Democratic development in Hong Kong

Democratic development in Hong Kong
Democratic development in Hong Kong
leaders of a protest march holding open a large banner with the figure '2012' in black-and-white print
Democracy protesters on 13 Jan 2008 demanding universal suffrage by 2012
Participants HK Govt., LegCo, Pan-democrats, people of Hong Kong
Location Hong Kong
Date 1997 –

Democratic development in Hong Kong has been a major topic since the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997. The One country, two systems principle allows the Hong Kong government to administer all areas of government except foreign relations and (military) defense separately from the national Chinese government. Many Hong Kong citizens became concerned about democratic development when the first Chief executive of Hong Kong Tung Chee-hwa appeared to have mishandled this issue. Other democracy-related issues involving human rights and universal suffrage became the new focal point for the pro-democracy camp. Attempts to bring Hong Kong citizens on to the negotiatiing table by the British during the Sino-Anglo discussions was rejected by Beijing during the early 1980s. The last governor Chris Patten faced a great deal of opposition in changing the former colony's political system.

Politics and government of Hong Kong

Basic Law
Chief Executive: Donald Tsang
Chief Secretary: Stephen Lam
Financial Secretary: John Tsang
  Secretary for Justice: Wong Yan-lung
Executive Council
    Convenor of unofficials: Ronald Arculli
  Bureaus, depts, etc.
     Political Appointments       Accountability System
Legislative Council
President: Jasper Tsang
Geographical constituency
Functional constituency
Political parties
   Pan-democracy camp
   Pro-Beijing camp
Court of Final Appeal
    Chief Justice: Geoffrey Ma
  High Court
District Councils
Human rights
Foreign relations
Universal suffrage

Other Hong Kong topics
Culture - Economy
Education - Geography - History
Hong Kong Portal

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Although full universal suffrage was never granted by the British to its colony before the handover in 1997, some democratisation began in 1984. Following the historic meeting in 1979 between Deng Xiaoping and then governor Murray MacLehose, a Green paper on development of representative government was issued by the colonial government in July 1984. It included proposals aimed at developing a system of more localised government, which included the introduction of indirect elections to the Legco the following year.[1] Declaring that 'full weight be given to representation of the economic and professional sectors essential to future confidence and prosperity of Hong Kong', the government proposed 12 legislators elected by nine trade-based seats, or 'functional bodies' – commercial, industrial, financial, labour, social services, education, legal, medical and engineering – the following year. Martin Lee and Szeto Wah were among those elected in 1985.[2]

Democracy activists - pressure groups, religious groups and community organisations - attended a mass rally at Ko Shan Theatre in Hung Hom in November 1986. The rally is a milestone in Hong Kong's fledgling pro-democracy movement. One if the participating groups, calling themselves the 'group of 190', demanded direct elections for Legco in 1988, and a faster pace of democratic development after the handover.[1]

In 1987, many surveys indicated that there was more than 60% popular support for direct elections. The government issued another green paper in 1987 proposing direct LegCo elections for 1988. However, the proposal was ruled out after a government study concluded people were 'sharply divided' over its introduction that year. The government was criticised for manipulating the views of some Beijing-friendly groups to ensure that no clear mandate for direct elections in 1988 emerged. Eventually the government decided to introduce 18 directly elected seats to the legislature in 1991.[1]


However, under what Beijing called the 'one country, two systems' model, the move towards greater democracy has stalled. An article in Journal of Democracy argues that "Hong Kong’s political development has lagged in the face of well-documented PRC efforts to impede progress toward direct elections, universal suffrage, and other democratizing reforms that Beijing fears might loosen its control."[3]

During the 1996 election a 400-member Selection Committee (推選委員會) voted for a Chief Executive to govern Hong Kong after 1997.[4] Pro-democracy activists, including Emily Lau, Andrew Cheng, and Lee Cheuk-yan, insisted this threatened Hong Kong's welfare by denying the city full democracy. A "Tomb of democracy" was established outside the building shouting "oppose the phony election". The activists were dragged away by the police, and detained for four hours.[4]

Pan-democrat groups such as the Article 45 Concern Group and the Hong Kong Government agree on the interpretation that Hong Kong Basic Law Article 45 indicates universal suffrage as the ultimate aim. However, they differ on the pace of implementing universal suffrage.[5] The Pan-democrats, especially, have voiced concerns that small-circle elections and the undemocratic functional constituencies threaten Hong Kong's autonomy granted to them by the Basic Law.[6]

In April 2004, DAB spokesman Lau Kwong-wah set aside without explanation the party's 2012 declared goal for universal suffrage, one day after fellow DAB Chan Kam-lam had reiterated on the campaign trail the party's plan to amend the party platform for the third time to promise full democracy in 2012.[7] On 26 April, Beijing reneged on earlier promises to allow Hong Kong the right to determine the timetable to universal suffrage[8] when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) ruled out universal suffrage before 2012[9]

2004 referendum proposal

Following the April NPC ruling against the introduction of universal suffrage before 2012, the Pan-democratic camp mooted the idea of a referendum to gauge the level of popular support for universal suffrage in 2007-8.

At the first meeting of the new Legislative Council Constitutional Affairs Panel on 18 October, chairman Lui Ming-wah was ambushed by Pan-democrats in a surprise vote on constitutional reforms. After debating for over three hours, when democrats outnumbered pro-government lawmakers, Fernando Cheung raised a motion proposing a public referendum on whether people supported the government's 'go-slow proposals' or whether both elections should be by universal suffrage. Panel chairman stalled on the vote for more than 15 minutes, allowing the pro-government legislators to be called back to vote. However, the meeting descended into chaos, and no vote was taken; the meeting adjourned to the following month. Democrats called on Lui to resign from his post for his abuse of procedure.[10]

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa rejected holding a referendum, saying it would not support any civil organisations who decided to hold an informal referendum; Li Gang of the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong said that communication channels between pro-democrats and the central government were always smooth and open, but that advocating a referendum was in breach of the Basic Law, and that it would be "playing with fire."[11] Basic Law drafter, Xiao Weiyun, said a referendum could be seen as a mark of disrespect for the National People's Congress. Whilst admitting a clear majority of Hong Kong people wanted universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, Liberal Party chairman James Tien did not back the referendum motion. Constitutional Affairs minister Stephen Lam said: "Apart from the procedures stated in the Basic Law, it would be inappropriate and unnecessary for us to add a further procedure to determine this question."[12] Executive Councillor Bernard Chan said a ballot would cause worry and embarrassment to Beijing because of its associations with a Taiwanese referendum earlier in the year.[13] Margaret Ng of the Civic Party criticised Tien for his inconsistency, and said "The referendum proposed violates no article in the Basic Law. What it does is to allow each and every person in Hong Kong to speak for himself, directly and unequivocally, without the results being distorted by loaded questions or through an arbitrary interpretation."[12]

On 14 November, three pro-democracy functional constituency legislators, Kwok Ka-kei (medical), Joseph Lee (health services) and Mandy Tam (accountancy), declared they would abstain in the vote, denying suggestions they were under pressure to change their vote.[14]

At the second meeting of the new Legislative Council Constitutional Affairs Panel on 15 November, chairman Lui Ming-wah once again deferred voting on the motion brought over from the previous month following a three hour debate, after the meeting descended into chaos, and no vote was taken; the meeting adjourned to the following month. Tung Chee Hwa again said that a referendum was "inconsistent with the established legal procedures, is impractical and is misleading to the public." Cheung retorted: "If the government really wants to hear the views of the public and respects their opinions, I can see no reason why it should be so scared of a referendum."[15]

On 29 November, the motion tabled by Fernando Cheung before the full LegCo calling for a referendum on the introduction of universal suffrage in 2007-08 was scuppered by the pro-Beijing camp - DAB, the Liberal Party and the Alliance - by 31 votes to 20. Three Pan-democrats abstained. Martin Lee was concerned that Beijing may not have been aware of the strength of public opinion in Hong Kong on the matter of universal suffrage. Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam said that the government clearly indicated in its second report on constitutional development in February that more than half of the local population had expectations of full democracy in 2007-08. He said the central government had already considered these wishes before delivering its April decision.[16]

2005 reform package

The government put out its blueprint for the so-called 'district council model' for electing the chief executive and the legislature in 2007 and 2008. It suggest increasing the number of Legco seats from 60 to 70. Of the 10 new seats, five will go to geographical constituencies. The remaining five will be elected among 529 district council members, including 102 government appointees.[17]

Chief Secretary Donald Tsang's fourth report on political reform on 15 December launched a three-month consultation over the methods of electing the chief executive and the legislature in 2007-08. It looks into the size and composition of Election Committee and Legco. Tsang indicated he will not consider any proposals which are in conflict with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress's veto of universal suffrage in April.[18]

At the last minute, the government revised its offer aimed at securing votes for the blueprint's passage, the government promised on Monday to phase out 1/3 of appointed seats, or 34, in 2008. The remaining 2/3 will be abolished no later than 2016.[17]

Pan-democrats' blueprint

In March 2007, the pan-democrats published their own blueprint, the 'mainstream transitional proposal' drawn up with the support of 21 legislators in accordance with principles of equal and universal suffrage and reflected public opinion. They proposed that 400 elected district councillors would join the existing 800-member Election Committee, making a total of 1,200-members. Nominations threshold would be set at 50 EC members, and the candidate for CE would be elected in a one-person, one-vote election. Ultimately, the nomination committee would be scrapped. For the legislature, they propose returning half Legco's seats by direct election in single-seat constituencies, with the other half determined by proportional representation.[19]

NPCSC resolution

After the failure to achieve universal suffrage in 2007, the target of the pan-democrats has shifted to 2012; pro-Beijing camp stated its preference for 2017. The Pan-democrats are concerned that the lack of details regarding governance in Hong Kong after July 2047, when the One country, two systems 50-year guarantee granted by the Basic Law expires.

On 29 December 2007, the NPCSC resolved:[20]

that the election of the fifth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage; that after the Chief Executive is selected by universal suffrage, the election of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may be implemented by the method of electing all the members by universal suffrage... Appropriate amendments conforming to the principle of gradual and orderly progress may be made to the specific method for selecting the fourth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2012 and the specific method for forming the fifth term Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2012 in accordance with the provisions of Articles 45 and 68, and those of Article 7 of Annex I and Article III of Annex II to the Basic Law

The decision stipulated that:

The only certainty is that Hong Kong will get exactly what Beijing wants it to have, which is exactly zilch.

Asia Times, 11 January 2008[21]

The bills on the amendments to the method for selecting the Chief Executive and the proposed amendments to such bills shall be introduced by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the Legislative Council; such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive

The Asia Times remarked that both proposals for LegCo and for the Chief Executive "hedged in with so many ifs and buts that there is no guarantee of Hong Kong getting anything at all... "[21]

2009 reform package

On 18 November 2009, the government published the "Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the LegCo in 2012" which proposed to enlarge the Election Committee for the chief executive election from 800 members to 1,200 in 2012 and increasing the number of Legislative Council members from 60 to 70. It would also give elected District Council members more seats on the Election Committee and five of the new LegCo seats.[22]

Five Constituencies Resignation

In January 2010, five Pan-democrat legislators resigned from their post as part of the 'Five Constituencies Resignation' as had been mooted since the previous July. Albert Chan, Alan Leong, Tanya Chan, "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung and Raymond Wong[23] tendered their resignations on 26 January 2010, with effect from 29 January 2010.[24] The HK government and Beijing representatives labelled them 'radicals' and said the "so-called referendum" had no legal grounding.[25]

2010 Amendments for LegCo vote

Key proposals remained unchanged when Chief Secretary Henry Tang unveiled the package to be put before LegCo. He said the government tried to find the "maximum latitude to enhance the democratic elements of the two elections in 2012." He urged legislators to accept this 'golden opportunity' because there was no room for further concessions.[26] Qiao Xiaoyang, head of the NPC's Hong Kong Basic Law committee, said that the passage of the reform package would "create excellent conditions for universal suffrage in the future."[27] Constitutional Affairs minister Stephen Lam insisted the 2012 electoral reform proposal is "more democratic than the 2005 package" rejected by LegCo, and more likely to advance the city's political system if approved. He said that the timetable of universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020 was not ideal, but was "a practical one that is accepted by over 60% of residents."[28]

The 18 remaining pro-democracy legislators intimated their preparedness to vote down the package if no further progress is made on democracy.[29] Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu said any reform package that increased the number of functional constituency seats was "regressive and unacceptable";[28] the Democratic Party counter-proposed that the five additional Legco seats for the district council functional constituency be directly elected by proportional representation instead of block voting.[26] 'Moderate' pan-democrats formed an umbrella group, the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, counting 15 legislators as its members, asked for guarantees of the abolition of functional constituencies before they would accept an increase in the government's proposed district council functional constituencies.[30][31] Chief Secretary Henry Tang said the government would consider scrapping appointed district councillors if sufficient opposition lawmakers promise to support the 2012 political reform package.[32]

In May, pro-democracy groups were reported to have been in contact with mainland officials for several months to discuss ideas for reform; they quoted officials as saying that a statement on electoral reform beyond 2012 will be made, conditional upon LegCo's approval of the current package.[33] There were highly publicised historical meetings between Beijing representatives and Democratic Party and the Alliance. Four days before the 23 June Legco vote on the reform package, the official stance against the Democratic Party's compromise proposal softened considerably. Following a letter that Donald Tsang had written a letter the previous week to Xi Jinping, the South China Morning Post reported that President Hu Jintao had personally approved the revision, fearing further strengthening of the 'radical' pan-democrats in the event of a stalement.[34] With the Democratic Party support, the revised packages passed through Legco after securing 46 votes on 24 and 25 June. The Civic Party, the League of Social Democrats, and one resigned Democrat opposed the resolutions.[35]


  • July 1984 - Hong Kong government releases green paper on development of representative government, which proposes the introduction of indirect Legislative Council elections in 1985
  • September 1984 - British and Chinese governments sign Sino-British Joint Declaration
  • September 1985 - Indirect elections introduced to Legco
  • November 1986 - More than 1,000 people join mass rally at Ko Shan Theatre, demanding faster pace of democracy after 1997
  • May 1987 - Hong Kong government releases green paper on development of representative government, which suggests direct election to Legco as option for following year
  • April 1989 - Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
  • 1990 - Hong Kong Basic Law endorsed by National People's Congress
  • 1992 - Governor Chris Patten announces reform package for 1994-95 elections
  • December 1996 - Provisional Legislative Council set up
  • May 1998 - First post-handover LegCo election held
  • 1 July 2003 - 500,000 join historic march against proposed codification of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23
  • April 2004 - DAB spokesman Lau Kwong-wah set aside without explanation the party's 2012 declared goal for universal suffrage, one day after fellow DAB Chan Kam-lam had reiterated, while campaigning, the party's plan to amend the party platform for the third time to promise full democracy in 2012.[7]
  • 26 April 2004 - The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) rules out universal suffrage before 2102.[9]
  • 29 November 2004: A motion before LegCo proposed by Fernando Cheung calling for a referendum to gauge the views of the public on the introduction of universal suffrage in 2007-08 was scuppered by the pro-Beijing camp - DAB, the Liberal Party and the Alliance - by 31 votes to 20.[16]
  • 16 December 2004: Hong Kong government launches public consultation on electoral methods for 2007-08 elections
  • 2005: Government proposal for 2007-08 elections vetoed by Legco
  • Jul 2007: Government releases Green Paper on Constitutional Development
  • 29 December 2007 - The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress deputy secretary general, Qiao Xiaoyang, visited Hong Kong to rule out universal suffrage being introduced by 2012. About 700 protesters marched to the Government House, where Mr Qiao was to brief lawmakers and district councillors on the decision.[36]
  • 1 January 2008 - Pan-democrats expressed regret about the rejection of universal suffrage in 2012, but said they would continue to fight for the early introduction of full democracy. They warned about "fake universal suffrage" being promised given that details of the 2017 and 2020 polls were not settled. Martin Lee said Beijing’s proposals were “full of blanks” and contained no concrete details. “I do not see Hong Kong with genuine democracy in 10 years more or 20 years more. It is just a mirage."[37]
  • 13 January 2008 - Pan-democrats gathered a petition of 10,000 signatures demanding universal suffrage in 2012.[38] Pro-Beijing members have welcomed this decision to grant universal suffrage by 2017 as "expressing the wishes of the people", as has been written in the Chief Executive's report regarding democratic development for the Region.[39] A peaceful protest against the National People's Congress Standing Committee's delay of universal suffrage to 2017 was held by 22,000 people. The march went from Victoria park to the Central Government Offices.[21]
  • July 2009 - The League of Social Democrats (LSD) proposed the 'Five Constituencies Resignation' plan in mid July 2009. They proposed that LegCo members of the pan-democracy camp resign according to the size of their caucus in LegCo: 2 members from Democratic Party, 1 member from Civic Party, 1 member from LSD and 1 member from the 4 independent democrats to force a de fact referendum on universal suffrage.[40]
  • 18 November 2009 - The Government published the "Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the LegCo in 2012".
  • 21 December 2009 - Lew Mon-hung, member of the CPPCC said "Hong Kong is part of China, some people are mistaken if they think Hong Kong could have its own political system."[41]
  • 1 January 2010 - Thousands attend the 2010 Hong Kong new year march[42]


See also



  1. ^ a b c Cheung, Gary (14 November 2009), "Universal suffrage an elusive goal", South China Morning Post
  2. ^ Cheung, Gary (18 Jan. 2010), "Functional seats plan mooted a month after Deng, MacLehose met", South China Morning Post
  3. ^ Ming Sing, Hong Kong’s Democrats Hold Their Own Journal of Democracy Volume 20, Number 1, January 2009 ISSN: 1045-5736 DOI: 10.1353/jod.0.0046
  4. ^ a b Chan, Ming K. [1997] (1997). The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration With China. Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong (China). ISBN 9622094414.
  5. ^ "" Dialogue, consensus, key to reform. Article 19 May 2004. Retrieved on 8 January 2008.
  6. ^ Kootnikoff, David (21 June 2005), Hong Kong Chief Faces Crisis of Legitimacy, Ohmynews
  7. ^ a b Chan, Carrie (15 November 2004) "Support fades for 2012 elections", The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  8. ^ Ching, Frank (20 September 2010) "Historical context may clarify reform debate", South China Morning Post
  9. ^ a b Ng, Michael (9 November 2004). "Referendum is 'playing with fire'", The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  10. ^ Ng, Michael (19 Oct 2004). Vote rebuff brings chaos to chamber, The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  11. ^ Ng, Michael (9 November 2004) "Referendum is 'playing with fire'", The Standard. Retrieved on 4 May 2010.
  12. ^ a b Ng, Michael (22 Nov. 2004). Ng tells Beijing to butt out of democracy referendum, The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  13. ^ Tang, Emily (25 Oct. 2004). Exco member tells of referendum fear, The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  14. ^ Ng, Michael (15 Nov. 2004). Referendum hit by loss of 3 pro-democrat votes, The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  15. ^ Ng, Michael (16 Nov. 2004). Tense referendum debate ends in chaos, The Standard. Retrieved on 3 May 2010.
  16. ^ a b Ng, Michael (30 November 2004). "Votes of pro-Beijing parties dash the slim referendum hopes of democrats" The Standard
  17. ^ a b Yeung, Chris (21 Dec. 2005) OpEd: "Crunch time", South China Morning Post
  18. ^ Yau, Cannix & Ng, Michael (16 December 2004) "Push to change democracy timetable 'a waste of time'". The Standard
  19. ^ Leung, Ambrose; Hung, Denise & Lee, Klaudia (3 Mar. 2007) "Democrats agree on suffrage road map", South China Morning Post
  20. ^ Decision Of The Standing Committee Of The National People's Congress On Issues Relating To The Methods For Selecting The Chief Executive Of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region And For Forming The Legislative Council Of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region In The Year 2012 And On Issues Relating To Universal Suffrage (Adopted By The Standing Committee Of The Tenth National People's Congress At Its Thirty-First Session On 29 December 2007), Hong Kong Legal Information Institute
  21. ^ a b c "Hong Kong on the march - again. Asia Times, 11 Jan 2008, Retrieved on 14 January 2008.
  22. ^ Public Consultation on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012 Government of Hong Kong, 18 November 2009
  23. ^ a b "" 五區公投號召全民起義. Retrieved on 2010-01-24.
  24. ^ a b Chiang, Scarlett (22 January 2010). "Eu denies polls independence ploy". The Standard. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  25. ^ Hong Kong MPs quit in attempt to push Beijing towards direct elections The Guardian, 26 January 2010
  26. ^ a b Lee, Diana, (15 April 2010). 'Grab this golden chance', The Standard
  27. ^ Lee, Colleen (15 April 2010) "Qiao adds clout to reforms", The Standard
  28. ^ a b Lee, Colleen (19 April 2012). Poll plan a big step forward, insists Lam, The Standard
  29. ^ Lee, Colleen (15 April 2010) Pan-democrats set to vote down package, The Standard
  30. ^ Wong, Albert (26 April 2010). "Pan-democrat alliance indicates it will reject political reform package", South China Morning Post
  31. ^ Chiang, Scarlett (26 April 2010). "Vow to sink early move on reform plan". The Standard. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  32. ^ Lee, Colleen (16 April 2010) "Tang ready to cut - a deal on reform", The Standard
  33. ^ Cheung, Gary (4 May 2010). "Beijing hints at way ahead on reform", South China Morning Post
  34. ^ Cheung, Gary (22 Jun. 2010) "Beijing's U-turn 'to thwart radicals'", South China Morning Post
  35. ^ Balfour, Frederik & Lui, Marco (25 Jun. 2010). "Hong Kong Lawmakers Approve Tsang’s Election Plan" (Update1), BusinessWeek
  36. ^ ""Activists receive community service for assaulting policeman." South China Morning Post. Retrieved on 18 January 2009.
  37. ^ "HK has historical responsibility to implement political reform: Lam.", South China Morning Post, Retrieved on 1 January 2008.
  38. ^ "Pan-democrats keep up momentum for 2012.", South China Morning Post, Retrieved on 13 January 2008.
  39. ^ Scmp. "Tsang's 2020 vision." Retrieved on 1 January 2008.
  40. ^ "" 憲法專家僅收少於百元. Retrieved on 2010-01-20.
  41. ^ "Debate rages at prospect of one man, two votes.." The Standard, Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  42. ^ "Hong Kong marchers call for Democracy Now! Retrieved on 2010-01-02.

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