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A 15-Step Guide To Understanding Why Hong Kong Has Erupted In Protest

Students and pro-democracy activists have taken to the streets to denounce Chinese interference and demand democratic elections.

Posted on September 29, 2014, at 7:16 p.m. ET

1. Massive pro-democracy protests are shaking Hong Kong as thousands of students, activists, and everyday residents take to the streets to demand democratic elections free of Chinese interference.

AP Photo/Wally Santana

Riot police launch tear gas into the crowd as protesters surround the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 28.

2. Hong Kong, population 7.9 million, is a semi-autonomous region of China. The city returned to Chinese control in 1997 after more than 150 years as a British colony. It is now one of Asia’s main financial hubs.

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

A protester waves a Hong Kong flag during a rally as they block the main road to the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Sept. 29.

3. Hong Kong doesn't have a constitution, but it does have Basic Law and a semi-autonomous government. Technically, people have freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion denied on the mainland. China calls this policy “one country, two systems.”

AP Photo/Wally Santana

Thousands of students gather in a "sit-in" to block main roads of a popular fashion district of Hong Kong, on Sept. 29.

4. But the Chinese government, based in Beijing, gets to approve what Hong Kong voters decide. In 2007, Beijing promised that upcoming elections in 2017 for Hong Kong's top position, the chief executive, would be free of interference.


Under British colonial rule, London picked Hong Kong’s representatives.

5. Then, on Aug. 31, Beijing decided that all candidates for chief executive would have to be approved by a pro-China committee — basically undoing its 2007 pledge to elect the position via universal suffrage. Small protests followed.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters, in Hong Kong on Sept. 29.

6. Long-simmering anger erupted late Friday, as hundreds of pro-democracy activists stormed the government headquarters and student activists called for a week-long sit-in to demand greater democracy.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

7. The next day, thousands of non-violent protesters gathered in the streets. Police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and batons. Activists dubbed the movement Occupy Central because it began at the central government complex.

Lam Yik Fei / Getty Images

8. Protesters built barricades to block the way to government buildings and main economic thoroughfares. These kinds of demonstrations have been largely uncommon in Hong Kong — and police responded with force.

Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

9. The civil disobedience, and clashes, escalated further on Sunday. Analysts said these protests could be China's biggest political threat since the massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Thousands of people block a main road in Hong Kong on Sept. 28.

10. At least 41 protesters have been reported injured since demonstrations broke out.

Lam Yik Fei / Getty Images

11. Protesters took to carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray, leading some to dub the movement the Umbrella Revolution. Protesters also used goggles, raincoats, and masks as protection.

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

12. Demonstrations continued to grow Monday, despite orders from Chinese authorities to end the strikes and protests. Financial markets also took a dip, as Hong Kong's unrest shook markets worldwide.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

13. As protests escalated, China increased its online censorship. Authorities blocked Instagram in mainland China, and users of Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, said a large number of reports were being deleted on the platform.

AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Authorities also censored news posted on Weibo that used phrases like “Hong Kong police” and “Hong Kong tear gas.”

14. Chinese authorities continued to denounce demonstrations and warned against any foreign interference, The New York Times reported.

AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

15. Hong Kong authorities said they had called riot police off on Monday, but protesters continued to turn out in huge numbers. The protests are expected to continue.


Protestors and student demonstrators hold up their cell phones in a show of solidarity during a protest outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Sept. 29.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.