Roots of the Hong Kong Protests

The Hong Kong protests have resonance with students around the world.  Students here in the United States likely see connections to the Occupy movement that began in New York in 2011, and soon spread to states around the country. Young adults taking part in the Occupy movement protested America’s economic and social inequality. The most well-known event occurred on Wall Street, not unlike the protests taking place in the business district of Hong Kong.


In connection with our recent post on the Hong Kong protests, here are a few tools that will help your students understand some of the roots of the Hong Kong protests. While the first priority of these protesters is to achieve a direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, social and economic factors play a role in the protesters’ expectations and demands.

For one, a growing number of Hong Kong residents are college educated. As this table indicates, the percentage of the population who has completed post-secondary education has grown considerably over the past three decades (from 9% in 1986 to 23.8% in 2011). University students are a critical part of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy push, and they want to see a government that is receptive to sharing with citizens the responsibility of choosing a fit leader for Hong Kong.

But many of the youth in Hong Kong are feeling discouraged by the growing wealth inequality (see tables below).  While the percentage of people living in the lowest income brackets has decreased since 1986, there is an increasing concentration of households at the high-income brackets.  When the percentage of households earning over $60,000 Hong Kong is added together for the most recent census years, it is almost double that of the 1996 figures, and five times what it what it was in 1991.

Questions for discussion:

Hong Kong’s real estate is already some of the most expensive in the world, and the youth graduating today faces not only that reality, but also growing economic inequality. You may ask your students to study this data before they read about the protests so that they can tackle such questions as: How might the protesters’ education influence their expectations of their government? How might their economic prospects influence their demands? What sort of reforms might they want to see enacted? Given that Hong Kong has long been involved with global trade and finance, what sort of policies does Hong Kong’s government seem to prioritize? How would greater democracy fit into Hong Kong’s current structure?

These are difficult questions that lack clear answers, but just by grappling with them your students will be contemplating issues that will continue to shape their own country and the world around them.

Additional background information can be found in the Current Context issue, Hong Kong Protests.

Tables compiled from Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department (updated 11.3.14 - error on original education data table published on 10.29):