Visiting Beijing (1995 to 1997)

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.

The trips were:

  • Beijing, Shidu & Tinjin: Christmas holidays 1995
  • Beijing, Xi’an, Lanzhou & Xiahe: August 1996 (the article about Xiahe is here: Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China)
  • Beijing: February 1997

You can view the entire set of 240 photos at a higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232) at Flickr or Google Photos.

Shidu

Juma River, Shidu

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, Beijing

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.

Shidu, Beijing, 1995

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.

Juma River, Shidu, Beijing, 1995

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.

Shidu Lad

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.

Family, Shidu

The Great Wall

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.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu
The Great Wall, Beijing, 1997
The Great Wall, 1995

Winter Scenes

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.

Swimming in frozen water, Beijing, 1997
Winter Swimmer, Tianjin

I wasn’t tempted to try it. To me, it made more sense to play on top of the ice rather than below it.

Ice Hockey, Beijing

The Imperial Palace Museum

The Forbidden City, Beijing, 1995

More commonly known as the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace Museum is one of Beijing’s main attractions.

Hall at the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2015

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.

Outside the Forbidden City, Beijing, 1996

The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and walls with watchtowers. In the winter, people were ice-fishing on the moat.

Moat and Watchtower, The Forbidden City

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.

At the Forbidden City
At the Imperial Palace, Beijing, 2015
The Forbidden City
Imperial Palace Lions

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.

Roof figures, Imperial Palace, Beijing, 2015
Line of 10 roof figures; at the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2015

Jingshan Hill

Pavilion on Jingshan

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.

View of the Forbidden City from Jingshan, 1995

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.

Peking Opera

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).

Peking Opera performance
Peking Opera Performance, Beijing, 1995

Urban Development

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.

Hutong house and coal (Beijing)
Bicycle Taxi and Coal

Newly built condominiums started to spring up.

Beijing: new housing developments 1995
Beijing: new housing developments 1995

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square and Tiananmen Gate, Beijing, 1995

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.

Tiananmen Square: Monument to the People’s Heroes, 2015

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.

Bicycle taxi, Zhengyangmen, the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, Tiananmen Square, Beijing 1995

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.

Countdown clock (counting down the days to Hong Kong’s reunification with China), The National Museum of China, Tiananmen Square, 1995

The Ruins of the Old Summer Palace

Ruins of Western-style Mansions at 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.

Children clambering on a statue at the Old Summer Palace

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.

Ruins at the Old Summer Palace, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995

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.

Maze Garden, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995
Maze Garden, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995

The Summer Palace

Kunming Lake, Foxiang Ge (Tower of Buddhist Incense) at Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill), the Summer Palace Beijing

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 17-Arch Bridge
Playing on the ice of Kunming Lake, Summer Palace (Beijing)
The Stone Boat at the Summer Palace
The Stone Boat, Summer Palace, (Beijing)
Waking across Kunming Lake

The Summer Palace is livelier during summer; I suppose that is unsurprising given its name.

People gathering and playing Chinses musical instruments at the Summer Palace, 1996
Flea market at the Summer Palace, 1996
Rowboats and the 17-Arch Bridge, the Summer Palace, Beijing, 1996
Sunbathers at the Summer Palace, Beijing, 1996

Tiantan

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

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.

Interior: Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Beijing, 1997
Window at Tiantan
Detail view of a gate at the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Beijing, 1995

Besides being a tourist attraction, Tiantan Park is also place for locals to hang out.

At Tiantan Park, 1995

Behind the people sitting down in the above photo were hawker stalls selling souvenirs.

My brother bargaining with hawkers for a kite at Tiantan Park, 1997

Beihai Park

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.

White Pagoda, Beihai Park
Beihai Park
Detail view: Nine Dragon Wall at Beihai Park
View of the Beihai Bridge and the Middle Sea from Beihai Park, Beijing
Playing on the ice (near Beihai 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).

Yonghe Temple

Yonghe Temple (Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery), Beijing, 1996

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.

Lion statue, Yonghe Temple, Beijing, 1996
Detail: relief, Yonghe Temple, Beijing, 1996

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.

Temple of Confucius; Beijing, 1996
Stele, Temple of Confucius; Beijing, 1996

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.

Temple of Azure Clouds (Biyun Temple), Beijing, 1996
Buddhist figures, Temple of Azure Clouds (Biyun Temple), Beijing, 1996

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.

Church of the Saviour (Xishiku Cathedral) Beijing, 1996

Tianjin

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.

Tianjin, 1995
Child with candied hawthorn, Tianjin, 1995
Playing on the ice: Hai River Tianjin
Men hanging out in Tianjin
Hai River, Tianjin
Tianjin Street

Dates & Locations

The trips were:

  • Beijing, Shidu & Tinjin: Christmas holidays 1995
  • Beijing, Xi’an, Lanzhou & Xiahe: August 1996 (the article about Xiahe is here: Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China)
  • Beijing: February 1997

Photo Albums

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:

1. Beijing, Shidu & Tianjin (240 photos) Flickr
2. Beijing, Shidu & Tianjin (95 photos)Google Photos

I am can’t remember what kind of camera I had. I wasn’t into photography at the time. I think it as a point-and-shoot Minolta model.


~ Photos and text by longzijun

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Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China (1996)

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.

The town of Xiahe (Gansu, China, 1996)

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!”

Snowy fields in August!

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.

White Stupa, Labrang Monastery

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.

Village houses (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

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.

Migrant Workers

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.

Sheep herder, Daxia River & migrant worker camp. Xiahe county (and the town of Xiahe) were named after the river.
Migrant worker camp (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)
The slope behind their tents is a location that plays an important role in an annual late-winter festival. It is where monks display a massive Tangka (a colorful, kaleidoscopic religious painting) that completely covers the rectangular area of the slope.
In the background, you can see Labrang Monastery, the Kora (a prayer wheel route) and Gongtan Pagoda.
Migrant workers (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

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.

Sangke Grasslands

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).

Crossing the Daxia River on horseback, Sangke Grasslands
Village, Sangke Grasslands. The horseman didn’t warn me about the dogs, so when I went on ahead, I was chased (on horseback) by one of the village dogs.
Making tsampa
The horseman (wearing a grey jacket) and his family
Saying farewell

Volleyball-playing Monks

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.

Monks playing volleyball (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

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.

Setting the ball
With the monks

Children

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.

Children with their donkey and cart
Xiahe boys

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.

Two Girls (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

Labrang Monastery

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

Grand Sutra Hall, Labrang Monastery

Xiahe is the most important monastery town for Tibetan Buddhism outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Serkung, Labrang Monastery
Prayer route (center) and Gongtan Pagoda (right), Labrang Monastery

There is also a 3.5-kilometer-long pilgrim’s route of prayer wheels known as the Kora.

Pilgrim’s Path (the Kora), Labrang Monastery
Prayer Wheels, the Inner Kora, Labrang Monastery

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.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an
Photo taken on the train between Xi’an and Lanzhou. Notice the dry landscaped and terraced hills. Farming is really a tough job here.
View of Lanzhou (and the Yellow River) from Baitashan Park (1996)

Photo Albums

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:

I can’t remember what kind of camera I had. I wasn’t into photography at the time. I think it was a Minolta X-700.


~ Photos and text by longzijun

Return to Photography

Venice Photos

Venice, Italy is a fascinating and photogenic city. These are photos I took during a trip to in 2015.

Woman in red

Album 1: Venice (Main Album)

Venetian cats (no, they are not in a cage; that is just a window)

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.

Venice: The Grand Canal, view from from Ponte dell’Accademia
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Kyoto Photos

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.

Kyoto Cats sheltering from the rain outside a temple outside Higashi Hongan-ji

View Album: Kyoto; All Photos (394 photos)

Read More »

Hokkaido Travel Diary: Photos, Video & Free Background Music 41

1. The Music

This video features the 41st song in the Free Background Music Series and is the second video in my Travel Diary series.

As with the other songs in the Background Music series, this instrumental work can be used for free in non-commercial projects and in YouTube monetized videos (that are otherwise non-commercial in nature) as long as credit is provided (‘music by longzijun’). For more information about the terms and conditions for using the music, you can refer to the detailed Terms of Use.

Read More »

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 were directly elected).

I have another article—The Hong Kong Protests of 2019-2020—which covers the more recent protests.

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 around thirty 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 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).

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 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.”

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. 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.

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 spoken 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 was 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 (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.

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, 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.

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. 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 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. Though one of the leading figures of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in the past, he was only treated as a marginal figure among the protesters of 2014.
Sharing session at Admiralty
Rallying the crowds (the Westerner in the background appears to be American Brian Kern, who later became notorious for taking on a local Hong Kong Chinese persona—called Kong Tsung-gan—who was frequently interviewed by the international media as a representative voice of Hong Kong. In one article, his Hong Kong Chinese persona actually interviewed is Mainland Chinese persona)
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 the photo above, 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 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.

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 woman 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 were calm and peaceful. A group of volunteers were 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 were 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 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.

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 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.

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 Mong Kok
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 Mong Kok, 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 one 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 Mong Kok 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 Mong Kok site.
Frances Lee (pseudonym) is a Hong Kong-based artist. 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 his 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 in Mong Kok. 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 Mong Kok
Camera operators perched atop an MTR entrance in Mong Kok
Interview in progress (Admiralty)

In addition, local universities conducted research at the sites.

At the Mong Kok site on 16 November, two journalism students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong were conducting a questionnaire and interview survey in Mong Kok 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 (the article, entitled Lau Siu-kai blasts occupy campaign for bad strategies—is now offline)

Police

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.

Police standing away from the action in Mong Kok
Police officer, Mong Kok
Police officer, Mong Kok
By the time this photo (as well as the next two photos) was taken on 26 November, police had cleared Mong Kok 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 (Mong Kok)
Police officer (Mong Kok)

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 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.
Painting 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. It is 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-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.

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 central government, which would not want to see a precedent of being forced though public dissent to backtrack on official policy.

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 could 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 (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.

Young woman drawing flower designs with chalk.

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.

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 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.

Postscript

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.

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 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.  

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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Hong Kong Street Art

(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.

Artist: Dan Kitchener (UK); HKwalls 2018

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:

Street art, Ma On Shan, 2016
Wildstyle (2016)
Hong Kong Street Art: Ma On Shan District
Wildstyle (2016)

And here are some of the works from 2018:

Street Art in Hong Kong: Ma On Shan (2018)
Street Art in Hong Kong: Ma On Shan (2018)
Street Art in Hong Kong: Ma On Shan District
Xeme street art (Wildstyle, 2016)
Street Art in Hong Kong: Ma On Shan District
Street Art in Hong Kong: Ma On Shan (Detail view)

You can view the entire set of over 200 photos in this series:

2. Mong Kok & Tsim Sha Tsui

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’.

Girl with Noodles – Mong Kok Street Art
Stencil by codefc

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.

Dutch Masters (Mong Kok, 2014)
Wrung team (Mong Kok, 2014)
Young woman (Hong Kong Street Art: Mong Kok, 2014)
Part of the above mural (2014)

Some of the pieces have a local flavor.

Art inspired by Cantonese Opera (2017)
Portrait of Chow Yun Fat (2017)
Old Master Q: A famous HK comic strip (2019)
One of the only pieces that has a political message (2019)

Here are some of the more recent wildstyle works:

(Black Cat, 2019)
Wildstyle: Ryck (2019)
Wildstyle: Ryckone (2022)
The alley in 2022

You will also find lots of stickers in the alley.

Stickers: HK street art

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):

3. Central, Sheung Wan & Sai Ying Pun

The street art in this area has improved a lot during the past few years. This is largely due to

  • sponsorship arrangements with businesses, who are now much more supportive of artists,
  • the Hong Kong Walls festival which was held in this area 2018 and which attracted artists from around the world,
  • the development of ArtLane (also in 2018), a residential and shopping complex in Sai Ying Pun which used street art as a selling point.

This area of Hong Kong is now the go-to place for finding street art in the territory.

A popular Instagram spot in Hong Kong
Mural by Cyril Delettre for La Galerie
Mural by Elsa Jean de Dieu (Elsa Jeandedieu Studio) for Una Nota
Mural for Bedu Restaurant, Elsa Jean de Dieu (Elsa Jeandedieu Studio)
Mural by Vhils (the artist creates portraits by removing the paint on walls and exposing the concrete)
Mural of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Temple
Geometric street art by Neil Wang (the mural around the entire block)
Mural on Gough St.
Mural of a Bird by WHYYY
Street art by Invader (top) and Little Thunder (bottom) at PMQ
Street art by Little Thunder at PMQ
Paste-up by ONI
Psychedelic mural

Here are some images of the HKwalls 2018 artwork:

Artist: Elsa Jean de Dieu (France/HK); HKwalls 2018
Artist: Barlo (Italy); The Pet of the Archaeologist; HKwalls 2018
Artist: Cinta Vidal (Spain); HKwalls 2018
Detail view
Artist: Sheep (China); HKwalls 2018
Artist Dan Kitchener (detail view); HKwalls 2018

The HKwalls festival was also held in the area in 2015 and some of the artwork is still around, such as this mural of Bruce Lee.

Artist: XEVA (Korea); Bruce Lee Mural; HKwalls 2015
Mural by Hopare (HKwalls 2015)

Here are photos of Art Lane in Sai Ying Pun

Bruce Lee & Girl with Chicanos, street art murals by Ceet Foaud, Art Lane
Street art mural of Bruce Lee by Ceet Foaud, Art Lane
Transformation (detail view), street art mural by Riitta Kuisma, Art Lane
Transformation (detail view)
Little Girl Watering Plants, street art mural by Zue Chan, Art Lane
Animal Town & Rainbow Staircase (steet art by Blessy Man & Henry Lau), Art Lane
Joy of Music and Art (detail view), street art mural by Noble Wong, Art Lane
Music Town, impressionist-inspired street art by Zue Chan, Art Lane
Music Town (detail view)
Music Town (detail view), street art mural by Zue Chan, Art Lane
Busy Bees, street art mural by Hadrian Lam, Art Lane, Sai Ying Pun
Busy Bees (detail view)

You can view the entire sets of photos here:

4. Hong Kong Street Art: Wanchai & Causeway Bay

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.

Street Art in Causeway Bay
Socially conscious paste-up; Causeway Bay
Graffiti in Hong Kong: Causeway Bay – Paste-up
Causeway Bay—Paste-up

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).

Mural by Didier Jaba Mathieu (HKwalls 2019)
(Detail view)
Street Art by Bao & Tim Marsh
Dragon mural by Tim Marsh
Street Art by Shann Larsson (HKwalls 2019)
Street Art by Neil Wang and Wong Ting Fung (HKwalls 2019)
Mural by Fluke (HKwalls 2019)
Mural on the SPCA Building by Joker & Gus Eagleton (HKwalls 2019)
Street Art by Yopey (HKwalls 2019)
Street Art by Stephanie Studzinski (HKwalls 2019)
Detail View: Street Art by ANHZ, Portals & Kringe (HKwalls 2019)
Mural by Calvin Ho (HKwalls 2019)

Here are some more recent photos not featuring work from HKwalls 2019:

Rooftop graffiti: View from Times Square, Causeway Bay
Mural by Ophelia Jacarini
Detail view
Pikachu-themed mural by Jerkface; Wanchai

You can view the entire sets of photos in this series:

5. To Kwa Wan

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).

Mural by AAFK (ANZH x FEW), Devil and Hong Kong street art (To Kwa Wan district)
Resilient: Mural by Mural by AAFK (ANZH x FEW): Hong Kong street art; Freegate 自由閘; To Kwa Wan district
Mural by AAFK (ANZH x FEW): Hong Kong street art; Freegate 自由閘; To Kwa Wan district
Mural by Szabotage: Hong Kong street art; Freegate 自由閘; To Kwa Wan district
Mural by Storm: Hong Kong street art (To Kwa Wan district)
Mural by Humchuk: Hong Kong street art (To Kwa Wan district)
Street art: To Kwa Wan
Street art: To Kwa Wan
Street art mural in To Kwa Wan, Hong Kong
Street art mural in To Kwa Wan, Hong Kong

You can view the entire sets of over 50 photos in this series:

6. Kwun Tong & Kowloon Bay

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:

Mural in Kowloon Bay
Detail view
Tiger mural: Ngau Tau Kok, HK

You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 140 images):

7. South Hong Kong Island

Located on the south side of Hong Kong Island, Wong Chuk Hang is home to many art galleries. It was selected as the site of HKwalls 2017. Here are some of the pieces that were created:

Mural by Jecks: detail view (Hong Kong Street Art: HKwalls 2017)
Mural by MUAY: detail view (HKwalls 2017; Wong Chuk Hang)
Mural by SeeNaeme & Messy Desk ( HKwalls 2017)
Mural by SeeNaeme & Messy Desk: detail view
Hollywood Bau: Street art on a factory wall in Wang Chuk Hang
Hollywood Bau mural: detail view
Mural by Amuse126 & Merlot: detail view (HKwalls 2017)
Mural by DEBE (HKwalls 2017)
Mural by MUAY (Hong Kong Street Art: HKwalls 2017; Wong Chuk Hang)
Mural by MUAY: detail view of seal
Mural by TUTS (HKwalls 2017)

You can view the entire set of photos in this series:

8. Sham Shui Po & Nam Cheong

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).

Mural by Taka
Mural by Taka (detail view)
Cyberpunk Bruce Lee by Uncle (AWS)
Neon-inspired mural by Sinic

The same organization, ddHK, commissioned the following mural by kristopherh in 2021.

Mural by KristopherH (detail view) , Sham Shui Po
Mural by KristopherH (detail view) , Sham Shui Po

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.

Ecology mural by AXE Colours
Ecology mural by AXE Colours Hong Kong (detail view)

The 2016 version of HKwalls was held in Shan Shui Po in 2016. It included the following works:

Large mural of a bear by Okuda (Hong Kong Street Art: HKwalls 2016; Sham Shui Po)

Large mural of a bear by Okuda (detail view)
Mural by Paola Delfin (HKwalls 2016)
Mural by Vhils (HKwalls 2016)
Daruma doll mural by SUIKO (HKwalls 2016)
Mural by ZIDS (HKwalls 2016)

9. Hong Kong Street Art: The King of Kowloon

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.

King of Kowloon: Graffiti in Diamond Hill (click on the picture for a larger version)
King of Kowloon: Graffiti in Diamond Hill (click on the picture for a larger version)
An example  of Tsang Chou-choi's graffiti
An example of Tsang Chou-choi’s graffiti

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):

11. Street Art in the New Territories

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.

Street art mural in Sai Kung, Hong Kong
Street art mural in in Sai Kung by Ruttak
Street art mural (detail view)

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)

12. Lei Yue Muen

In Ma Wan Village (Lei Yue Mun), several colorful murals were painted in 2020 as part of a project to beautify the village, which is primarily known for its seafood restaurants and sea views (Lei Yue Mun Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project—Mural Art Village).

Ma Wan Village, Lei Yue Mun, Hong Kong
Street art in Ma Wan Village (a kind of parody of different art styles)
Detail view
From Chrissy Wong Art Studio
Art by Moses Mok, Little Jade and Sissy Ng
Cat-themed Mural
Seaside murals, Ma Wan Village, Lei Yue Mun, Hong Kong

You can see the entire series here:

12. More Photos

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.

taipei-th
Taipei Street Art
Street Art in Ottawa, Ontario
Street Art in Shoreditch London
Street Art in Shoreditch, London
Street Art in Hongdae, Seoul
Street Art in Hongdae, Seoul
Street Art in Vancouver, Canada
HKWALLS 2018: Part 1 (Hong Kong)
HKWALLS 2018: Part 2 (Hong Kong)

 


~ photos and text by longzijun

photography

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Faking 1950s Hong Kong: Film Set and Props Factory

Rickshaws and bicycles

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.

View the entire series of 109 photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjDok3Dt

Film set at Xiqiao Mountain Film Studio
Across the main square

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.

Workers take a break in the scaffolding

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…

Fake roast chicken and geese
Fake bottles
Fake mailboxes (with fake weathering)
Fake phone booth, fake rotary phone, real girl

The props are created in a nearby warehouse/factory (the photo at the top of the page was taken there).

Making money
Money!

Most of the ground level rooms seem to be functional. For example, here is a beauty salon.

Beauty salon

And here is equipment for a dentist’s office.

Now rinse thoroughly!

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.

All aboard for a trip back in time

View the entire series of 109 photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjDok3Dt

~ photos and text by longzijun

photography

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Video Recording with the Digital Toy Camera Digital Harinezumi 2++ (デジタルハリネズミ)

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 […]