Explainer: What you should know about the Hong Kong protests

August 2, 2019

What just happened?

For the past four months, hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong have been demonstrating in opposition to legislation by China’s communist government that would allow citizens of the semi-autonomous region to be extradited to mainland China. Human rights activists—including many Christians—worry that dissenters and critics of the Chinese regime could be extradited to a location where they might be subjected to abuse and torture.

"Some Christians, including me, are afraid that if the extradition bill is passed, it could affect freedom of religion in Hong Kong and freedom of religious activities," says Joshua Wong, the city's most prominent young political activist.

Many Christians have been involved in the protest and the hymn “Sing Hallelujah To The Lord” has become the unofficial protest anthem.

Although the extradition bill has been suspended, protestors worry that it could be resurrected. The activists have also begun calling for direct elections to choose legislative council members and the chief executive.

Where is Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is a territory located on the south coast of China. The land is comprised of a peninsula and more than 200 small islands. Although Hong Kong is roughly the size of San Antonio, Texas (426 sq. mi.), it has four and a half times as many people (7 million), making it one of the most populous areas on Earth.

How is Hong Kong different than other Chinese cities?

Hong Kong was a territory of China when part of it was seized by the British Empire during the First Opium War in 1842. In 1898 the Chinese government leased the rest of Hong Kong (known as the New Territories) to the British for a period of 99 years. Under British control, Hong Kong became a flourishing economic region. Today, it’s one of the world’s leading financial centers, behind only New York and London.

Before the lease expired and the territory returned to China on July 1, 1997, the British negotiated a "one country, two systems" agreement. As the BBC notes, this meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years. As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.

While most of these freedoms remain, the Chinese government has begun encroaching on the rights of people in the area. This has created tension with a people who already distance themselves from mainland China. Only 11% of the people in the territory identify as “Chinese” (most identify themselves as "Hong Kongers"), and almost 2/3 (71%) say they do not feel proud about being Chinese citizens.

How is Christianity affecting and influencing the protests?

Christians comprise only about 11% of the population of Hong Kong. Yet as the The New York Times observes, “Hong Kong’s Christians have long played an important role in the politics of the semiautonomous Chinese territory, on issues like religious freedom, democracy and human rights.” Christians have participated in the protests as well as provided food and shelter at demonstrations. “Many protesters, even those who are not religious, have embraced the teachings and messages of Christianity to denounce a proposed law to allow extraditions to mainland China,” reports the Times.

Christians are mainly engaging in the protest because they believe the extradition measure could be used by the Chinese government to impose restrictions on religious freedom on Hong Kong that are found on the mainland.

“The law is unjust,” says Carita Ng. “It is very dangerous to citizens like us because it deprives us of free speech. As Christians, we need it more than anyone.”

Christians in the territory also worry that the law could be used by mainland officials to punish churches in Hong Kong.

“Our clergy is rather conservative; not many usually come out,” said Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong. “But I think this is a moment when we should stand with the people. Otherwise, we are against the people, and there is no middle way.”

Image credit: Studio Incendo

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More