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Chapter Six looks at how the design and implementation of the Hong Kong version of “One Country, Two Systems” and its discontents. The Basic Law guarantees some fundamental rights and freedoms for Hong Kong’s residents. It promises eventual universal suffrage of the government. But an alliance of Beijing and the local business elite prevented it from specifying the exact form and timetable for universal suffrage. It also contains a clause about the necessity of anti-subversion legislation that threatens preexisting rights and freedoms. These contradictions and ambiguities of the Basic Law sowed the seeds of political conflicts after 1997. These conflicts, coupled with the rising monopoly of Chinese capital in Hong Kong, stimulated Beijing’s urge to forfeit indirect rule and move to a radical assimilationist politics and direct rule. Beijing’s urge has been articulated systematically by a group of official scholars who advocated Beijing’s statist absorption of Hong Kong as a rehearsal of China’s power projection farther abroad. Beijing’s premature crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy unleashed escalating resistance that culminated in the great clash of 2019.
In the summer of 2003, around 500,000 people marched on the streets in Hong Kong in protest against the government’s attempt to introduce legislation relating to national security under Article 23 of the Basic Law. As many commentators observed at the time, the protest was also a process of identity formation: Since the demonstration presented itself as a fight to protect the city from the intrusion of repressive Chinese legal norms, it created a bond among the protestors and their supporters and fostered a sense of what it means to be a “Hong Konger.” Tammy Cheung, an independent documentary filmmaker, attempted to capture the event on film, and the result was July (2004; 七月). Her challenge was to make a cinematic record that only presents the factual unfolding of the protest, but communicates the sensation of being in the midst of its charged atmosphere and enables viewers to share the sense of community that it created. I explore what it might mean to create a record of this constitutional controversy through an analysis of the themes, structures, and cinematography of Cheung’s film.
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