AP photo/Wally Santana

A looming national holiday means even more people could join the region's huge protests.

The images coming out of Hong Kong are staggering. Tear gas and pepper spray met tens of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong's Central District Monday, leading to the already iconic use of umbrellas to fend off police tactics. The protests have shut down banks, businesses, and schools and show no sign of letting up.

But this weekend may be just a prelude to the unrest to come. On Wednesday, October 1, China will celebrate its 65th National Day, commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China and the beginning one of China's two "Golden Weeks," where workers are given time off work and travel to see friends and family. But with unrest brewing in Hong Kong, a day off could mean more protesters. "The authorities in Beijing are anxious about what will happen, " said Masato Hasegawa, a visiting professor of history at NYU. "It’s a national holiday and more people will gather."

In fact, October 1 was the originally planned start date for the mass protests in Hong Kong's central business district. But after a week of student sit-ins and dozens of forcible arrests, University of Hong Kong professor and political organizer Benny Tai announced that "Occupy Central" would kick off early. On Sunday morning at 1:45 a.m. local time, Tai told a large crowd gathered in central Hong Kong: “I’ve got a long-awaited message. Occupy Central will start now. Students and people who support democracy has begun a new era of civil disobedience.”

Even without the potential to spoil a major national holiday, the protests come at an uneasy moment for Beijing. Residents in Macau are rumored to be preparing their own to protest starting Wednesday. Taiwan, meanwhile, saw days of unrest this spring after Beijing attempted to tie the nation closer to China's central economy. This weekend, hundreds took to the streets of Taiwan again in support of those in Hong Kong.

Protestors in Hong Kong hold up their phones in solidarity on September 29th. (Xaume Olleros/AFP/Getty Images)

At the heart of the issue is Hong Kong's political autonomy. In August, China announced all candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election must be approved by a nominating committee filled with pro-mainland supporters. As Hong Kong grows less and less important to China's economy, Beijing seems reluctant to alter its decision, especially in the face of public protest. "If there’s a possibility for Beijing to make changes and revisions, those changes will come very gradually and behind the scenes," says Hasegawa. "I think it’s unlikely to see a public announcement.” Which means comes October 1, many people won't be working and the political situation will remain unresolved.

Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist and director of the Early Warning Project, which analyzes the risk of mass killings, said the current unrest is at a delicate tipping point. "There's a sequence of points where things can turn one way or the other. Will people show up? Once they show up, will more people show up in response? Then you start getting into the state reacting."

With Beijing backed into a corner, Ulfelder says the Chinese government is forced with a choice. "Do they offer concessions or respond aggressively? If China responds aggressively, now that the protests have gotten this big, they’re going have to get really aggressive."

Planned celebrations of China's National Day have already been cancelled in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, according to the South China Morning Post, thousands of protestors were still in the streets at 4:49 a.m. local time and manning barricades throughout central Hong Kong (and, in a charming touch, also picking up trash).

For Ulfelder, he believes the Chinese government can either try to wait the crowd out—"let the local guys have their say"—and hope the movement peters out, or it can get tough. But he says it's very unlikely the crowds will go away before October 1. "I have a hard time imagining this dispersing this soon unless there’s a successful large-scale repressive effort by the state."

Professor Hasegawa, however, points out that Hong Kong has a long and unique history of peaceful demonstrations. Chinese officials have allowed citizens within Hong Kong to commemorate June 4, the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre, since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997—something that is still not allowed within mainland China.

Hasegawa adds that he hears from colleagues and friends within Hong Kong that the photos coming out of Hong Kong of violent clashes between protestors and police can be deceiving. "What I’ve heard from them that these demonstrations are largely peaceful and have a great sense of order within the protestors," he says. "And those instances of clashes seem to be the exception at this point to the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations."

This post originally appeared on The Wire, an Atlantic partner site.

MORE FROM THE WIRE:

U.S. Airstrikes Said to Have Nearly Hit American Allies in Syria

Where Yes Means Yes: California Passes First Affirmative Consent Law

The Secret Service Can't Catch a Break (or an Intruder)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.
    Environment

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  2. Graduates react near the end of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
    Life

    Where Do College Grads Live? The Top and Bottom U.S. Cities

    Even though superstar hubs top the list of the most educated cities, other cities are growing their share at a much faster rate.

  3. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  4. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.
    Transportation

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

  5. In this image from "No Small Plans," a character makes his way to the intersection of State and Madison Streets in 1928 Chicago.
    Stuff

    Drawing Up an Urban Planning Manual for Chicago Teens

    The graphic novel No Small Plans aims to empower the city’s youth through stories about their neighborhoods.

×