Fireworks, Hot Dogs, and Yellow Umbrellas

This Independence Day we will celebrate 241 years since the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Most Americans will go about celebrating the 4th much in the same way they always have. The scent of grilled burgers and hots dogs will fill neighborhoods and fireworks will spatter the evening sky with brilliant colors of red, white, and blue. Because the commonness of our celebration belies just how special and unique our freedoms are, it’s good to be reminded from time to time of what we have.

On the other side of the globe, nestled deep inside a sea of red communism, the city of Hong Kong represents a small but brilliant beacon of freedom and liberty. Unless something changes, however, we may see within our lifetimes that hopeful beacon extinguished by Beijing’s repressive hand.

As a British Crown Colony and later a British Dependent Territory, Hong Kong became an experiment in unbridled laissez-faire economic policies in the aftermath of World War II. In less than fifty years under these policies, Hong Kong became a world financial center, only surpassed by New York and London. Though they never achieved a democratic political system under the British, the citizens of Hong Kong experienced civil freedoms that their brethren on the mainland could only dream of possessing. With mountains behind and the South China Sea before, the tall, glittering high-rise buildings lining a peaceful Victoria Harbour paint a striking picture of what an economically and politically free China might look like.

Hong Kong just marked the twentieth anniversary of the city being transferred from Great Britain’s jurisdiction to China’s jurisdiction. While the anniversary has been billed a celebration, for many citizens of Hong Kong it’s less of a celebration and more of a reminder that their liberty may have an expiration date. As part of the transfer of power, China promised it would grant Hong Kong civil autonomy from mainland China for 50 years. Despite this promise, Hong Kong has watched its liberties begin to deteriorate as Beijing increasingly asserts itself into the affairs of the city. Not content any longer to stand as bystanders to Beijing’s subtle grab for power, the youth of the city took to the streets in 2014 and launched the umbrella revolution to demand that Beijing grant Hong Kong’s citizens universal suffrage. For 79 days the youth occupied the expressways of the city under the banner of yellow umbrellas. While the hope of a democratic Hong Kong continues to look bleak, the fight goes on.

Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution

Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution – Photo by Studio Incendo

With an uncertain future before them, the city is experiencing more and more political gridlock. Urban development projects stand idle and foreign investment may begin to wane for fear of China’s impending usurpation. The world hoped that Beijing would see its future in Hong Kong. It hoped the fifty years would prove irrelevant as a renewed China moved closer to granting its citizens greater political freedoms. It appears instead that Beijing’s need for power has only grown. With the events of Tiananmen Square still casting a long and very real shadow, the remaining thirty years feels all too short.

This Tuesday my wife and I will celebrate our first Independence Day with our 11-month-old son. We have every hope that a lifetime of Independence Day celebrations are before him. While the people of Hong Kong have no such assurances, many continue to fight for a democratic Hong Kong with a level resolve and dedication that should embolden the hearts of all who cherish liberty. In a society like ours that can easily take for granted and view as a social norm the liberties we enjoy, the people of Hong Kong remind us that liberty is a precious thing and that it’s always worth the fight. Despite how messy and divided our politics sometimes seem, we should all take a step back and be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy. Even on our worst days, we are blessed beyond words to call ourselves Americans on the Fourth of July.

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