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City on Edge: Photographs From Hong Kong’s Summer of Protest

Aug. 28, 2019

The Hong Kong protest movement reached a milestone on Tuesday: It was 80 days since the mass march that started the near-daily demonstrations across the city.

That means the protest campaign has lasted longer than the 2014 Umbrella Movement, during which demonstrators occupied roads in Hong Kong to call for greater democracy.

And even in the face of hostility from officials in Hong Kong and Beijing alike, and threats of intervention by the Chinese military, the protesters this time show no sign of stopping.

Hong Kongers took to the streets on June 9 over a proposed law allowing extraditions to mainland China. Their demands grew, including one for expanded direct elections. They also want an investigation into the use of force by the police, and amnesty for arrested protesters.

It has become the biggest political crisis in Hong Kong since Britain returned its onetime colony to Chinese control in 1997.

Many protesters have voiced their discontent peacefully: in processions of hundreds of thousands of people, in ads in international newspapers, and on so-called Lennon Walls filled with handwritten notes.

But protesters have also been confrontational, occupying the airport and a mall, obstructing roads and trains and clashing violently with the police.

The photographer Lam Yik Fei has spent the past 12 weeks on the sweltering summer streets of Hong Kong, dodging tear gas canisters and pepper spray to document each step of the movement for The New York Times. He was there on June 9, when hundreds of thousands of protesters poured through the skyscrapered canyons of downtown, and again this past Sunday, when a police officer fired a warning shot while under attack from protesters.

Here are some of his most powerful images from the past 80 days.


Organizers said more than a million people joined the first march, or nearly one in every seven people in Hong Kong.

When the government refused to back down on the extradition bill, protesters came out again on June 12 and surrounded the legislature. The police fired tear gas canisters — the first of many; by one count more than 1,800 would be fired by early August.

Three days later, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, announced that the extradition bill would be suspended, but not withdrawn. That did little to stop the public furor. The next day, protesters marched again. Organizers said nearly two million participated.


July 1 marked the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.

The date has been one of protest for more than a decade, but this year the display of dissent culminated in one of the more remarkable moments of the summer: Demonstrators smashed their way into the legislature, where they painted slogans on walls and defaced symbols of Chinese authority.

Two weeks later, the police and protesters clashed in a mall in a satellite town.

Then on July 21, hours after protesters vandalized the Chinese government’s liaison office in the city, a mob attacked a group of protesters in a train station. The appearance of police inaction on that night has fueled widespread criticism of the Hong Kong force.


Three days of civil disobedience culminated in a call for a general strike on Aug. 5 — perhaps the biggest day of unrest this summer. Trains were blocked and hundreds of flights were canceled after thousands of civil aviation employees stayed home.

At several locations across the city, police officers fired tear gas during protests.

A week later, protesters returned to the airport, where days of sit-ins led to the cancellation of hundreds more flights.

Protesters assaulted two men from mainland China, violence that was broadcast live by the local news media, prompting soul-searching and apologies. It was followed by nearly two weeks of relative calm, though protests did continue, including a human chain across much of the city.

In Shenzhen, a mainland city near Hong Kong, paramilitary police officers drilled in a show of force. Last weekend, clashes began anew, with two days of tear gas. On Sunday, a police officer fired the first gunshot, a warning after a colleague fell as a group of protesters charged them with sticks and metal bars.

Another march is planned for the end of the month. For now, the cycle of protest appears set to continue.


Lam Yik Fei, 33, is an award-winning photojournalist based in Hong Kong. A native of the city, he is a regular contributor to The New York Times in the region. @lamyikfei Instagram

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