As is now common knowledge in the UK, since September 22, students from over 20 universities and colleges in Hong Kong have been leading protests against the Chinese government’s decision on proposed electoral reform for the upcoming 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive election.
Unlike other globally famed recent student protests, such as in 2012 in Quebec, and 2010 in the UK, students in Hong Kong are campaigning for an issue that not only affects themselves, but the entire population of the autonomous region of Hong Kong.
Although sometimes unsuccessful, student protests have a rich history of leading and stimulating national action.
In the wake of these developments, The Student looks back at five instances of students protests that have addressed national interest, and led to government action, over the last hundred years:
‘May Fourth’ Protests, 1919:
In May 1919, students in Beijing protested the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles. Over three thousand students marched from Peking University to protest against the granting of territory to Japan, and thousands of workers joined them in striking. China ultimately refused to sign the treaty.
Hungarian Revolution, 1956:
On October 22 1956, students at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics complied the ‘Demands of Hungarian Revolutionaries’, commonly referred to as the 16 points. The points outlined national policy demands, such as immediate evacuation of all Soviet troops from Budapest, and the students attempted to enter the city’s main broadcasting station to read their demands on the air. This triggered the (unsuccessful) 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In 1991, the preamble of the treaties with the dismembered Soviet Union apologised off for the Soviet actions in Hungary.
Vietnam Protests, 1966-70:
The protests against the Vietnam War are probably the most famous in the history of the student protest. US College enrolment in 1969 was above 25 million and thus, the student body became active in movements and causes fighting against government decisions and measures. The protests have often received a fairly negative view from the media, due to their sometimes violent nature; revisionist takes suggest that less than 300 US Colleges actually had ‘violent’ protests on campus. President Nixon eventually cited the protests as part of the reason why American troops withdrew in 1973.
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989:
In April 1989, university students gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of former Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang. Those gathered in the square turned their attentions to calls for government accountability and freedom of speech. Protests spread beyond students and across the country during May, and martial law was declared. Media control tightened, and political reform was halted.
Iran Student Protests, 1999:
In July 1999, protests began at the University of Tehran following the closure of Salam – a Persian reformist paper – that published a secret ministry report. After the protest, a student dormitory was raided, and a member of the student body killed. This sparked further unrest, and opposition to the Supreme Leader of Iran – Ali Khamenei.
The students were joined by members of reformist political groups, such as the Association of Combatant Clerics.