Photo Essay: Hong Kong Protests (2014 Umbrella Movement)

At the barricade at the north of Tim Wa avenue (Admiralty)

This photo essay shows the day-to-day life of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong during the 79-day Umbrella Movement protests that took place in the autumn of 2014. During that period, protesters occupied streets in three districts in Hong Kong with the aim of reforming elections so that Hong Kong people would be allowed to vote for the territory’s top official—the Chief Executive—and for all the lawmakers (only half of which of are directly elected).

At the time, news coverage tended to focus on tense confrontations between protesters and police. Footage of demonstrators fleeing from police and shielding themselves from teargas and pepper spray caught the world’s attention, but those images don’t represent the whole story. The aim of my photography was to try to present the individual people involved.

Young protesters at Admiralty

The protests were for the most part very peaceful. I visited the various protest sites twenty times but never encountered any violence and only witnessed a few tense scenes.

Young protester at the Admiralty site

The nature of the protest changed day-by-day, hour by hour. During the evening, thousands of protesters might occupy the streets; but the next morning this might be reduced to a few hundred hardcore members manning the barricades as their comrades trooped off blurry-eyed to work or school after spending the night on the pavement.

The main protest site at Admiralty

What made Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests in 2014 so distinctive was young protesters’ total commitment to non-violent civil disobedience—there has been no looting and almost no vandalism aside from chalked slogans on the pavement. Unfortunately, as the protests were coming to an end, a few frustrated protesters smashed a glass panes at the entrance of the Central Government Offices, putting a blemish on what had otherwise been a remarkable show of restraint. Even the symbol of the protest movement—the umbrella—is one of resistance and protection rather than aggression and attack.

Form 6 (Grade 12) girl with umbrella

And this is ultimately what the protest was about—protection. Concerned about the growing encroachment of mainland China into the territory’s politics, media and social fabric, the student protesters maintained that in order to safeguard Hong Kong’s unique culture and identity, one of the most important measures was for Hong Kong citizens to have the freedom to nominate and elect its own leader.

Calling for universal suffrage

The Reason for the Protest

The protest started in response to the announcement by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on 31 August regarding the 2017 elections for the territory’ s top political post (the Chief Executive). The announcement can be summed up as: “For the first time you will be able to elect the Chief Executive through universal suffrage, BUT we will select all the candidates for you beforehand via a selection committee.”

Volunteers distributing tissue paper

That proposal was in line with the Basic Law, the document that is the foundation of the One Country Two Systems policy and which is supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a certain amount of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. However, many Hong Kong people, disenchanted with the performance of all three Chief Executives since the handover in 1997, had been hoping for greater say into who runs the territory.

The aim of the protest was to allow Hong Kong people greater say in the nomination of candidates for Chief Executive.

Many of the protesters are university students, but people from all walks of life are actively involved .
Andrew is a retired civil engineer who regularly attended protests at one of the three occupied sites. There was also a fourth tiny site on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and he was there when that site got shut down. He said there were a only a handful of protesters there when they were surrounded by a large group of men who demanded that they leave. The protesters were told by police that it would be safer for the them if they left, so they did.
Like many protesters I have spoke to, Andrew was pessimistic about whether the protest movement would meet its aims, but he said it was still important to for Hong Kongers to speak up and make their voices heard. I met him on the 14 October at Admiralty, and he said he had only missed one day of the Occupy protests since 28 September.
Andrew was also interviewed for an article that is now offline. In that article, when asked why his generation didn’t take action earlier, he is quoted as saying: “At that time, we were not aware of where this all would lead,” said Leung. “Plus, the situation has changed a lot in 30 years. Look at where we are now.”
University students
A secondary school girl encourages visitors and protesters to write messages.
A young woman adding a message of support.
Dr. Kacy Wong invites people to discuss issues with him.
If we lose this battle…

How the Protests Grew

The protests started as a five-day boycott (22-26 September) of college and university classes by the The Hong Kong Federation of Students, (www.hkfs.org.hk/strike/) (which was composed of the student unions of the territory’s eight universities). Towards the climax of the boycott, the student unions were joined by Scholarism (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholarism), a political activist group led by 17-year-old Joshua Wong.

As part of the boycott, students protested outside the Central Government Complex in Admiralty district and demanded free, fair and open elections. A separate protest campaign—Occupy Central with Peace and Love (http://oclp.hk/)—was to begin on 1 October. This movement was led by Benny Tai, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong. As the name suggests, this campaign was loosely based on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Joshua Wong (with microphone) addresses a forum for high school students (14 October). The umbrella-themed art installation behind him was created by students at City University’s School of Creative Media.
Secondary students at the forum
Joshua Wong meets briefly with reporters. At 17 years of age he is already a seasoned activist.

On Friday evening (26 September), the last scheduled day of the student boycott, a small group of protesters managed to push through the police cordon and past the gates outside the main government offices and…well…they just sat down around the flagpoles in the forecourt, where they were immediately ringed in by police. In keeping with the non-violent spirit of the protest, the student protesters did not attempt to vandalize or enter the government buildings. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but the police, clad in their usual uniform—short-sleeved shirt, trousers and cap—and reflective vests, acted with restraint. During the evening two prominent student leaders were arrested at the protest site.

One of leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students negotiates with police outside the government offices (2 August)

The next day police cleared the forecourt of protesters. In general, the police behaved reasonably, using minimal force to carry people away, but a few officers struck out with their batons and some others rashly and unnecessarily used pepper spray on students. This heavy-handed treatment of non-violent student protesters was televised live and provoked a strong public reaction. Another issue was the police’s continued detention of student leader Joshua Wong.

On Sunday morning, protesters started streaming towards the government office mainly to support the students and ensure they were not manhandled by the police. The main rallying cry was ‘protect the students‘ and not ‘occupy the streets‘. The police, now wearing helmets and with many officers clad in full riot gear, halted the protesters. I am not sure what they thought this would achieve.

The arriving protesters, blocked from progressing towards the Central Government Complex by the police, flooded into nearby streets blocking traffic on Connaught Road. To take advantage of this development, Occupy Central with Peace and Love announced an immediate start to their campaign. More and more protesters started streaming into the streets, and then police made the rash decision to try to clear the streets using tear gas and pepper spray. Because of the risks associated with using tear gas on crowds, it is generally not used against peaceful demonstrators, and it is uncertain as to whether the use of tear gas by police on that day was lawful (researchblog.law.hku.hk/2014/09/legal-authority-for-police-to-use-tear.html). In any case, its use only served to escalate the protest.

It was a hot day, so many protesters had brought umbrellas to the protest to shield themselves from the sun. The umbrella’s instead ended up being use to ward off tear gas canisters and pepper spray. This is how the Umbrella movement got its name.

While police were struggling in their attempt to clear the streets in Admiralty, protesters used social media to quickly mobilize. In a matter of minutes they were able to occupy main thoroughfares in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, opening up two new fronts for the police to try to control and sending a message of “Even if you keep us out of one place, we can easily pop up in another place.” At Admiralty, police eventually ceased the tear gas attacks and retreated back inside the main government complex. Strategically outmaneuvered, the police had lost the battle. And with the heavy-handed and violent tactics, they lost the respect of many of Hong Kong’s citizens.

As this illustration by local artist Vin shows, the police use of pepper spray and tear gas led protesters to create makeshift protective gear out of raincoats, goggles, face masks and umbrellas.
Yes, people did dress like that.
Police reinforcements arrive at the Central Government Complex and are jeered by the crowd (of course, it didn’t help that they were spotted bringing in barrels of tear gas and cases of rubber bullets). At least one of the police officers seems to be feeling the pressure.

I have no idea if the student leaders had planned on this kind of occupation, but at the end of the day, protesters were in control of three sites.

The Admiralty Site

The main site protest site was in Admiralty, where protesters occupied several city blocks and surrounded the main government offices, including the Legislative Council building as well as the office of the Chief Executive. On weekends and public holidays the number of protesters swelled into the tens of thousands, with numbers dwindling to several hundred in the morning as those who have stayed overnight go to school, went to work or just went home to freshen up and get some rest.

The Admiralty site at night (view looking towards Central)

The atmosphere there was incredibly civil—kind of like a mellow folk festival, but with large rallies, small forums and informal singalongs among friends.

Students singing protest songs
Secondary school students singing at Admiralty
Martin Lee (right), founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party from 1994 to 2002 speaks at a small forum. Along with the late Szeto Wah, Martin Lee led Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement during the 1980s and 1990s. The 2014 strike and protest is in part a reaction to the lack of success of Lee’s attempts to promote democracy via electoral reform and political lobbying.
Sharing session at Admiralty
Rallying the crowds
Protesters at Tim Wa Avenue
The Admiralty site often has a slightly festive feel to it. Here are some volunteers at a body art station.
With a partner, this young man is working on a kind of photography project.
Support from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union

In November, with the weather finally starting to cool and the the government cancelling talks with the student leaders, the protesters began to settle in, setting up more and tents throughout the site.

Overlooking the Admiralty site
The main road at night
Tents everywhere!
Some students customized their tens with artwork
Sharing session at Admiralty
Wally is a well-known local busker (he usually dresses up as the Where’s Wally character when performing)
Graduates pose for a photo
Girls making fabric umbrellas
As the protests wore on, the site could get quite sparsely populated. Some of the protest methods, like the cardboard cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping shown in this photo, where quite whimsical
Even towards the end of the rally, massive crowds would turn up for rallies.

Volunteers at Admiralty

A small army of student volunteers (as well as a number of volunteers from churches and Christian groups) helped maintain the site, providing free food, water and other essential supplies.Volunteers walked through the site to collect waste and bring it to one of several recycling stations for separation; they even gave talks on waste collection methods. Volunteers set up and manned first aid stations (whose staff includeed many medical students) and phone-recharging centers, assisted people clambering over traffic barriers and helped maintain an orderly flow of pedestrian traffic. I asked a few volunteers if they knew who was coordinating the efforts, and they all replied that no one was actually in charge; that different groups took it upon themselves to recognize a need and then work towards meeting that need.

Volunteers at one of the recycling stations
Volunteers spraying water on passers-by to keep them cool
Volunteer spraying water on passers-by to keep them cool
Volunteers at a resource station
Volunteers distributing water
A young student sweeps up rubbish at a nearby bus terminus
Social worker station at the Admiralty site
Red Cross volunteers

The Study Corner at Admiralty

In early October, a study center sprang up in the middle of the site with several tables set up for students trying to keep up with their coursework.

Admiralty study corner
Admiralty study corner

So where did all those tables and chairs come from? Many of them were made by volunteer carpenters such as these men:

Volunteer carpenters
Jeffrey, a volunteer carpenter. He is a self-taught English learner and is very well read. The book he was reading at the time was: “Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World.” Commenting on his participation in the movement, Jeffrey said, “Almost everyone here comes here because they are self-motivated. I am not a student I am don’t belong to a political party. I am not part of an organization. I come because I am self-motivated.”

After a few weeks, the study center acquired a roof and started to look a little like a café.

The study corner

The Causeway Bay Site

A second site occupied a couple of blocks in Causeway Bay, a shopping and entertainment district a few kilometers to the East of Admiraly. The site was centered on the super busy intersection outside the Sogo department store. Usually, there were only a few hundred protesters there at any given time. The mood there is also laid back, but as an occupation site, it seemed rather vulnerable—a kind of isolated outpost.

Causeway Bay
Hong Kong Mobile Democracy Classroom at Causeway Bay. These kinds of small scale workshops and talks were a common feature at the Causeway Bay site.
Sharing across generations
Most of the time, the protest sites are calm and peaceful. A group of volunteers are taking a break at a message writing center (where people are asked to express words of support on pieces of cardboard)
Medical students volunteering at a first aid station
At the Causeway Bay site, there are frequent talks, forums and classes. Here a volunteer is giving a lecture on digital photography. You can see the course schedule on the right. If you stuck around, you could brush up on your Japanese and refresh your memory of high school physics and biology.
Volunteers at a resource center (the supplies are given away for free)
Young volunteers

The Mongkok Site

The third site was in Mongkok, a densely populated, perpetually busy commercial and residential district across the harbor in Kowloon. Here protesters occupied the normally bustling intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street. The intersection was later cleared, but protesters maintained control of a few blocks of Nathan Road and another couple of blocks north of the intersection. If you watched the news and saw scuffles between different groups of civilians this is likely where that was happening. The protesters were sometimes subject to harassment and attacks. (I don’t have any photos of this, but I did take some footage of confrontations that are included here in this video).

Some of the anti-protesters were local residents who were angry with the disruption in their neighborhood, but many seemed to be hired thugs. On 3 October, for example, a group of masked men attacked protesters and pulled down stalls. The attackers were later recorded on video being ushered away by police and into waiting taxis.

On Nathan Road
Two school girls with their yellow dove. They were tying to spread a message of peace.

Anger was directed against police, who were accused of either actively colluding with triad members or of simply looking the other way. Student leaders suggested abandoning the Mongkok site to concentrate their manpower at the main site, but the protest area in Mongkok was mainly run by grassroots activists (not student groups), and they had no intention on leaving.

Beside Nathan Road
Setting up a shelter on Nathan Road
Setting up a shelter on Nathan Road
Setting up a tent on Nathan Road
A speech at Mongkok
Protesters and street sign
Protesters at the front line
Protesters at the front line. This particular group was occupying a single block on Portland Street in Mongkok, so they were in a particularly vulnerable position.
Protesters at the front line
Protesters at the front line
Taunting the police in Cantonese and English. This protester was known as Mong Kok Painter, as he spend a lot of time drawing graffiti (mainly Wildstyle) paintings in a sketchbook. He was pretty aggressive though and was on of the first protesters arrested during the protests in 2019.
Exhausted
As there was not much tension away from the front lines, parents sometimes brought their young children.
In November a comfy-looking mini-library was set up in the middle of Nathan Road.
Let’s read
Relaxing on barricades
Finding material to write on in a rubbish skip. This photos was taken a day after the Mongkok site was cleared by police. Protesters were still hanging around.

Artists

Vin, the illustrator of the drawing “Who dress me like this?” shown earlier in this article.

Many artists visited the sites to sketch and paint works and other artists put up posters, banners and sculptures. By the end of the protests, the Admiralty site looked like an outdoor contemporary art gallery. I am not in the middle of editing those photos and posting them on my art blog. At the moment I have only completed one page: Art of the Umbrella Movement: Part 1. Paintings and Sketches

Perry Dino is a an artist and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I came across him at the Admiralty site, where he was on an overpass beside the BBC news crew. 
Perry Dino paints at the Mongkok site.
Franceso Lietti is a Hong Kong-based artist, architect and designer originally from Italy. During the Umbrella Movement he created a series or paintings that involved collaborative touches added by passers-by.
A young woman works on one of Francesco Lietti’s paintings.
The finished paintings were displayed a few weeks later at the Admiralty site.
Flyingpig is a young Hong Kong artist who specializes in watercolor paintings of daily life in local neighborhoods. During the Umbrella movement protests, she was mainly concerned with documenting the normal routines at the protest site.
New York Artist Miso Zo at work at the Admiralty site. Miso Zo is pseudonym. He is a New York-based artist who was in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He also did some installation pieces during the Umbrella Movement protests.
When I came across Misa Zo at the Admiralty protest site, he was working in acrylic and oil paint on a large canvas, the painting depicting a scene capturing the more peaceful side of the movement. In that painting, set in a quiet area a few blocks away from the main protest site at Admiralty, a man is getting a haircut in the middle of the road.
I was a little perplexed by the tree imagery, so I asked the artist what her message was. She replied: “This idea comes from a conversation I had with my sister. She asked me if I had heard the birds singing this morning. That made me think. When birds are flying, when they are in the air, they don’t sing. It is only when they are in the trees that they sing. It’s just like people in Hong Kong normally. They are flying here and flying there, going to work, working, going home, always going somewhere. always doing something. But now they have stopped for a moment to come here…like birds returning to the tree. And now it is time for them to sing. And now people can hear their voices.”
This is a group of photographers and designers who took photos of protest participants in a series called Yellow Backdrop Hong Kong. The Facebook page where they posted the photos is no longer online. I spoke to the photographer (at very left in the above picture) and it turns out that we were both motivated by the same impulse. Portrayals of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement protests in the local media focused on confrontation, social division and violence. If you walked around the three sites regularly, however, the thing that would strike you was the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, the positive spirit of people and the strong sense of community, with everyone pitching in and playing a part. He is hoping to capture and share that spirit of camaraderie, solidarity and positivity by working on a a series of portraits of people posing in front of a vibrant yellow background.

Caricature artists also dropped by from time to time to sketch participants in the. Umbrella Movement.

Caricature artist
Sketches of participants and visitors
Caricature artist

Press & Researchers

Reporters came from around the world.

Reporter at the Admiralty site
Reporter at the Admiralty site
A BBC reporter takes a break
This is award-winning Getty photojournalist Paula Bronstein. She created a stir in Hong Kong when she was detained and charged with criminal damage on 17 October while covering an attempt by protesters to reclaim an intersection on Mongkok. She had been standing on the hood of someone’s car (with the driver still inside) in order to get a better shot.  
A local reporter covers events in Mongko
Camera operators perched atop an MTR entrance in Mongkok
Interview in progress (Admiralty)

In addition, local universities conducted research at the sites.

At the Mongkok site on 16 November, two journalism students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong were conducting a questionnaire and interview survey in Mongkok as part of their department’s research on the public’s attitudes towards the occupy movement. Although they had only just finished collecting the data, they suggested that public support for the protesters’ strategy of occupying key streets appeared to be waning.
Their observations were consistent with findings from other surveys. A telephone poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Communication and Public Opinion between 5 and 11 November showed that just over two-thirds of the respondents want protesters to completely evacuate the streets (PDF File: www.com.cuhk.edu.hk/ccpos/images/news/TaskForce20141116-e.pdf). In another survey conducted by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 73% of respondents indicated that they wanted the protests to end. (www.ejinsight.com/20141105-lau-siu-kai-blasts-occupy-campaign-for-bad-strategies)

Police

The police had a tough time as they had to work long hours and put up with a lot of abuse.

Police standing away from the action in Mongkok
Police officer, Mongkok
Police officer, Mongkok
By the time this photo (as well as the next two photos) was taken on 26 November, police had cleared Mongkok and were trying to ensure protesters didn’t retake the streets. This was the only time I saw a police dog being used.
Police cordon.
Police officers (Mongkok)
Police officer (Mongkok)

Did Most Hong Kong People Support the Protests ?

It is safe to say that most Hong Kong citizens would have liked a greater say in the choice of Chief Executive, but it is unclear whether this is mainly due to their dissatisfaction with all three post-handover leaders (Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang and C. Y. Leung) or a deep desire for democracy and political self-determination.

Chalk graffiti
Go to school during the day; protest at night

Not everyone in favor of increased democracy, however, agreed that protests were the best way forward. Among Hong Kong residents opposed to the protests are those who:

  • preferred a less-confrontational wait-and-see approach in the hope that China would gradually become a more open and democratic country
  • were somewhat supportive of the protests, but felt the students hade made their point and should now pack it in
  • had resigned themselves to the belief that the mainland’s grip over Hong Kong would inevitably become even tighter over time, so students should just return to classes, work harder, graduate and think about emigrating
  • saw Hong Kong’s future as being inextricably intertwined with China and believed that if one had a more positive outlook, it would be possible to take advantage of all the things China has to offer
  • worked or lived near the protest sites and were fed up with the disruption.
Paining a banner

There are also those opposed to democracy in general. These include:

  • Beijing loyalists such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and its supporters. The DAB is a political party that has been unwaveringly loyal to China’s Central Government and has been opposed to increased democracy since the party’s inception. The party is quite well supported in Hong Kong due to its strong organization at the grassroots level and efforts at representing its constituents;
  • Ardent nationalist groups such as Caring Hong Kong Power, Voice of Loving Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Youth Care. They are known for their use of Cultural-Revolution-style intimidation tactics (badcanto.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-conspiracy-behind-suicidal-pro-china-organisations/ & (www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2013/09/09/2003571680);
  • Anti-western conspiracy theorists who view the pro-democracy movement as a plot hatched, planned and funded by American intelligence services looking to destabilize the territory and weaken China (the protesting university students are viewed as unwitting dupes manipulated into betraying their country).

There exist deep divisions within Hong Kong and it is unlikely that the majority of Hong Kong people supported the protests.

Volunteers lay out messages of support

Did the Protest Have a Chance to Succeed?

Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong people had twice used massive protests to stave off unpopular political proposals. They forced the Hong Kong government into shelving the introduction of far-reaching anti-sedition laws (the Article 23 protests of 1993 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_Basic_Law_Article_23) and into indefinitely delaying the introduction of a mandatory propaganda-heavy Moral and National Education curriculum in the territory’s secondary schools (the student-led protests of 2012 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_and_national_education). It was during this second campaign, that many of the student leaders of this current campaign gained experience.

Students at Admiralty

However, this time the protest was against a decision by China’s Communist Party, which would not want to see a precedent of being forced though public dissent to backtrack on official policy. As Hu Jia former teenage activist in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 states:

“Mainland China is a tinderbox that’s been physically suppressed by the authorities, and Hong Kong is a seed of fire.The Communist Party is very scared of this tiny bit of land, because if true universal suffrage can blossom in Hong Kong, it is very likely true universal suffrage will end up happening in the mainland.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/21/world/asia/hong-kong-joshua-wong-democracy-protest/)

Origami umbrellas

Thus, even if there was disagreement among different political factions in China about what to do with Hong Kong, the idea of Chinese leaders giving in to protesters’ demands for greater democracy seemed rather far-fetched.

Photographer in front of the Lennon Wall—a staircase covered in messages—at the Admiralty site.

In addition, Hong Kong simply lacks leverage with China. With a typical strike or boycott, protesters send a message of “We are prepared to make a sacrifice to get what we want. We will suffer, but you will suffer, too; so it is in your best interest to meet our demands.” In this case, however, China can simply say “Yeah, about that suffering…if you want to suffer, that’s fine with us. We can help you suffer some more. Shall we shut down your economy?

During the protests, China started applying gentle pressure already by halting many group tours from the mainland. As Mainland tourists made up the bulk of visitors to Hong Kong, local businesses began to feel the pinch and public antagonism towards the protesters grew. In this CNN video, Michael DeGolyer describes this strategy of slowly applying crushing pressure as the ‘anaconda scenario’ (edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2014/10/08/pkg-stevens-hong-kong-anaconda-strategy.cnn.html).

A hunger striker named Benny (at Admiralty)

At the same time as public support for their protests began to wane. the students themselves were getting worn out mentally and physically as they try to cope with the pressures of living on the street while trying to keep up with their classwork and negotiate with disapproving parents.

Get rest while you can.
Protest Life

As the situation at the protest sites can unfold so rapidly, even if protesters could get away for a night’s rest, some of them would set the alarm to wake up every two or three hours so that they can return if needed. The effects began take their toll and the students’ resolve began to waver.

At the Admiralty site.

It is hard to see what the students could gain from Beijing. Perhaps, the best they could have hoped for was to extract some minor concessions from the local government. Commenting on an article by local businessman Allan Zeman (www.ejinsight.com/20140925-we-can-keep-building-on-our-can-do-spirit/), James Tan suggested these possible concessions:

“[for the HK government to (for example):

  • hold independent public enquiries into allegations of: 1. use of excessive force by the police since September 27th during all the recent protest; 2. collusion between police and triads in recent days.
  • apologise for illegally detaining student leaders for over 48 hours;
  • review all charges against all protesters since September 27th;
  • consider conveying student and protesters’ demands w.r.t. NPCSC’s Framework for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 to the NPCSC, subject to the outcome of planned negotiations between students and the government”

What did the Protesters Expect to Achieve?

I asked many participants this question. Surprisingly, not one of the people I spoke to expected the protests to change anything. They all said that they simply wanted their voices to be heard and  realized that the protest might be the last time they would have the chance. Perhaps the Umbrella Movement’s leaders had higher hopes, but the ordinary people I talked to were all rather pragmatic and pessimistic.

Young woman drawing flower designs with chalk.

Man people hoped that the local government will be more responsive to its citizens’ needs and wants. The government cannot be ousted at the ballot box, but the students showed that Hong Kong people were willing to make a stand for what they believe in.

If a more careful, caring and considerate governing style takes root in Hong Kong, perhaps that will be the lasting legacy of these protests.

Making history
The next generation

More Pictures

You can visit the Google Photos gallery (photos.app.goo.gl/DzJy8gM8oKy6XAcXA) album where there are more than 200 images (including the ones on this page) at a resolution of 2048 x 1035. This gallery is not yet up to date. You can also view a gallery of 554 black-and-white photos on Flickr: HK Pro-democracy protests 2014

A couple of people have mentioned that I should not show people’s faces in the pictures. However, all the photos in these albums only show people attending a protest (Freedom of Assembly is allowed in Hong Kong) and the protest is only in support of increased democracy (a principle allowed in the Basic Law). Bear in mind that the aim of the photo gallery is to present a more human side to the protests. Simply having photos of anonymous masked protesters will not achieve that aim.

If you are featured in one of the photos and would like to NOT be identifiable, let me know and I will pixelate your face.

Postscript

The protests came to an end late November (Mongkok) and early December (Admiralty and Causeway Bay) after bus companies obtained court injunctions requiring the streets to be cleared. One by one, the protest sites were cleared. Protesters packed up and police and cleaning crews moved in, meeting little to no resistance.

Cleaning the streets: Admiralty

There were quite a few causes for the end of the protest:

  • The legal actions taken by the bus companies, which would have put anyone failing to comply with the orders to clears the site in contempt of court)
  • The protester’s exhaustion (many of them were students, who would soon sit for exams)
  • Dwindling public support
  • Lack of leadership among the protesters (there was no one actually in charge of the protests)
  • Government intransigence.

Were the protests successful? The government made no concessions and the protests ended, so it emerged as a clear ‘victor’.

I put ‘victor’ in quotation marks because by taking such a hardline against peaceful protesters and refusing to make any concessions, the government unwittingly gave birth to more radical protest movements that have ideologies ranging from stressing localism to calling for independence. When the opportunity came to protest again during the so-called Fishball Revolution (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Mong_Kok_civil_unrest) during the Lunar New Year Holiday in 2016, the number of protesters was much smaller, but they were a lot nastier, as witnessed by their attacks on police The protest quickly escalated to a riot, with protesters hurling bricks at police and assaulting a fallen officer, leading to one of his colleagues firing warning shots into the air.

Similarly, the anti-extradition bill protests of 2019 have been marred by violence on all sides.

The protesters of the Umbrella Movement won nothing.  However, regarding the people I spoke to—the ones who expressed a desire to be heard—I suppose that to a certain extent, they did succeed. For a couple of months, their voices were heard.  

This photo was taken the night the Admiralty site was cleared. Most of the messages on the Lennon wall had been torn down, but this one remained.

~Photos and text by longzijun

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