Answer by Andy Lee Chaisiri:
On the surface it's about democracy, at it's core it's about opportunity
If Hong Kong wanted democracy they had a whole century to ask for it from democratic Britain. The Republic of China (Taiwan) began their democracy movement in the 80's and they got it. That would've been a great time for Hong Kongers to go "Hey, democracy for Chinese is great, let's make it happen!" but… they didn't, (or rather the business Tycoons that ran Hong Kong didn't). Waiting to be handed over to the goddamn Communist Party of China to demand democracy is the worst possible way to go about it, so why is it that younger generations of Hong Kongers are protesting when their forefathers didn't? What changed?
Hong Kong flourished in the 20th century when a lot of Crazy was happening in the mainland
Behold the, a plan so wacky not even Homer Simspon could've thought of it
While the mainland was full of 'peasants' in Mao suits sling shotting sparrows and making useless lumps of pig iron in their backyard, Hong Kong was where westerners could go to do business with Chinese that wore tailored three piece suits with ties.
Since then, Deng Xiaoping reformed most (though not all) of the crazy out of the mainland. Today the children and grandchildren of those Mao suit mainland 'peasants' are now in three piece suits too. With western folks just flying straight to Shanghai or Beijing (or any other 10 million+ growing city across the country) to make business deals, Hong Kong becomes a less unique city in the world.
Hong Kong's rich got richer, the common man didn't
Today younger generations of highly educated Hong Kong citizens are not going to make as much money as their parents or grandparents did (Hong Kong's older generation of billionaires are filled with rags-to-riches stories), the opportunity is simply not there anymore and income disparity hasn't been curbed at all. On top of all that, millions and millions of mainland Chinese are now in direct competition with them.
When the economy was good and Hong Kong was the gateway to Asia for the western world, everyone was fine with being ruled by foreign leaders they had no control over (and at the very least they didn't have to live as 'peasants' in Mao suits), but times have changed. I figure the student protest today is mainly driven by the pressure of the new reality Hong Kong has to live with and trying to find a solution to it. You see a similar motivation with the Occupy Wall Street movement in democratic USA over the younger generation's lack of opportunity compared to previous generations.
If I was born and raised in Hong Kong I'd be mad too.
Hong Kong's favored son knows the deal, that's why he left for greener pastures.
Also check outfor elaboration on the "newer generations have less opportunity" angle I mentioned, along with the failure to address income disparity.
For a view from Hong Kongers that are actually there living the Umbrella Revolution, check out (and upvote!):
*Further reading on the history (or lack of it) of democracy in Hong Kong
Check out this article on the topic of the times in the past Hong Kong was promised democracy, here's a particularly juicy segment:
Nury Vittachi: Hong Kong has had elections for more than 100 years. In the first public election ever held in Hong Kong, in 1888, 187 voters turned up out of 669 registered voters. The election was for seats for the Sanitary Board. The turnout was 28 percent. In the 1880s and 1890s, there were other attempts to introduce the concept of government elections. But they were largely organized by the business community and were blatantly self-serving.
Interviewer: So, no change there!
N: Right. The 1889 proposal from the English traders, for example, was
that the vote be granted to the ‘right sort’ of Hong Kong people — namely, male persons of the English ‘race’, which numbered just 800 out of a population of 221,400. But there were good people in Hong Kong who realized this was wrong. The then colonial secretary, a man named Lord Ripon, threw out the business people’s proposal and said he would like Chinese faces on the Executive Council. Ripon was laughed at and replaced. The next time the Hong Kong man in the street was told he would have a voice in governing himself was in 1941.
I: In 1941? Are you really saying that the Japanese invaders were more democratic than the British or our current leaders?
N: I am. The Japanese invaders announced that the British were gone forever, and local councils were formed to run Hong Kong. But they lost the war and then things changed.
I: That’s amazing. But why did the Brits not want to give Hong Kong democracy?
N: They did. Straight after the war. There were many people like Lord Ripon, some with power. The first announcement about real elections in Hong Kong came from the post-war governor, Sir Mark Young, in 1946. He wanted to usher in an age of direct elections and ‘a municipal council constituted on a fully representational basis’. Those were his words.
He announced in 1946 that there would be full, genuine, universal suffrage in Hong Kong starting the following year. Sir Mark, still a sick man after being ill-treated by the Japanese, retired in 1947, and left what was known as the ‘Young Plan’ for democratic elections in Hong Kong in the hands of his successor, Sir Alexander Grantham.
Sir Alexander made the grave mistake of consulting with business leaders and a local Chinese businessman-politician, Sir Man-kam Lo, and then threw Sir Mark's proposals in the bin. Hong Kong didn't need elections and business would continue with the British acting as benevolent dictators, he said.
– Read the rest at