A government–society confrontation: Policing protests in postcolonial China's Hong Kong SAR

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In legal courts the right to protest is often demarcated by its infringement on other constitutional rights in a typical illustration of graded absolutism when there is conflict between two overlapping sets of negative civil and political rights, with those of speech, expression, and movement culminating in rights to assembly and association on the one hand, and personal liberty and security on the other. The twentieth century ostensibly saw the end of blunt command and control policing in mature economies, but the practice of negotiated management is often thwarted at the scene. The strengths and limits of this philosophy are demonstrated in the political experiment that is Hong Kong, a postcolonial Chinese capitalist city with a proud legal and policing heritage from Britain. Crowd and riot management experiences have long been confined to festivities and peaceful rallies until the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. With constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly now upheld more explicitly than ever, the free, if less-than-democratically represented, population began to mobilize in discontent. Extraordinarily high public expectations of the police force highlighted its steep, treacherous learning curve as activists deployed, invented, and adapted protest techniques. As with many metropolitan forces, the tug of war between civil rights and public order rubs at the throat of the Hong Kong police. This essay examines these escalating developments in five key protest episodes that occurred after the 2003 Hong Kong mass rally. Police strategies are illustrated through established scholarly systems in police knowledge. Analysis suggests that, after the 2003 rally, the force has employed a passive–adaptive approach to evolving protest practices. The precious equilibrium, however, has been steadily disturbed following the loss of mutual trust between police and protesters, thus explaining the 2014 Umbrella Movement street confrontations. Copyright © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-505
Issue number4
Early online dateJun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Ho, L. K.-K. (2021). A government–society confrontation: Policing protests in postcolonial China's Hong Kong SAR. Interventions, 23(4), 481-505. doi: 10.1080/1369801X.2020.1784025


  • Britain
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Policing
  • Postcolonial
  • Protests


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