The photos on this page were taken during three trips to Beijing, China during the mid-nineties. Of course, the city has changed massively since then, but let’s see how Beijing, the neighboring city of Tianjin and the small village of Shidu looked back then.
You can view the entire set of 240 photos at a higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232) at Flickr or Google Photos.
Rather than start with places you probably already know about—the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City—let’s start with someplace less well-known—the village of Shidu. The village is a popular weekend getaway spot for Beijing residents—a place where they can enjoy barbecues, river rafting, boat cruises, horseback riding and (in more recent years) bungee jumping.
But that is during the summer. We went in the middle of winter and there was absolutely nothing going on there. When we went there, only two other people got off the train at Shidu Station.
Shidu, is considered a suburb of Beijing even though it is over 100 kilometres from the city center and has a completely different kind of landscape. ‘Shidu’ literally means the ‘tenth crossing’, as it is said that one is required to cross the Juma River ten times in order to reach the village.
The area is known for its karst landscape. Karst landscapes are formed by the dissolving action of water on limestone. Shidu’s irregularly shaped hills have been formed by the Juma River cutting through the Taihang mountains. There are somewhat similar areas such as Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Phang Nga Bay in Thailand and Guilin in China.
It was enjoyable to wander around the river and hillsides and take in the views. We met a young teenage boy and he brought us up one of the hillsides to get a good view of the town and surrounding mountains.
If you are in Beijing between June and October, you may want to check out Shidu on the weekend. In winter, it is really only a good place to visit if you enjoy hiking.
The Great Wall
We visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu in 1995 and Badaling (I think) in 1997. The third option for visiting the Great Wall is at Huanghuachen. Badaling is the most popular spot, Mutianyu is the least crowded and Huanhuachen offers views of a lake.
In Beijing and Tianjin, we came across groups of winter swimmers who would, on a daily basis, go swimming in frozen rivers and lakes as a way to build up their strength and immune systems.
I wasn’t tempted to try it. To me, it made more sense to play on top of the ice rather than below it.
The Imperial Palace Museum
More commonly known as the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace Museum is one of Beijing’s main attractions.
The palace complex was built between 1406 and 1420 and served as the political center or China and home of the Emperor until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is now undergoing large-scale renovations that are meant to return all the buildings to their pre-1912 state.
The following picture can give you a sense of the scale of the buildings.
The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and walls with watchtowers. In the winter, people were ice-fishing on the moat.
Because of the way the buildings are laid out in series of halls, courtyards and palaces surrounded by alleyways and smaller buildings, you can only get a glimpse of a small portion of the palace complex at any one time. There are around 980 buildings in the palace complex, about 70 or which are palaces of varying degrees of size and importance.
The corners of the roofs on many of the buildings are decorated with a line of figures with a man riding a phoenix at the front and an imperial dragon at the back. The number of figures represents the status of the building – a minor building might have 3 figures between the man and the dragon, while the Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10, the only building in the country to be permitted this in Imperial times.
Behind the Imperial Palace is Jingshan, an artifical hill constructed in the early 1400s during the Ming Dynasty The Chongzhen Emperor, the last ruler of the Ming dynasty (and the last Han Chinese to rule as emperor), committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on Jingshan in 1644 after Beijing fell to rebel forces.
At the top of the hill, there is a pavilion—Wanchun Pavilion—which offers views of the Imperial Palace to the South and the Red Drum Tower to the North.
As you can see from the above photo, at that time, Beijing had heavy smog, which was caused by vehicle emissions and a heavy reliance on burning coal for energy as well as by sand blown in from the Gobi desert. In 1998, the Chinese government started a long campaign to reduce air pollution. Though air pollution remains an issue, air quality is much better now than it was in the mid-nineties.
During our two winter trips, we saw Peking Opera performances. These were matinee performances in tea houses that catered to locals and tourists. Rather than show entire operas, the performances would showcase different performance styles such as martial arts, lyrical aria-like songs and pieces that were more like recitative (an operatic style that focuses more on the natural rhythms of speech).
We visited Beijing just as the city was undergoing massive urban development.
The courtyard houses (known as siheyuan) and little alleyways (known as hutongs) were giving way to modern condominiums and apartment blocks.
Newly built condominiums started to spring up.
Located just south of the Imperial Palace, lies Tiananmen square, which is named after the large gate—Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace)—at the north of the square. The square was built in 1651 and was expanded during the 1950s. There is a flag raising ceremony at the site every day at dawn.
In the the southern part of the square is another gate, Zhengyangmen , as well as the Mausoluem of Mao Zedong and the Monument to the People’s Heroes.
The Great Hall of the People is on the western edge of the square with the National Museum is on the eastern edge.
The square is inextricably linked with politics. It was the site of the May Fourth Movement protests in 1919, the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949, protests after the death of Zhou Enlai in 1976 and, of course, the protests of 1989. More recently, Tiananmen Square was the site of a terror attack in 2013, in which extremist terrorists associated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) drove into a crowd, killing two people and injuring 38. The square’s history is…complicated and inseparable from politics.
When we visited Beijing in 1995, that was one-and-a-half-years before China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong. In front of the National Museum of China, was a digital countdown clock that counted down the number of days (and the number of seconds—yes, it was considered that important) until the return of Hong Kong.
The Ruins of the Old Summer Palace
The Old Summer Palace (also known as Yuanming Yuan or ‘The Gardens of Perfect Brightness’), was the main main imperial residence of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors.
The palace complex, estimated to be four times larger than the Forbidden City, was looted and destroyed by an Anglo-French force during the Second Opium War. The palace was so large that it reportedly took 4,000 troops three days to loot it it and burn hundreds of buildings to the ground.
What little remained was destroyed after a second sacking in 1900—this time by soldiers of the Eight-Nation Alliance (Germany, Japan, Russia, England, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and the United States).
According to UNESCO, artwork, textiles and ceramic looted from the Old Summer Place can now be found in 47 museums around the world.
Almost all of the buildings were in Chinese architectural styles, with a few also being constructed in Tibetan and Mongol styles. However, the most prominent ruins are of the Western-style palaces that had been built to satisfy the Qianlong Emperor’s taste for exotic architectural styles.
The ruins serve as a vivid reminder of the royal extravagance of Imperial China, the dangers of being a weak nation and the rapacity of colonial powers.
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a large network of imperial palaces that was slowly developed starting from around 1271, when the existing lake (now known as Kunming Lake) was expanded. Over the centuries, temples, palaces and waterways were added and the hill was enlarged. These days it is a popular park.
The Summer Palace is livelier during summer; I suppose that is unsurprising given its name.
Tiantan, or the Temple of Heaven, is a temple complex built from 1406 to 1420 and was the site of annual ceremonies of prayers for a Good Harvest. It is just under 4 kilometers south of Tiananmen Square. The three main structures there are:
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a large circular building with three gables;
The Imperial Vault of Heaven, its smaller single-gabled counterpart;
The Circular Mound Altar, a round marble platform.
The two main halls are built entirely of wood and were constructed without the use of nails. The following picture of the inside of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest shows some of the supporting beams and columns.
Besides being a tourist attraction, Tiantan Park is also place for locals to hang out.
Behind the people sitting down in the above photo were hawker stalls selling souvenirs.
This is a large park, also known as the Winter Palace, is located just to the west of the Forbidden City. It dates back to the 12th Century, when it was first used as an Imperial Park.
Yonghe Temple, the Beijing Temple of Confucius, the Temple of Azure Clouds and the Church of the Saviour
During our trip in the summer of 1996, we also visited Yonghe Temple (also known as the Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery, Yonghe Lamasery or simply the Lama Temple), The Temple of Confucius, and the Temple of Azure Clouds (also known as Biyun Temple).
The site of Yonghe Temple was originally developed in 1694 in the Qing dynasty as a residence for court eunuchs of the previous dynasty. It was later turned into a lamasery for Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The architecture blends traditional Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.
Temple of Confucius, Beijing
The temple in Beijing was constructed in 1302. Confucian temples in China are for the veneration of Confucius and other Confucian sages and philosophers and in the past served as examination centers for the imperial examinations. Inside the temple in Beijingf, there are 198 stone tablets on which are recorded the names of more than 51,624 scholars of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Temple of Azure Clouds
The Temple of Azure Clouds is located in Beijing’s Western Hills just outside Fragrant Hills Park. It was built in the 14th century.
The Church of the Savior
The Church of the Saviour (Xishiku Cathedral) was set up in 1703 by Jesuit priests in another location in Beijing (Zhongnanhai). The cathedral was expanded in 1864 and then moved to its current location in 1887 with a gothic façade being added in 1890.
During our 1995 visit, we also spent a couple of days in the city of Tianjin, a large city located on the coast, just over 100 kilometers southeast of Beijing.
The photos on this page were taken during an August 1996 trip to the lovely town of Xiahe in Gansu, a province in the northwestern part of China.
Xiahe, a small one-street town in the middle of a harsh landscape, is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists.
I hadn’t planned on visiting the town, but I had read about it in a guidebook while visiting Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu, and thought it would make for an interesting detour. It took several hours to get to Xiahe from Lanzhou by bus (but that was a slow bus—the trip should take around four hours by car).
My first impression after getting off of the bus was “Oh my God, it’s so cold!”
The county of Xiahe is around 3000 meters above sea level, so even during August, when we visited, temperatures fell below freezing (and most of the clothes I had packed were things like shorts and t-shirts). On wet days, there would be snow in the morning and freezing rain in the afternoon, leaving the roads and paths wet and muddy. On dry and warm days, loose top soil would blow around in the wind.
The hotel only had running hot water for half an hour a day, so if you weren’t back in your room by that time (or if the hot water supply had been already used up), you would only have frigid water to wash with. As a result after a few days there, I looked pretty much like everyone else in the town—my face ruddy from the wind and cold and my body bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, with the outer layer clothing covered with a thin coating of dirt.
I really liked Xiahe, but the environment and climate are unforgiving for the people living there. The area’s economy is based on farming, but the cold weather, lack of water, mountainous topography and loose topsoil mean that the little arable land that is there is tough to farm.
The following photos are of a group of migrant workers from Tibet. They were living in tents on the banks of the Daxia river, across from Labrang Monastery. They invited me over to try their food—curry potatoes.
The people we met in Xiahe were friendly, but communication was difficult. I was travelling with my wife-to-be, who was fluent in Putonghua, but many of the Tibetan people we met in Xiahe knew minimal, if any, Putonghua and could not write Chinese. However, that was nearly twenty-five years ago. I expect things will different today as most young and middle-aged adults nowadays will have had a formal education.
We hired a driver and took a trip out to the the Sangke Grasslands, where we rented horses and visited the home of the owner of the horses. He introduced us to his family and made us some tsampa—a Tibetan staple food consisting mainly of flour, yak butter tea and salt. The grasslands are a twenty-minute drive from the town, so you can also get there by cycling (some of the hotels have bicycle rental services).
We also met these monks. They were camped out in a field near our hotel and they would spend at least a few hours each day playing volleyball. We joined them for a a couple of games and had a brief chat later. They were from Tibet and were visiting Xiahe on a pilgrimage.
I was kind of surprised by their enthusiasm for volleyball as I had assumed monks would be more…er…meditative. I need to be more open-minded.
We met quite a few children, almost all of whom asked us to give them pencils. I am not sure if the pencils were for their own use at school or whether they served as a kind or currency among children. In any case, I was reminded of Zhang Yimou’s 1999 film Not One Less, which dealt with school life in an impoverished rural town. In that movie, blackboard chalk was treated as a precious, nigh-impossible-to-replace resource. We ended up giving away all of our pens and pencils except for one pen.
You should bear in mind, however, that at that time—much of China’s rural populace, especially the hinterlands of provinces like Gansu, lived in abject poverty. China has since implemented a long-term, anti-poverty campaign, which has since lifted several hundred million citizens out of poverty.
Unfortunately, the negatives for the following photo got exposed. However, I will still include the photo here as I like how the two girls did their best to have their own style.
Labrang Monastery, situated between the Chinese and Tibetan sections of the town, is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) sect. The monastery is the main site in town and it is spread out over several buildings such as the Grand Sutra Hall, Serkung and Gongtan Pagoda
Xiahe is the most important monastery town for Tibetan Buddhism outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
There is also a 3.5-kilometer-long pilgrim’s route of prayer wheels known as the Kora.
Sadly, between 1917 and 1929, the monastery was the site of massacres of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans by Hui Muslims led by Ma Qi. The monastery and its monks also suffered during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. During that period of turmoil, the monastery was closed, many buildings were destroyed or damaged and the monks were sent back to their villages to work. The buildings were later repaired or replaced, and the monastery re-opened in 1980. At present there are around 1,500 monks enrolled in the monastery.
Lanzhou & Xi’an
We also briefly visited Lanzhou, Xi’an and Beijing. You can see photos of those places in the online albums (the links are in the next section). The Beijing photos will be shown in another article and album.
I hope you enjoyed the photos. If you are interested in seeing them at higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232), you can visit the online albums:
Venice, Italy is a fascinating and photogenic city. These are photos I took during a trip to in 2015.
Album 1: Venice (Main Album)
This is the main album that contains most of the photos.
The defining characteristic of Venice is its system of waterways. The main island sits in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, is bisected by the s-shaped Grand Canal and is criss-crossed with hundreds of small canals known as rii.
1.1 The Grand Canal
The view of the Grand Canal from a bridge called the Ponte dell’Accademia is especially stunning. There is the canal itself, the boats, the lovely buildings lined up on either side, the pale grey domes of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in the background and the Venetian lagoon in the distance.
Kyoto, Japan is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve visited. As the former capital city of Imperial Japan, it has a rich history; and with mountain ranges on three sides and a river bisecting the city, the scenery is also attractive.
Album 1: All Photos
I took nearly four hundred photos during two trips to the city, so I have I have divided the photos into different albums. If you want to see everything, click on the following photo or link.
This video features the 41st song in the Free Background Music Series and is the second video in my Travel Diary series.
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 were 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.
The protests were for the most part very peaceful. I visited the various protest sites around thirty times but never encountered any violence and only witnessed a few tense scenes.
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.
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 glass panes at the entrance of the Hong Kong’s 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—was one of resistance and protection rather than aggression and attack (this changed in the more recent protests of 2019-2020).
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.
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 2014 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.”
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. Article 45 of the Basic Law clearly states that there is a two-step process to the election of the Chief Executive, with one step being selection/election and the other being approval by the central government. 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.
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 (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 (their website is now offline)—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.
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.
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, the organizers of 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 (In the protests or 2019-2020, tear gas was used a LOT, but in 2014, people were shocked to see tear gas being used in the streets).
It was a hot day, so many protesters had brought umbrellas to the protest to shield themselves from the sun. The umbrellas 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 Mong Kok, 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 tactics, they lost the respect of many of Hong Kong’s citizens.
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. There was an attempt to establish a fourth site—in Tsim Sha Tsui—but that one fizzled out.
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 atmosphere there was incredibly civil—kind of like a mellow folk festival, but with large rallies, small forums and informal singalongs among friends.
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.
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 included 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.
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.
So where did all those tables and chairs come from? Many of them were made by volunteer carpenters such as these men:
After a few weeks, the study center acquired a roof and started to look a little like a café.
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.
The Mong Kok Site
The third site was in Mong Kok, 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 video footage of minor confrontations.
Some of the anti-protesters were local residents who were angry with the disruption in their neighborhood, but some 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.
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 Mong Kok site to concentrate their manpower at the main site, but the protest area in Mong Kok was mainly run by grassroots activists (not student groups), and they had no intention on leaving.
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
Caricature artists also dropped by from time to time to sketch participants in the. Umbrella Movement.
Press & Researchers
Reporters came from around the world.
In addition, local universities conducted research at the sites.
The police had a tough time as they had to work long hours and put up with a lot of abuse. In the end, they were probably the biggest ‘losers’ in this battle. It became clear that the role of the police had become politicized.
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.
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 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.
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. It is is quite well supported in Hong Kong due to its strong organization at the grassroots level and efforts at representing its constituents;
Anti-imperialists 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). Here is an article by Laura Ruggeri outlining this argument: Agents of Chaos. How the U.S. Seeded a Colour Revolution in Hong Kong.
There exist deep divisions within Hong Kong and it is unlikely that the majority of Hong Kong people supported the protests.
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.
However, this time the protest was against a decision by China’s central government, which would not want to see a precedent of being forced though public dissent to backtrack on official policy.
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.
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?”
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.
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 could return if needed. The effects began take their toll and the students’ resolve began to waver.
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 (entitled ‘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.
Many 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.
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 normally enjoyed in Hong Kong) and the protest is only in support of increased democracy (a principle enshrined 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.
The protests came to an end late November (Mong Kok) 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.
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)
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 viciously assaulting a fallen officer, leading to one of his colleagues firing warning shots into the air.
Similarly, the anti-extradition bill protests of 2019-2020 have been marred by the use of violence. vandalism and intimidation.
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.
(Updated: March 2022) The street art scene in Hong Kong is relatively new, but there are some great artists in the city and there are a now lots of places where you can see more beautiful artworks.
In different districts, different styles and formats of street art predominate. Let’s take a tour though several of these neighborhoods.
1. Mid-Autumn Art Jam (Ma On Shan)
The following gallery features street art pieces that were created during the moon festival in Hong Kong in 2012. Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
Those works were on the side of a highway overpass. While taking these photos in 2013, I spoke to a woman who lived nearby and she told me that the pieces were done during the previous year’s Mid-Autumn Festival (at the very end of September). The location is well hidden, so the artists could work uninterrupted. Some of the visuals, such as the rabbit image, are related to the festival (according to Chinese legend, a rabbit lives on the moon with the moon goddess Chang’e. There were around 30 pieces (including wildstyle works) on the wall.
These street art pieces were eventually painted over by the Highways Department, but new works popped up. Here are two of the works there in 2016:
And here are some of the works from 2018:
You can view the entire set of over 200 photos in this series:
To view the following pictures in a slideshow, just click on any of the photos.
There is an alley one block to the west of the Mong Kok East MTR station that serves as a kind of ‘wall of fame’ and has lots of elaborate pieces in a variety of styles. It’s one of the few places where impromptu street art is generally left alone by the authorities. It is also home to a few homeless men who live in make shift cardboard shelters. Just around the corner is Argyle street, which is jam-packed with shoppers and tourists. It seems that there is an unspoken deal in place: ‘you can do what you want in this lane; just don’t take it outside’.
In recent years, the alley has become a popular Instagram spot. As it is such a popular location, the turnover rate for the artwork is high and beautiful pieces get tagged or painted over frequently. The photos in the gallery above were taken in 2012 and 2013 and those pieces have been gone for years. Here are newer pieces.
Some of the pieces have a local flavor.
Here are some of the more recent wildstyle works:
You will also find lots of stickers in the alley.
Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui are busy commercial and entertainment districts in Kowloon with things going on round the clock. It’s a challenge for graffiti artists to even find a blank wall yet alone work undetected. Thus, the art tends to be something that can be done in a hurry (tags, stickers or stencils) and is often done in dingy alleyways. There also tends to be a lot of crazy messages left on utility boxes and lampposts.
You can view the whole set of over 300 images in this series at a resolution of 2048 x 1365):
These street art photos were taken in Wanchai and Causeway Bay (perhaps the busiest shopping area on Hong Island). Because these are such busy areas, with things going on round the clock, the street art used to be done in a hurry, with paste-ups, stencils and tags are the most common forms of artwork. Here are some of the older works.
HKwalls (hkwalls.org) held its annual festival here in 2019, and the area now features more complex pieces. This festival is doing a great job at helping the local street art scene develop. It gives opportunities to local artists and brings in artists from overseas (who can provide inspiration).
Here are some more recent photos not featuring work from HKwalls 2019:
You can view the entire sets of photos in this series:
While walking through this mixed residential, industrial and commercial district in 2019, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of street art pieces on the walls and metal shutters of the businesses there. Most of these works had been added as part of a neighborhood revitalization effort. The art part of this project was entitled Freegate (自由閘).
You can view the entire sets of over 50 photos in this series:
Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
The streets of the industrial areas of Kwun Tong, Ngau Tau Kok and (to a lesser extent) Kowloon Bay used to feature a lot of graffiti compared to other parts of Hong Kong. However, in the last few years, the area had been redeveloped, with office buildings replacing the old factory buildings. As a result, there is very little street art there now.
The street art in this photo gallery was spread out through the entire industrial part of the district. It took around four hours to take all the photographs. There seemed to be more stencil work and paste-ups (paper-based work that is done beforehand and then affixed to the wall) in this area of the city.
The photos in this set are featured in the following video:
Here is a more recent piece in Kowloon Bay:
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 140 images):
Due to a few art activities, there are now more street art pieces in Sham Shui Po and Nam Cheong. The following three murals were created for the Heart of Cyberpunk Festival by Design District Hong Kong in 2019 (ddHK).
The same organization, ddHK, commissioned the following mural by kristopherh in 2021.
As part of an urban beautification program, the Drainage Services Department commissioned this ornithology-themed mural by AXE Colours Hong Kong. The mural showcases some of Hong Kong’s native bird species.
Perhaps the first graffiti artist in Hong Kong was thee self-proclaimed Emperor of Kowloon Tsang Chou-choi (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsang_Tsou_Choi), who throughout the 1980s and 1990s painted messages in his distinctive Chinese calligraphy claiming that he was the rightful owner of the entire peninsula. At any one time, there were a few hundred of his messages spread around Kowloon. He tended to write on government owned walls and utility boxes, perhaps because he viewed the government as the thieves who stole his family’s land. He died in 2007, and towards the end of his life was considered an artist, with galleries curating exhibitions of his work. However, it took the government a while to realize that his graffiti was part of Hong Kong’s collective memory and by the time they took measure to preserve his work, only three pieces remained. These are now sealed in plastic (the easiest to view one is at the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui). I took the following two pictures many years ago in Diamond Hill.
10. Street Art in Hong Kong: Kowloon City, Kowloon Tong & Cheung Sha Wan
You can find street art scattered in other areas of Kowloon as well. There is some in Kowloon City and quite a few pieces in Kowloon Tong, the latter of which are usually found on walls in the alleys between upscale condominium complexes. Other photos in this series were taken in Cheung Sha Wan, Lai King and Kowloon City.
Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 150 images):
This gallery features works from around the Tai Wai, Fotan (where a lot of artists have set up studios in factory buildings), Ma On Shan Tai Po and Wu Kai Sha. These are the areas just north of Kowloon (on the other side of Lion Rock). Recently street art pieces have been popping up in Sai Kung, a seaside village popular for its seafood restaurants and cafés.
In the New Territories, you can often find graffiti on factory walls and near bike paths. Click on any picture to view the gallery as a slide show.
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 100 images)
In the past, I used to document pretty much everything I saw including tags, very basic throw-ups, very faded pieces, and close-ups. I’ve since removed a lot of those from the main albums and moved them in this Google Photos album: Miscellaneous Shots (300+ images).
13. Related Galleries
I also have a few street art galleries on my artjouer blog.
These photos are from a trip to the Xiqiao Mountain Film Studio in Foshan (in Guangdong, China). The set builders and prop artisans were getting prepared for the start of filming of a Hong Kong-Mainland China co-production—Ip Man: Final Fight, the third film in the Ip Man martial arts trilogy. They were recreating a few different districts in 1950s Hong Kong, with the set covering several city blocks.
At that time, the buildings were covered with bamboo scaffolding as workers apply the finishing touches to the exteriors. Shooting will begin in early August.
What I found most interesting about the site was that everything was fake. I had though a lot of things might have been sourced from antique stores; however, everything has been (or is being) created from scratch, including…
The props are created in a nearby warehouse/factory (the photo at the top of the page was taken there).
Most of the ground level rooms seem to be functional. For example, here is a beauty salon.
And here is equipment for a dentist’s office.
Apparently, the set will not be dismantled at the end of filming. It will be kept intact for future productions taking place in Hong Kong around the same time period.
Digital Toy Cameras are the digital equivalent of lomography cameras like the Holga and Diana Models; the charm is in the low quality and unpredicatabilty. Unlike lomo cameras, however, digital toy cameras usually come with a video function. Let’s look at one toy camera — the Digital Harinezumi 2++ (デジタルハリネズミ). Digital Harinezumi 2++ This toy […]