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There's plenty of accessible coverage of today's march, so I'll just mention some highlights and give some impressions.

[Coverage: NY Times, BBC, Reuters.]

One thing is that the organisers' estimate of how many people turned out is still going up, and the English-language sources I've found don't reflect that. Ming Pao is now reporting that 530 000 people were there, more than the half million who came out last July 1 (the day that marks Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997). (Sorry, I can't find a link directly to the story.) If this is true, it's amazing. The turnout was expected to drop significantly. This year there's less anger at the government, the economy has been improving, and many thought that China's announcement in April that there would be no further democratisation in HK till at least 2012 would demoralise potential demonstrators. I guess people are still happy to come out and show that they want democracy.

(I should admit that police are still saying it was 200 000, but that's impossible to believe. In the past their estimates for these sorts of thing have been based on pretty suspect methods -- they're usually very upfrontt about this -- and the media always goes with the organisers' estimate.)

Last year's march, for me anyway, was a miserable experience. Organisers had only planned for 100 000 people, and when five times that showed up it created bottlenecks that lasted for hours. In my case that meant about three hours spent on a side street so packed that you couldn't sit down. Things were much better organised this year, and though the weather was awful (about 35 Celcius, sunny, and muggy), at the end of it I was just tired and salt-deprived, not actually unhappy. Organisers were even providing free bottled water.

In fact the whole experience was less intense this time. There were fewer signs and banners, less chanting, less animosity directed personally at government officials. Last year, the executive was threatening to force through a wildly unpopular public security bill, and there was a great deal of anger directed at Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and the minister responsible for the security bill, Regina Yip. (This was actually the official target of last year's march, and happily, shortly after the march, the bill was withdrawn, and Yip resigned. That was the only demonstration I've ever been to that achieved it's goal, actually.) There was relatively little of that this year. Not to say that was entirely absent, of course it wasn't, but it was noticeably less. It was more like a half million people decided to go for a walk through downtown, I guess, if that makes any sense.

This year, the issue was democracy, plain and simple. The Chinese government maintains that democracy is too controversial, so it should be put on hold. What they mean is that a democratic Hong Kong would not elect people willing to stooge for Beijing. (The current Beijing-appointed Chief Executive, after running his father's shipping company into the ground, was bailed out by the Chinese government.)

Demonstrators had been asked to wear white (last year it was black, a crazy choice for a hot day), and one of the nice things about the day was seeing busloads of people arriving in Causeway Bay with the bulk of them in white. And also along the march, looking into the windows of restaurants, and seeing marchers taking a break, but knowing that they were part of the event. Many of us wore political shirts; mine mocked Regina Yip (I know, out of date, but it's the only one they had in my size).

One thing that surprised me is that apparently Xinhua, the Chinese government's news agency, has reported on the march. I can't find it on their webpage, but this is what Ming Pao says:

When the July 1 demonstration in Hong Kong was about to finish, Xinhua reported the demonstration. [...]

The report said that at about 2:30pm demonstrators gathered at Victoria Park, and while they were passing along one of Hong Kong Island's major roads, some public transport had to stop or change route. When the reporter filed the story, demonstrators had not yet all left. The report did not mention the demonstrators' demands, and didn't report organisers' estimates of how many people came.

One of the most common chants at these demonstrations goes like this. One person yells out "Tung Kin Wa!" (that's "Tung Chee Hwa" in Cantonese), and everybody else yells "lok toi!" (that's "step down!"). (Maybe it's worth mentioning how great Cantonese is for shouting political slogans.) There was a nice moment when we were approaching the end of the march when -- spontaneously as far as I know -- the crowd started replying "sik see!" (eat shit). (Cantonese is also great for cursing, as it happens.)

Update [2004-7-1 15:49:24 by gong]: I found the Xinhua article mentioned about, and it says pretty much what Ming Pao said it would say.

Tung Chee-hwa responds to demonstration: listening to different ideas is the responsibility of the SAR government

Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Tung Chee-hwa said late on July 1 that regardless of what methods citizens use to express their ideas, we all can listen carefully, and take it seriously and actively respond, this is the responsibility of the SAR government.

The afternoon of the 1st, some Hong Kong citizens demonstrated on Hong Kong Island. During the demonstration, 89 bus lines and 23 minibuses had to change their routes.

In his response, Tung said: "During the difficult time a year ago, we thanked citizens for using all methods to criticise, support, and encourage us, it's because since we earnestly heard the citizens' ideas, adopted all sorts of measures, and actively responded to their demands, we have seen Hong Kong's economy recovering strongly, administration constantly improving, and also the social atmosphere getting better."

He said, but this is just a beginning, in the future we will continue to work hard on many areas. "I know that although the administration has already made progress, but certainly some aspects are not good enough, and must be moved forward. I promise to finish all the jobs I announced in my policy address at the beginning of the year." We can, according to the rules of the Basic Law, on the basis of the interpretation and decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, proceed systematically to push democracy, ultimately reaching the goal of universal suffrage.

Tung Chee-hwa said: "All of our work is long and hard, but working hard together we can succeed. Let us pull together and build a prosperous and stable, free and peaceful, auspicious and united society."

[...]

(The remainder of the article is about ceremonies marking the return of Hong Kong to China, also today.)

It's really fun that the only thing they say about the demonstration itself is how it disrupted public transport, implying inconvenience I assume, but also giving some indication that it was a pretty big march. And as Ming Pao said, there's no mention of the demands or in fact the concrete details about anything he's talking about.

Originally posted to gong on Thu Jul 01, 2004 at 06:19 AM PDT.

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