Though Hong Kongers had rebelled against the authorities before, the Tiananmen protests were what awakened their political consciousness, and their sense of the difference between popular sovereignty and state sovereignty became acute. The CCP drew the opposite lesson, becoming so fearful of popular political mobilization that it insisted that Hong Kong’s laws be effectively unchanged from 1984, when the Sino-British Declaration on the city’s handover was agreed, through to the official transfer in 1997, unless reforms were authorized by the Party itself. It even demanded that a labor law passed in early 1997 guaranteeing the rights of collective bargaining be scrapped, which it was soon after the handover.
Since then, Beijing has sought to pass an antisedition law, attempted to promulgate “patriotic education” in Hong Kong, and restricted the territory’s ability to choose its chief executive. The heavy-handed, unyielding stance Beijing has taken against this summer’s protests has only served to “pour oil on the flames,” as a Chinese proverb says, pushing Hong Kongers into a corner: They must fight for their freedom once more, or become slaves to Beijing’s imperial rule.