Today we are introducing an article ‘The Making of Contentious Political Space: The Transformation of Hong Kong’s Victoria Park’ by Chi Kwok and Ngai Keung Chan.
Opened in 1967, Victoria Park in Hong Kong was initially planned by the British colonial government as a recreational and monumental space, with an emphasis on orderliness, recreation, and non-political activities. However, in the 1970s, the emergence of the Defend Diaoyutai Islands Movement led to collective actions that transformed the spatial order of the park.
The movement involved small-scale demonstrations and forums, with the Hong Kong Federation of Students taking up the issue and organizing protests. On May 4 1971, the movement’s organizers attempted to hold a sit-in at Statue Square, but the police refused permission, suggesting Victoria Park as an alternative. The protesters eventually held an unlawful public meeting at Statue Square, and the police arrested 12 young protesters on May 4. The police’s recommendation in turn led to the politicization of Victoria Park.
The July 7 rally in 1971 became a critical event that integrated Victoria Park into the movement and challenged the colonial government’s spatial governance. The organizers planned to hold the rally in Victoria Park due to its enclosed nature and suitability for large-scale public events. However, the Urban Council vetoed the police’s permission, citing inconvenience to other park users and emphasizing the park’s recreational purpose. Despite it being illegal, the organizers defied the ban and held the rally in Victoria Park, highlighting the contestation over the park’s spatial norms .
The police warned participants that they could be arrested, but the organizers emphasized that the rally would be peaceful. However, the police used violent means to suppress the rally, making baton charges and injuring protesters and journalists. The repression of the rally triggered public dissent and condemnation of the police’s actions. Overseas Chinese organizations also voiced their support for the protesters. The repression failed to delegitimize the protesters’ actions, and the right to peaceful collective claim-making was introduced and legitimized through these actions. The repression also caused disagreement among elite groups, undermining the legitimacy of the colonial government. After the rally, Victoria Park was transformed from a recreational space to a political space, where peaceful collective claim-making became a legitimate form of political action. The police’s disproportionate violence opened up a discursive space for the re-narration of the proper spatial governance of the park.
(Image from ‘The Making of Contentious Political Space: The Transformation of Hong Kong’s Victoria Park’)
‘The Making of Contentious Political Space: The Transformation of Hong Kong’s Victoria Park’ by Chi Kwok and Ngai Keung Chan.