What You Can No Longer Say in Hong Kong


A sweeping national security law passed on June 30 instantly altered the lives and liberties of Hong Kong’s residents, criminalizing words and images that just hours earlier had been legally protected free speech.

The next day, thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators tested the limits of the new law. Some carried signs bearing slogans like these, which for months had been lawfully displayed in the streets of the semiautonomous Chinese city.



Pro-democracy protests are a regular feature on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule from Britain. This year’s march took place under the shadow of the new security law.Miguel Candela/EPA, via Shutterstock

The police have since arrested more than 20 people under the new law, which lays out political crimes punishable by life imprisonment in serious cases, and allows Beijing to intervene directly if it wants.

Hong Kong was once a bastion of free speech. It served as a base for the international news media and for rights groups, and as a haven for political refugees, including the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. Books on sensitive political topics that are banned in mainland China found a home in the city’s bookstores.

But the limits of the security law are vaguely defined. As a result, artists, journalists, activists, academics and others risk running afoul of the law for what they say, write, or tweet.

The owners of this bubble tea shop, who had earlier publicly supported the protests, removed the pro-democracy ephemera that once decorated their store.






Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times


One restaurant took down signs in support of the protests and replaced them…



Read More: What You Can No Longer Say in Hong Kong

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.