Hong Kong handover: The protest symbols China's scared of

Protesters targeted Hong Kong's Golden Bauhinia Square, a symbol of the city's handover to Chinese rule, on Monday, June 26, 2017.

Story highlights

  • Police have reportedly been told to crack down on certain protest slogans and imagery
  • They're hoping not to embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping while he's in Hong Kong

Hong Kong (CNN)When Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule, the Bauhinia flower was chosen as the symbol of the new Chinese special administrative region.

A giant golden statue was gifted to the city by Beijing and erected at Golden Bauhinia Square, which is now used for official flag-raising ceremonies.
Early Monday, several pro-democracy activists staged their own ceremony, covering the statue in a large black cloth to expose "the brutal truth behind the glorious rhetoric" of Hong Kong's handover to China.
    The protesters were led by Joshua Wong, the former "Umbrella Movement" leader turned international political activist and leader of the Demosisto political party.
    "(We) wish to appeal to fellow citizens to take part in direct civic actions on 1st of July to demonstrate our aspiration to democracy and the right to self-determination," Demosisto said in a statement.

    Banned words

    Monday's action is the first of what is expected to be many protests around the handover anniversary, which will be heightened by the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is due to arrive in the city on Thursday.
    According to local media, police in the city are under instructions to shield Xi from as many of those protests as possible -- including preventing certain phrases and images banned in China or that might "embarrass" Xi from appearing in his eyeline.
    So just what iconography in particular might patriotic Hong Kongers like to avoid?

    Hong Kong or Taiwan independence

    A protester holds a placard that reads "Hong Kong Independence" near the government's headquarters in Hong Kong on August 5, 2016, during the city's first pro-independence rally.
    Since both the Umbrella Movement and government-led political reform ended in failure, there have been growing demands in the city for full independence from China. Few things are more likely to rile up Chinese leaders than talk of separatism, be it in Hong Kong, Tibet or Taiwan -- a self-governing island that has been de facto independent for decades but is still claimed by Beijing.
    A bizarre propaganda video published last year by Chinese legal officials warned that those advocating Hong Kong or Taiwanese independence would transform peaceful China into war ridden Syria or Iraq.
    Pro-democracy protesters wave the flag of colonial Hong Kong during a march for democracy on February 1, 2015.
    While most Hong Kong independence activists are critical of the UK for denying the city a chance of going it alone -- as all other British colonies were able to -- the flag of the Hong Kong Colony has nevertheless become a symbol of the movement, probably because it is guaranteed to annoy China.

    Protester Xi

    A carboard cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping holding a yellow umbrella seen at a protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district on November 12, 2014.
    An image of Xi holding a yellow umbrella has been banned, according to the Ming Pao newspaper. The umbrella became a symbol of the 2014 movement after protesters used them to protect themselves against police pepper spray.
    After Chinese state media published a photo of Xi carrying an umbrella on a site inspection in Wuhan province at the height of the Hong Kong demonstrations, the image was quickly remixed and adopted by the umbrella protesters.

    Tiananmen Square