Hong Kong: 25 years under Chinese rule

Hong Kong has been through immense changes since it was returned to Chinese rule in July 1, 1997.

Riot police detain a woman during protests in Hong Kong, China.
Riot police detain a woman as anti-government protesters gather at Sha Tin Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station in Hong Kong, China, September 25, 2019 [File: Tyrone Siu/ Reuters]

Hong Kong marks 25 years since it was returned to Chinese rule on July 1.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to travel to the territory to mark the occasion, which comes three years after mass protests calling for democracy that led to the introduction of a sweeping National Security Law that critics say has “decimated” Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Xi will oversee the inauguration of former security chief John Lee as the territory’s new leader. Lee, who started his career in the police, has promised “strong governance” and to address the territory’s housing issues, which Beijing has pinpointed as a source of upset in one of the world’s most unequal cities.

Below are the major events that have taken place in Hong Kong since the handover in 1997.

June 30, 1997

Just before midnight on a rainy Monday evening, Prince Charles, United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair and Hong Kong’s 28th and final British governor Chris Patten attend a sombre ceremony that brings 156 years of colonial rule to an end.

Patten and the other officials leave the territory on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

July 1, 1997

Shipping tycoon Tung Chee-hwa is sworn in as Hong Kong’s chief executive and the territory’s first post-colonial leader at a specially-built convention centre overlooking the harbour. Veteran civil servant Anson Chan becomes his deputy.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, Beijing had promised to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms and “way of life” for at least 50 years, and the territory was to be governed under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework.

Chris Patten receives the Union Jack flag after is was lowered for the last time.
Chris Patten, right, the 28th and last governor of colonial Hong Kong, receives the Union Jack flag after it was lowered for the last time at Government House – the governor’s official residence – during a farewell ceremony in Hong Kong, 30 June 1997 [File: Emmanuel Dunand/ AFP]
Tung Chee-hwa takes an oath opposite Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng during his swearing-in ceremony in 1997.
Tung Chee-hwa, left, raises his hand as he takes an oath opposite Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng during his swearing-in ceremony as Hong Kong’s new chief executive on July 1, 1997 [File Yoshikazu Tsuno/ AFP] YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / AFP) (AFP)

July 1998

Hong Kong’s new airport opens on an artificial island at Chek Lap Kok, replacing Kai Tak after more than 70 years.

Then Chinese President Jiang Zemin declares the facility, designed by British architect Norman Foster, officially open.

March 2003

An outbreak of a new respiratory disease, SARS, hits Hong Kong hard.

At least 298 people die from the virus.

July 2003

Mass protests erupt against the government’s plan to implement “anti-subversion laws” under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution.

Nearly half a million people join the protests. The administration is forced to drop the proposals.

Protesters call for political reforms during a rally in Hong Kong, July 13, 2003.
Protesters call for political reforms, including direct elections for the territory’s chief executive, during a rally in Hong Kong, July 13, 2003 [File: Kin Cheung/ Reuters]

March 2005

Tung quits, blaming poor health. He had been criticised by Chinese president Hu Jintao in December 2004.

Former top administration official Donald Tsang takes over in June.

July 2006

Tens of thousands of people rally for full democracy in Hong Kong.

A protester carries an effigy of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang as tens of thousands of people take part in a democracy march in Hong Kong
A protester carries an effigy of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang as tens of thousands of people take part in a democracy march in Hong Kong on July 1, 2006 [File: Bobby Yip/ Reuters]

July 2007

Donald Tsang’s administration is sworn in after winning an election and announces a plan for full democracy.

December 2007

Beijing says the people of Hong Kong will be allowed to directly elect their leader in 2017, and their legislators in 2020.

September 2008

Pro-democracy camp wins more than a third of the seats in the Legislative Council, giving them a veto over legislation.


The International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon becomes Hong Kong’s tallest building.

The International Commerce Centre  Tower at night in Hong Kong.
An exterior view of the 484m-high (1,588 ft) International Commerce Centre (ICC) Tower is seen at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon on May 3, 2011 [File: Tyrone Siu/ Reuters]

July 2012

CY Leung becomes Hong Kong’s chief executive.

August 2014

Beijing changes its earlier promise on elections for the territory’s leader and says only Beijing-backed candidates can stand.

September 2014

Tens of thousands of people occupy Hong Kong’s city centre in protests calling for an open nomination of candidates for the city’s leader.

Leung declares the Occupy Central protests illegal.

A pro-democracy protester holds a banner with tents set up on the street around him.
A pro-democracy protester holds a banner in the part of Hong Kong’s financial central district protesters are occupying on November 1, 2014 [File: Damir Sagol/ Reuters]
Pro-democracy protesters gather at the Occupy Central protest site in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy protesters gather at the Occupy Central protest site in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong, December 10, 2014 [FileL Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

December 2014

Police clear Occupy Central’s main camp.

October – December 2015

Five Hong Kong booksellers disappear between October and December, later emerging in mainland China where their “confessions” are broadcast on state television.

November 2016

The high court disqualifies pro-independence legislators Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-Ching from taking their seats in the Legislative Council after they refused to pledge allegiance to China during a swearing-in ceremony.

February 2017

Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang is sentenced to 20 months in prison for misconduct in public office after he was found to have rented a luxury apartment in China from a tycoon whose broadcast licence he also approved.

March 2017

Carrie Lam, born in Hong Kong in 1957 and a lifelong civil servant, becomes the territory’s next chief executive, promising to unite a territory increasingly anxious about China’s tightening grip.

February 2019

Lam introduces proposals to allow extradition to mainland China, triggering widespread concern.

Hong Kong’s extradition arrangements had been negotiated in 1997 when the United Kingdom returned the territory to China, and Taiwan, Macau and the mainland were not included in that agreement.

The Hong Kong Bar Association has said that was a “deliberate decision” given the “fundamentally different criminal justice system operating in the mainland and concerns over the mainland’s track record on the protection of fundamental rights”.

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask waves a flag during a Human Rights Day march in Hong Kong, China.
A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask waves a flag during a Human Rights Day march, organised by the Civil Human Right Front, in Hong Kong, China, December 8, 2019 [File: Danish Siddiqui/ Reuters]

June 4, 2019

Organisers say some 180,000 people join the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Victoria Park, marking 30 years since the crackdown in the Chinese capital.

Police put the turnout at 37,000.

June 9, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of people march through the streets of Hong Kong to show their opposition to the extradition bill. Many see it as a further erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and fear that it will allow the government in Beijing to pursue its opponents.

Mainland courts, which are controlled by the Communist Party, have a 99 percent conviction rate.

July 1, 2019

Protesters force their way through police barricades and storm the Legislative Council building, daubing the walls with graffiti.

A protester defaces the Hong Kong emblem.
A protester defaces the Hong Kong emblem after protesters broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019 [Philip Fong/ AFP]

September 2019

Lam finally announces the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, which she previously said was “dead”.

But after months of unrest and a sense that the government is ignoring them, the protests evolve into a broader campaign to include direct elections, an inquiry into police brutality and the release of all those detained during the protests.

November 2019

Confrontations between police and protesters escalate into fiery violence at the campuses of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Police use tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and water cannons against protesters armed with petrol bombs, slingshots and even javelins.

A policeman in riot gear detains a protester during Hong Kong protests.
A policeman in riot gear detains a protester outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University as police storm the campus in Hong Kong, China, November 18, 2019. Fiery explosions were seen as Hong Kong police stormed into a university held by protesters after an all-night standoff. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

July 1, 2020

China imposes a National Security Law at 11pm on June 30. The law punishes any act Beijing deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with life in prison.

December 2020

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai is arrested under the security law and then jailed after a court decides to revoke bail that had been granted on stringent conditions.

March 2021

The National People’s Congress in Beijing approves changes to Hong Kong elections to ensure only “patriots” are able to run for office.

June 2021

The Apple Daily, Lai’s unapologetically pro-democracy tabloid, announces it will close after a series of police raids on its offices targeting senior executives and journalists. The publisher prints one million copies of the paper’s final edition and Hong Kong people queue up early in the morning to buy it.

A man gestures as he brings a pallet filled with the final edition of Apple Daily to a newsstand.
A man gestures as he brings a pallet filled with the final edition of Apple Daily, published by Next Digital, to a newsstand in Hong Kong, China, June 24, 2021 [File: Lam Yik/ Reuters]

July 2021

Former waiter Tong Ying-kit is sentenced to nine years in prison under the National Security Law after becoming the first person to be convicted under the law.

Tong was found guilty of “terrorism” for driving his motorbike into three police officers, and “secession” for flying the “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” flag at a rally.

November 2021

The M+ contemporary art museum finally opens.

Fourteen years in the making, the Herzog and de Meuron-designed building is the crown jewel of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon cultural district.

December 2021

The postponed Legislative Council election takes place under the Beijing-crafted “patriots only” rules and turnout falls to its lowest level since the handover.

Under cover of darkness, the University of Hong Kong removes the ‘Pillar of Shame’ – a tribute to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown – triggering an outcry from students, the sculpture’s Danish artist and human rights advocates.

The sculpture had stood in a quad at Hong Kong’s top university since 1997.

February 2022

A wave of Omicron-fuelled coronavirus cases rips through an unvaccinated and apparently unprepared Hong Kong.

Hospitals are inundated and elderly patients are forced to wait in temporary tents outside.

By March, the territory is suffering the world’s highest death rate.

Patients lie beneath blankets on hospital beds outside a Hong Kong medical facility with some sitting on chairs, blankets around their shoulders.
Hong Kong is reporting the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world after keeping the virus at bay for most of the pandemic [File: Peter Parks/AFP] 

April 2022

Carrie Lam says she will not stand for a second term in office, citing family reasons.

Carrie Lam (left) and John Lee (right) wave stiffly as they stand between lecterns in front of a bright blue wall with the Hong Kong and China plaques
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference with Chief Executive-elect John Lee, in Hong Kong, China, May 9, 2022 [Reuters/Tyrone Siu]

Lee steps forward as the only candidate for chief executive and is confirmed in the post in May.

He won 1,416 votes from the 1,500-strong Election Committee.

Source: Al Jazeera