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Abstract

The 2019-20 Hong Kong protests saw the proliferation of militant methods of protest which were previously widely considered unacceptably violent and antithetical to the “core values” of local identity as traditionally conceived, largely as a result of the city’s conservative political culture that originated under colonial rule. This thesis investigates the (re)construction of protest violence in public discourse during the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests and its implications. Through archival research and media analysis of a significant protest event, this thesis demonstrates how debates over protest tactics constituted the ground on which a contest over local identity was waged. Against an orthodox conception of local identity which considered protest violence as antithetical to its “core values” rooted in colonial political culture, oppositional discourse constructed an insurgent local identity which (re)constructed protest violence as acts of sacrifice for the defense of the local. Rejecting the status quo’s respectability politics and instrumental rationality as impotent if not complicit in the perceived existential threat posed to the local by Beijing’s encroaching authoritarianism, this oppositional discourse viewed the willingness to defend Hong Kong identity at all costs—regardless of personal or collective outcomes—as the measure of one’s identification with Hong Kong. In this discourse, sacrifice became the currency of local identity.

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