British Columbia·Timeline

Progress then setbacks in Hong Kong's pursuit of democracy: a timeline

Twenty-five years ago, the United Kingdom handed the governance of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in what became known as the Hong Kong handover. Here is a timeline of Hong Kong's pursuit of democracy since that historic moment.

July 1 marks 25 years since the U.K. handed governance to the People's Republic of China

Chinese and Hong Kong flags are on display in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China on June 17, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Twenty-five years ago, the United Kingdom handed the governance of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in what became known as the Hong Kong handover.

Before Hong Kong became the international financial hub it is today, it was a small fishing village in the southern part of China's Guangdong province, and while formerly a British colony, its history is intertwined with mainland Chinese politics.

Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by a British-appointed governor. The governor selected members of the city's legislative council until 1985 when Hong Kongers began electing lawmakers. However, not all the seats were directly elected by the people: some were functional constituencies, and others were geographical, mostly with pro-Beijing interests. 

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong's governor stepped down, and retired shipping tycoon Tung Chee-hwa became the city's first chief executive after being elected by a selection committee whose 400 members were chosen by Beijing.

Residents were promised universal suffrage — one person, one vote — in Hong Kong's constitution, known as The Basic Law. And yet, successive chief executives have been chosen by a small circle of elites with strong ties to the Chinese government. 

Since the 2000s, millions of Hong Kongers have called for the chief executive to be directly elected, but under Beijing's mandate, there has been no meaningful progress toward universal suffrage.

Here is a timeline of Hong Kong's progress and setbacks in its pursuit of democracy:

1842: Hong Kong Island becomes a Crown colony of the British Empire after it wins the First Opium War with Imperial China and signs the Treaty of Nanking.

Officials of Imperial China and the United Kingdom sign the Treaty of Nanking on the British naval ship HMS Cornwallis on Aug. 29, 1842. (John Platt)

1860: The Crown colony expands to include the Kowloon Peninsula after the United Kingdom wins the Second Opium War with China and signs the Convention of Peking.

Officials of Imperial China and the United Kingdom sign the first Convention of Peking at China's Ministry of Rites building in Beijing on Oct. 24, 1860. (Lord Elgin and Prince Kung)

1898: Britain signs the Second Convention of Peking with China to lease the New Territories for 99 years until June 30, 1997.

1949: The Chinese Communist Party establishes the People's Republic of China. Many people flee to Hong Kong to escape the Communist takeover.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong stands in Beijing's Tiananmen Square declaring the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949. (Dong Xiwen)

1966-1976: Chinese leader Mao Zedong launches the Cultural Revolution, purging anyone the government deems to be promoting non-Communist values. Another wave of people try to make their way to Hong Kong by sea.

Young people join a rally early in the Cultural Revolution on Sept. 14, 1966, waving copies of Chinese Leader Mao Zedong's writings and carrying a poster of Karl Marx. (The Associated Press)

1976: The United Kingdom ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which extends to Hong Kong and other British-dependent territories.

1979:  Hong Kong governor Murray MacLehose represents the United Kingdom in a visit to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in Beijing and asks that British administration be extended beyond 1997. Deng rejects the request and says China intends to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong.

1984: China and the United Kingdom sign a joint declaration on Hong Kong's return to China on July 1, 1997, where the Chinese government promises Hong Kong's capitalist system and way of life will remain unchanged for 50 years after the handover under the "one country, two systems" arrangement.

Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, left, meets British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing on Dec. 19, 1984, the day of the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong's future. (Pierre-Antoine Donnet/AFP via Getty Images)

1985: Hong Kong holds its first-ever legislative council election, in which more than half of its members are selected by mostly democratically elected district council deputies.

1989: The Chinese military cracks down on student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Chinese troops and tanks gather in Beijing, one day after the military crackdown on June 4, 1989, that ended a seven-week pro-democracy demonstration on Tiananmen Square. (Jeff Widener/AP)

1990: China's National People's Congress adopts Hong Kong's Basic Law, which stipulates that Hong Kong will apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights after the handover, and the chief executive and lawmakers will eventually be elected by universal suffrage.

1991: The Hong Kong Legislative Council introduces geographical constituencies whose representatives are directly elected by the people.

1996: The Chinese government establishes a provisional Hong Kong Legislative Council with appointees to replace the Legislative Council elected by Hong Kong's electorate in 1995.

Hong Kong lawmakers elected in 1995 wave to the crowd from the Legislative Council chamber on June 27, 1997, as they close the final legislative session three days before the territory's return to Chinese rule. (Manuel Ceneta/AFP via Getty Images)

1997: A committee of 400 Beijing appointees selects the first chief executive of post-handover Hong Kong several months before the city's return to China.

Hong Kong's chief executive Tung Chee-hwa waves as he arrives for the APEC Summit held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on Nov. 25, 1997. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

2003: More than 500,000 people join the rally against the Hong Kong government's controversial draft national security legislation which, if passed, would empower local police to prosecute people for treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government. The city's security minister resigns several weeks after the rally.

Protesters carry a huge banner with slogans of protest against Hong Kong's draft national security legislation as they march through the streets on July 1, 2003. (Mike Clarke/AFP via Getty Images)

2004: China's National People's Congress rules out direct elections of the chief executive in 2007 and of all legislators in 2008.

2007: China's National People's Congress rejects the election of the chief executive and all legislators by universal suffrage by 2012, saying it is delayed until 2017. 

2010: Hong Kong's Legislative Council approves government-proposed electoral reforms that rule out direct elections but increases the number of seats in the Legislative Council election by 2012 and expands the size of the committee that selects the chief executive in the same year.

Lawmakers raise their hands to vote for the government's electoral reform proposal after a debate in Hong Kong's Legislative Council on June 25, 2010. (Reuters)

2012: Thousands of Hong Kongers hold parades and hunger strikes to protest the Hong Kong government's proposed Chinese propaganda curriculum. The proposal is scrapped in little more than a week. 

Protesters on hunger strike gesture to show they reject the Chinese curriculum during a demonstration outside the Hong Kong government's headquarters on Sept. 3, 2012. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

2014: China's National People's Congress says candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive should be pre-screened before they can run and limited to three. The announcement sparks the Umbrella Movement in reference to umbrellas used for defence against police pepper spray.  The mass protests last from September to December but are not successful in getting the Chinese government to withhold its plan.

Thousands of colourful notes are displayed on the 'Lennon Wall' as a couple carrying a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the Umbrella Movement, walks past the Admiralty protest site in Hong Kong on Nov. 17, 2014. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

2017: The Hong Kong government disqualifies pro-democracy lawmakers who modified their oaths of allegiance to the People's Republic of China during the swearing-in ceremony at the Legislative Council held in 2016.

Newly elected lawmaker Yau Wai-ching displays a banner that reads 'Hong Kong is not China' as she takes her oath at Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Oct. 12, 2016. The Hong Kong government stripped her lawmaker status the following year. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

2019: The Hong Kong government introduces a controversial draft extradition law that, if passed, would empower it to transfer people to mainland Chinese courts for criminal trials. The draft law sparks protests by millions of people.

Protesters gesture to riot police during a massive demonstration outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

2020: China's National People's Congress passes a revamped national security law on Hong Kong, allowing the Chinese government to convict people of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign entities on vaguely defined terms.

A man walks past a government public notice banner advertising China's national security law in Hong Kong on July 15, 2020. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

2021: The Hong Kong government overhauls the electoral system so that all candidates running for the positions of chief executive and legislators are pre-screened for their allegiance to the People's Republic of China.

Pro-China candidates celebrate after winning in the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong on Dec. 20, 2021. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

2022: John Lee, Hong Kong's former security chief, who oversaw the police crackdown on protesters in 2019, is selected as the city's chief executive uncontested.

Former Hong Kong security minister John Lee celebrates after declaring victory in the election to become Hong Kong's chief executive on May 8, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP)