Liberalism in Hong Kong

Liberalism has a long tradition as an economic philosophy since the founding of Hong Kong as an entrepôt which cherishes private property, free market and free trade. In recent decades, Hong Kong has earned its international reputation as one of the "freest economies in the world". As a political trend, liberalism has become the driving force of the democratic movement since the 1980s which is mainly represented by the pro-democracy camp which strives for the universal suffrage, human rights and rule of law in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was established as a free trading port by Britain in 1841 and has been strongly influenced by the laissez-faire ideals throughout its history. However as a largely racially segregated and politically closed colony, attempts at liberal reform received little success in the 19th century. Nevertheless, many western-educated Chinese intellectuals based in Hong Kong became the some of most prominent liberal thinkers which pushed for modernisation of China, including Ho Kai and revolutionaries such as Yeung Ku-wan and Sun Yat-sen. A small scale self-government movement derived from Governor Mark Aitchison Young's proposed constitutional reform in the early post-war period.

The emergence of the contemporary liberalism took root in the rapid democratisation in the final years of the colonial years in the 1980s and 1990s, which the pro-democracy camp was united under the banner of an autonomous Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty. The liberals consolidated their popular support from the Tiananmen protest of 1989 and received landslide victories in the first direct elections in 1991 and 1995 in the final colonial years. The liberals took the defensive role against the Beijing's authoritarian regime going into the early SAR period which led to the massive demonstration against the Basic Law Article 23 in 2003.

The liberals suffered from internal crises and fragmentation over the approaches on fighting for full democracy and safeguarding Hong Kong's liberal values against Beijing's increasing encroachment on Hong Kong's autonomy, which led to the rise of localism in the 2010s. The large-scale civil disobedience movement of Occupy Central in 2014 and the historic anti-government protests in 2019 resulted in Beijing's heavy-handed crackdown and subsequent retaliation, which put the liberal movement into limbo.