went to Taiwan on vacation, and only one of them returned. While they were in Taipei the boyfriend murdered his girlfriend, and then returned to Hong Kong. Once it became apparent that he had murdered his girlfriend, the issue then became how could they try this individual? But the problem was that the crime had taken place outside of Hong Kong's jurisdiction. So they were unable to try him for murder. And the bigger problem was also that they couldn't extradite him to Taiwan, because Hong Kong lacked a formal extradition agreement with Taiwan. So this is the case that has been cited as the reason why they introduced the extradition bill. But within this bill, it would have also allowed for criminals in Hong Kong to be extradited to China. And the problem with that is that people living in Hong Kong saw this as a means through which China could silence its critics in Hong Kong. For example, if you were a student activist in Hong Kong, accused of doing, you know, whatever you could be apprehended and then sent to China for trial. And what this shows is that the people of Hong Kong have little or no faith in the legal system in China. Because in Hong Kong, there's a certain process, right, through which you go through that will allow individuals to state their case in ways that you can't do in China. So this is really a manifestation of sort of the Hong Kong people's apprehension towards the legal systems in China.

Denise Y. Ho 
I think that's a great way to start, especially by introducing that case. I think I would elaborate by saying that it's not just about the safety of a Hong Kong person who might, let's say, have politically sensitive opinions. It's actually a matter for anybody who passes through Hong Kong. So any one of the three of us in the Hong Kong airport, could then be grabbed, and taken to China. So in that way, so it's not just about Hong Kong people. It's about anybody who goes through Hong Kong. So when you think about people who are generally conservative, like business groups, for example, even the business community in Hong Kong came out against the extradition bill, because if this could potentially affect their ability to do business, then it's actually really bad news for Hong Kong. So this is not just the typical lawyers and activists, but business people and government officials who questioned this bill. This does nothing to stop the disappearance of anyone who is not just in Hong Kong, but passing through Hong Kong, maybe even on a flight layover. And so the bigger context is also that it's not just anybody passing through Hong Kong, but also that, according to international legal standards, if you have, when you extradite somebody to another country, you need to guarantee that the country who is receiving that person, that individual has fundamental protections for human rights, and China does not. So one way to think about this is Tom Kellogg at Georgetown Law School says that the extradition bill would have been a way to legalize kidnapping. And in fact, over the last three years, you've had a number of individuals in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong people, and people who have, for example, a Swedish passport, a Swedish nationality, getting kidnapped across the border and ending up in detention in China. And so this is not just something theoretical, this is something that happens been happening over the last three years. And the argument is that having an extradition bill would legalize that process.

Lauren Henry 
After several weeks of protest, as we said that the bill was actually suspended. But protests are ongoing. What are protesters' objectives? And maybe this is a way to talk about how the protests evolved, and what the reaction has been, as well.

Denise Y. Ho 
Sure, I think there are a number of things that the protesters have wanted from the beginning. And then there are a couple of add ons that have come into place in more recent weeks. So the main demands are that the bills be withdrawn. But so far, it's only been suspended. And there's a lot of debate over what this actually means. And you know, what's wrong with just saying suspension. One of the demands is the withdrawal of the bill. Another demand is to take back the labeling, the government's labeling, of the protesters as rioters or the protest movement as a riot. And of course, this has both historical echoes and legal consequences. So in 1989, Beijing called the Tiananmen Student Movement, a counter revolutionary riot. And so there's a historical echo here, calling this a riot. And of course, being a rioter has much greater legal consequences when these individuals have been arrested or eventually tried. That's another one of the demands to release those people arrested. Another demand is independent inquiry into police brutality. And there's been a number of documentations of first police brutality and then more recently, negligence in not responding adequately to the mob attack from a few weeks ago. And then there's also been the calls for the chief executive Carrie Lam to resign over the mishandling of the events of the past few months. So those have been the basic, I think, core requests. Last week, when you had people mobilize to demonstrate in Hong Kong's International Airport arrival call, those things have been lifted out. You've seen broader calls, like having greater democracy, the kinds of things that like the end to functional constituencies. So one of the things to understand is that Hong Kong Legislative Council has seats that are allocated according to geographic location, and seats that are allocated to so called functional constituencies. So one constituency, these are based on professions. So lawyers or teachers or whatever, there are certain number of seats that are allocated to them. And so what this system basically guarantees is that even if the Democratic Parties win a majority, they can't have a majority of the seats, because the functional constituencies are elected by committee rather than directly by citizens. So the chief executive will always have the majority.

Lauren Henry 
How are these bridges being seen by the country's leaders in Beijing? And to what extent is the response being run out of Beijing rather than out of Carrie Lam's office and the Hong Kong government itself?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
This has been for Beijing a massive headache. And I think the response that Beijing has had, at least from what I can understand is that the reason why Carrie Lam or a big reason why Carrie Lam is still there is because Beijing has left her out there to solve the situation that is at hand. I think they look at it very much so as this is a mistake that you created and this is a mistake that you need to stay and clean up. I don't know if you agree with that assessment or not. But that's at least the way that I've seen it.

Denise Y. Ho 
I think throughout the debate has been how much is the central government behind us whether it's how much the central government was behind the extradition bill in the first place? How much was the central government behind the original themes of police brutality? Was the storming of the Legislative Council, was that a trap? So I think there is a lot of debate behind this. To what extent has the government of Hong Kong's response been directed by Beijing? I think, on the one hand, it's in Beijing's interest to as Melvin pointed out, make it seem like it's Carrie Lam's responsibility. But on the other hand, it's impossible for lamb to make significant decisions without the approval of Beijing. I think we can look at two things. One is to look at, there has been an official government response. So you've seen there've been, there was a long one-page op ed in the People's Daily, which is China's main newspaper, seen as the main party organ. It calls the protesters radical extremists, that they're condemned by Hong Kong society, that these protesters will not be allowed to challenge the authority of the central government, that it supports Hong Kong's government. It supports economic policies that will improve conditions for people living in Hong Kong. So there is that, there is this official response. But I think the most important takeaway is not so much how much Beijing is behind Carrie Lam. I think what's important to think about is what do the people in Hong Kong think. Carrie Lam can never separate herself from association with Beijing. And for this reason, she'll never be able to regain the trust of the population, if she had it in the first place. And I think analysts have said this as well, that this is one of the central issues facing Hong Kong, an inability to trust your own government. And to give you just one example, Simon Lau, a political commentator, gave this interview in Cantonese that I found really compelling. Near the end of the interview, he referred to the government as a puppet government that Hong Kong people were not viewing this as a legitimate government. And he even used the phrase or the phrases and the words to describe it as being akin to the Wang Jingwei government, which was the puppet government during the Japanese occupation of China. And so this, to me, is really a symbol of how far the trust has erroded, that it's not seen as a legitimate government. So I think whether the degree to which Beijing is behind Carrie Lam is less important than the fact that she seem to be arm of Beijing.

Lauren Henry 
In 2047, Hong Kong's status as a Special Administrative Region is set to expire. How does that looming deadline play into the current tensions we're seeing in Hong Kong?

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Well, in my opinion, I think that that looming deadline is weighing over Hong Kong. You know, this is one way that you can link some of the the unrest that has taken place is, I think, one, Beijing has been quick to sort of start to erode some of those freedoms that they had guaranteed that Hong Kong would enjoy, between, you know, the 50 years following the handover. But I think that, as Beijing pulls back, more and more of those freedoms, people are becoming more anxious about what Hong Kong will look like in 2047. There's been subsequent moves right to draw Hong Kong closer to China. And that's whether it's through the building of bridges or the building of rail lines. I think that is part of what's fueling the anxiety that's taking place there right now. And I think that, fundamentally, there are differences in what the people of Hong Kong want, and what the people in China tend to want. I think that there's an element of the political liberties that the people of Hong Kong have become accustomed to and require. And one thing that I think, is important to remember is that for China, the sort of economic development affluence that they have now, that is something that for a lot of Chinese people is very new there. Even if you speak to young people, relatively young people in China, you know, one thing that I often hear is that, you know, we eat a lot better now than we did 20 or 30 years ago. And I think that for now, you know, in China that's enough for them. But Hong Kong has been accustomed to a different sort of style of living for a longer period of time and economic development, those sorts of things, that's not enough to keep Hong Kongers happy. There's going to be a collision between the desires of what the people of Hong Kong want and the desires and what Beijing is selling.

Lauren Henry 
Professor Ho, would you say that we are seeing this as sort of the lead up to a larger confrontation, or that 2047 is weighing on people's minds as they take to the streets today?

Denise Y. Ho 
I would say no. I want to explain this by going back to a comment that Melvin just made, the idea that Beijing is selling economic development for economic openness without political openness. And I agree that that is a narrative that they have tried to employ in mainland China. But the reason why that works in mainland China is because Mainland China has seen a kind of economic growth that has been absent in recent years in Hong Kong. That is to say that things are not getting better economically in Hong Kong. It has just to look at two numbers, minimum wage in Hong Kong. The most recent minimum wage is not even $5 an hour to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. So for working class people in Hong Kong, even for college educated Hong Kongers, our livelihood is a serious issue. Inequality Hong Kong, Hong Kong's inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient is worse than it's ever been, since these numbers began to be recorded. This is a measure of the the difference between the richest and of course, members of the population. So Hong Kong has soaring economic inequality worse than it is even here in the United States. So it's not that Beijing is trying to sell Hong Kong, a narrative that the premise for that narrative has already failed. And so when you ask the question about looking ahead to 2047, in some ways, I would disagree with Melvin and say that actually, I don't think 2047 is relevant anymore. If we think back to the 1990s in 1997, 50 years seemed like a long time, the idea was that China was would have changed by then, that China would have grown closer to being like Hong Kong. And indeed, if we if you think back on the 1990s, with the exception of 1989, just previously, you had more media freedom in China. You had economic growth in China, you've had experimentation with village elections in China. So I think there was reason to believe that this is going to come true. Now, looking ahead to 2047, I don't think it's about looking to 2047. I think it's looking from today to tomorrow. One of the best analysis I've seen of what's going on in Hong Kong now is an article that was an op ed in the LA Times by the sociologist, C.K. Lee. And she talks about what she calls Hong Kong's new political lexicon, Hong Kong's new political vocabulary. And one of the things that she remarked upon is how for the first time ever, this idea of desperation is showing up in Hong Kong with a political vocabulary. That people are saying that they're taking to the streets, young people are taking to the streets, because they don't know if they're going to have a chance to do so in the future. So it's not about today versus 2047. It's about today versus tomorrow. And you see this even in the elder generation's support of younger demonstrations that they feel that their generation had it pretty good. But they have this responsibility to this current generation. And they're going to come out on the streets to support them, because again, they don't know what tomorrow will bring. So I think that it isn't about 2047 anymore. There's a feeling that if you don't fight for city values today, tomorrow there might not be anything left to fight for.

Lauren Henry 
I guess we will have to wait and see. We'll wrap it up on that note. Thank you to our two guests, Professor Denise Ho, and Melvin Barnes.

Melvin Barnes, Jr. 
Thank you.

Denise Y. Ho 
Thank you.

Lauren Henry 
This episode of History Talk was brought to you by Origins, Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the public history initiative, the Goldberg Center and the history departments at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University and Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are David Steigerwald, Steven Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. And our audio producers and hosts are me, Lauren Henry, and Eric Michael Rhodes. You can find our podcasts and more on our website, origins.osu.edu, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, as well as wherever else you get your podcasts. Song and band information can also be found on our website. And as always, you can find us on Twitter @OriginsOSU and @HistoryTalkpod. This is my last episode hosting History Talk. So I'd like to say a special thank you for all of you listening this past year. Stay tuned for our new hosts and a fresh slate of new episodes coming soon.