Hong Kong Protesters Taunt Beijing in Bid to Spoil Communist China’s Birthday

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HONG KONG—Protesters here have dialed up attacks against the Chinese Communist Party ahead of mass demonstrations planned for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday, renewing momentum for the protest movement by shaping it as a fight against authoritarianism.

During weekend protests marked by the fiercest clashes between demonstrators and police in recent weeks, many participants expressed a vehement rejection of Communist rule in China, which Beijing will celebrate on Tuesday with a grand military parade.

In Hong Kong, protesters prepared to stage demonstrations across the former British colony aimed at overshadowing or disrupting the official National Day festivities. Recent protests have featured displays likening China’s government to the Nazi regime, defaced images of Chinese President

Xi Jinping,

and the burning of a Communist Party flag.

The increasingly direct targeting of the party is one way Hong Kong protesters are freshening the appeal of a movement originally sparked by anger against proposed legislation that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The city’s leader has since pledged to withdraw the bill.

Some demonstrators plastered images of Chinese President Xi Jinping on the ground.


Photo:

Vernon Yuen/Zuma Press

Over 17 consecutive weekends of protests, the movement has steadily widened to include other demands, including a judge-led inquiry into how police have handled the protests, and universal suffrage, as many participants expressed fears of Beijing’s growing influence in their city.

The protesters’ evolving strategy reduces the scope for compromise with Beijing, which was already reluctant to grant Hong Kong residents the greater democratic rights that many protesters seek, and can’t countenance any attempt to subvert the party’s authority.

“It’s an intractable problem. On one hand, there’s an almost-zero chance that the Communist Party would give in to the protesters’ demands,” said

Adam Ni,

a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney. On the protesters’ side, “there’s no indication of any lowering of the temperature, as we saw over the weekend,” Mr. Ni said. “We continue to be in for a rocky ride in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong’s leader,

Carrie Lam,

sought to dilute public anger by pledging in early September to withdraw the bill and launch a public dialogue to heal rifts in society. But many protesters have dismissed her measures as empty gestures. Last week, as Mrs. Lam conducted her first public dialogue, some protesters outside the venue chanted an abusive slogan denouncing her as a “running dog of the Chinese Communists.”

China’s Communist Party has repeatedly declared that it brooks no challenge to its sovereignty over Hong Kong, which has enjoyed greater freedoms than the mainland under a framework of partial autonomy since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

During a visit to the city in mid-2017, President Xi declared that any attempt to undermine Beijing’s power “is an act that crosses the red line”—a message that mainland officials have reiterated since the recent unrest began.

These warnings haven’t deterred many protesters, who have instead raised the ante by focusing their ire on Mr. Xi and his party.

What started off as a demonstration against a controversial extradition bill has become a series of massive protests with broad political demands. Here is why so many Hong Kongers keep taking to the streets in a leaderless movement and whether their goals can be achieved. Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters

In Sunday’s march, labeled a “Global Anti-Totalitarianism Rally,” many participants carried placards captioned “CCP Evil Dictatorship Party.” Another popular placard featured a red flag similar to China’s with the stars arranged into the shape of the swastika associated with Nazi Germany.

Along the route, some demonstrators plastered images of Mr. Xi and hammer-and-sickle logos on the ground, inviting others to stamp on them. Others spray-painted “Chinazi” on walls, put up posters caricaturing the Chinese president as Adolf Hitler and as an emperor from imperial China, and defaced mainland Chinese businesses with anti-party images and slogans.

On a pedestrian bridge, protesters displayed banners comparing the Communist Party to the Nazi regime. “Appeasement is a great policy…if you want a World War,” one banner said.

Many protesters also appealed for international support for democracy in Hong Kong and voiced solidarity with religious and ethnic minorities in China subjected to state repression, including China’s large Christian community and Muslim Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

Such messages are aimed at broadening the protests’ appeal at home and abroad, portraying Hong Kong as a front line in fighting authoritarianism, according to

Wu Qiang,

a political commentator in Beijing.

“The protest movement is seeking new impetus to sustain momentum, by tapping international distrust of China and the Communist Party,” Mr. Wu said, adding that some protesters may also be trying to play down the anti-mainland nativism that has flared during some demonstrations.

Clashes have flared between antigovernment and pro-Beijing groups, with protesters in some cases attacking citizens from the mainland. On Sunday evening, a man identified by some protesters as a mainlander from China’s southern Fujian province was chased down by a mob and beaten to the ground, before some reporters intervened, though the reason for the attack wasn’t clear.

Reference to the Nazi regime has also turned off some Hong Kong residents, who say the comparison is provocative and inappropriate.

“I understand that in political rhetoric, people go to extremes,” said

Daniel Fung,

a former solicitor general for Hong Kong. “It doesn’t mean we have to endorse those extremes. I don’t for one moment believe the overwhelming majority of people here think that way.”

The use of Nazi imagery is “a way to express our frustration,” said Kenny Shiu, a 63-year-old semiretired cosmetics distributor, who at a recent rally held a placard depicting the Chinese flag modified to depict a swastika.

Such signs “could piss off the people in Beijing, but what else can we do?” Mr. Shiu said. “We are powerless. We have no say in the government and the government keeps ignoring our demands.”

Write to Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com

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