HONG KONG—On July 13, 1989, a month after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Hong Kong’s public-service broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) aired a documentary about the sense of disenchantment pervading the city. Producers of “The Melancholy Hong Konger” interviewed two up-and-coming local politicians and several middle-class Hong Kong families about their hopes for the resumption of Chinese sovereignty in 1997, and their disillusion in the wake of Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy student movement. It ended with a simple yet damning indictment: “China is not credible; Britain is not reliable.”
Twenty-five years later, in the midst of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong is again at a crossroads. In a curious twist of fate, the people RTHK interviewed in 1989—democratic politician Martin Lee and pro-establishment figure C.Y. Leung, along with Hong Kong’s increasingly restive middle class—provided a frighteningly perceptive glimpse into the factors contributing to the unrest, and into the city’s future, then and now.
Alvin Y. H. Cheung is a Visiting Scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute.