Hundreds of students converged on a university campus in Hong Kong on Monday, launching a week-long boycott of classes in protest against Beijing's decision to rule out fully democratic elections in the former British colony.
Students from more than 20 universities and colleges streamed into the grounds of picturesque, bay-side Chinese University, where they were greeted by banners that said: "The boycott must happen. Disobey and grasp your destiny."
Some sat in a circle playing guitars in temperatures close to 30 degrees Celsius, while others folded leaflets urging students to boycott classes.
The weeklong strike marks the latest phase in the battle for democracy in Hong Kong and comes as a group of Hong Kong's tycoons visits Beijing to discuss the reforms with China's communist leaders. The city's billionaire business leaders tend to support Beijing's policies.
Strike organizers are dismayed over Beijing's decision in August to rule out open nominations for candidates, instead demanding they be vetted by a committee. That's raised fears candidates will be screened for loyalty to Beijing.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a high degree of autonomy, but Beijing's rejection of the right to freely choose the city's next leader has prompted threats from activists to shut down the Central finance district as part of their pro-democracy campaign. Beijing has warned against the protest and cautioned residents against the “democracy trap.”
Many of the students were dressed in white and wearing yellow ribbons.
"I believe on August 31, when the National People's Congress made their decision, it crushed the dreams of some Hong Kong people who have been fighting hard for democracy for the past 30 years," said third-year student Hong Yuen, referring to Beijing's decision to rule out full democracy.
Leading academics in Hong Kong have voiced support for the boycott, with some offering to record lectures and post them online for students who miss school to watch later.
Meanwhile, a survey by the Chinese University showed more than a fifth of Hong Kong residents are considering leaving the city, spurred by concerns over its political future.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule with freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a policy of "one country, two systems". China is terrified those calls will spread to mainland cities, threatening the Communist Party's grip on power.
On average, survey respondents said they did not trust the Hong Kong or Beijing governments, and more than half, or 53.7 percent, said Hong Kong's legislature should veto any proposal that bars candidates for the post of the city's chief executive from holding political views different from Beijing's.
Young people with higher levels of education felt most strongly.
However, less than a third of respondents said they supported the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement, which plans to shut down the city's central business district to press its demand for fully democratic elections in coming weeks.
The survey, based on telephone interviews with Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents, was organized by the university's Centre for Communication and Public Opinion, and conducted between Sept. 10 and 17.