Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Julie George

Committee Members

Yan Sun

Jillian Schwedler

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | International Relations | Politics and Social Change | Social and Behavioral Sciences


autonomy, autonomy movements; China's autonomous regions; international linkages; social movements; Hong Kong;


In the past few years, Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, has had formidable autonomy movements that have managed to force the territory’s Chief Executive to withdraw legislation that would have allowed extradition to other parts of China. Often the federalism literature investigates contentious relationships between a regional government and a central government. However, in Hong Kong, the local government often relies on the Chinese state and local elite are largely integrationist in orientation. What conditions empower grassroots forces to influence the local government’s implementation of autonomy from central government institutions? While scholars have found cases of mass-mobilized autonomy promotion, there have been fewer empirical studies of the intermediate factors that lead mass movements to be successful in forcing a local government to preserve autonomy.

In this dissertation, I examine four cases of grassroots mobilization aiming to stop the local government from giving up policy autonomy to the central government between 1997 and 2019, the Right of Abode Movement; the Anti-Article 23 Movement; the Umbrella Movement; and the Anti-Extradition Movement. My findings are based off of 15 months of fieldwork, including participant observations and 81 interviews, as well as extensive archival work. I demonstrate that there are three resources that contribute to strengthening the position of grassroots forces vis-à-vis the local government. Grassroots forces are empowered to pressure the local government when they have a high degree of internal unity and access to Western government support. The local government is more vulnerable to grassroots forces when it lacks elite cohesion. I contend that interactions at the subnational, national, and international level facilitate changes in the three resources. Grassroots unity is influenced by the local and central government’s use of cooptation and coercion; Western government support is driven by the grassroots coalition’s cultivation of international linkage and the government’s domestic interests; and declining elite cohesion occurs because of the local government’s reliance on central government institutions to resolve elite disputes.