Umbrella Movement through the end of October

October 24 – Day 27

Early in the morning on October 24, Mong Kok was packed with people and a number of Marvel heroes. People began to stick smaller prints of the Lion Rock banners reading 我要真普選 on their foreheads in imitation of Chinese zombies or 殭屍, which are also known as “hopping” zombies or vampires. Even unsuspecting folks got stuck with the banner. Captain America, Spiderman, and a “shirtless troublemaker” also made appearances. Later that day, however, things got violent, but by nighttime the atmosphere was playful again. One man who, when he was told to go back to the mainland (as is often said in Mong Kok spats), declared he had seven stars on his Hong Kong ID card. (Having three stars is enough to mark you as a permanent resident.)

For me though, the biggest news was that around noon, a helicopter was sent up to the Lion Rock to remove the giant banner that had hung there all night. Though it was taken down, there was something about the audaciousness of the banner that invigorated people. The banner was made into another Google Maps landmark, and Apple Daily announced it would be giving away free Lion Rock banners in their papers the next day. The outspoken pro-democracy newspaper, owned by Jimmy Lai, has actually been struggling to get its paper distributed past the blockade of occupying anti-Occupy demonstrators; on October 23, people had poured soy sauce over numerous copies of the paper.

  • Tung Chee Hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive, also had a press conference in which he argued there was evidence of foreign intervention. However, on Twitter, people shared what I haven’t been able to find as easily in news articles – that he couldn’t specify what kind of evidence existed.
  • I went over to have dinner with my mom’s friend out in the New Territories, which was really nice. They’ve got this cute pug who’s like a big fat baby, it’s pretty adorable.
  • More news began to come out about the poll that Occupy Central leaders were organizing, which I’d first heard about the night before. Originally the thought was that the poll would be about whether or not to continue occupying, but it turned out to be more technical.
October 25 – Day 28

The Silent Majority group led by Robert Chow began a petition in support of the police. They set up a table right outside of my apartment, collecting signatures from passersby and playing a recorded message about how the Umbrella Movement was creating societal havoc. It’s quite sad, though, that the group is trying to encourage public support against Occupy Central and criticizing its tactics. Groups including 撐警大聯盟 Alliance In Support of Our Police Force, 正義聯盟 Justice League, and 藍絲帶行動 Blue Ribbon Movement held a pro-police rally under the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower on Saturday, but the crowd attacked several journalists from TVB, RTHK, and Al Jazeera.

It seems logical that to create a positive media image of an organization, the reporters and photographers who come to cover your event should be treated well – but that’s unfortunately not what happened. This YouTube video shows a TVB reporter who was mistreated during the rally – here’s another report by i-cable.com, and reposted by badcanto. In the video, you can see one man yelling abuse at one of the reporters until he gets into a police van to give his testimony of the attacks at the nearby police station, and then that same man is seen shaking hands with the police right after. Strange. The organizers of the rally said the violence were “individual events,” according to this SCMP article.

Several HKFS leaders also called for pro-democracy politicians to resign, which would trigger a referendum that would allow voters to express their support or disapproval of the NPCSC’s proposed reform. However, nothing has yet come of this and I doubt anything will – the pan-democrat camp tried this tactic before, and the legislators who resigned were all re-elected with little significant change in the city’s politics, resulting in complaints that the referendum was just a waste of taxpayer money.

October 26 – Day 29
  • Though people had been up late the previous night preparing the ballots, around 3pm on the 26th, I heard that the OCLP vote was being cancelled due to the lack of consensus in the demonstration.
  • A Kenny G cartoon also arrived, while a set of yellow umbrellas was released.
  • SCMP ran an editorial by a member of Hong Kong Unison about the need for the protection of minority opinions and rights in a democracy – a very important point, especially because democracy in itself could easily lead to the rule of the majority and the oppression of others (thinking back to the discussion I had earlier at the Interfaith talk).

October 27 – Day 30

2014-10-27 12.12.15This day marked the first full month of protests, and to celebrate, I saw that the bakery next to my apartment had made cookies in support of the Movement.

The New York Times also ran this article about how Hong Kong’s democratization had been stalled by the mainland government as early as the 1960s, just a decade after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. That article adds to this editorial in SCMP, and this article elaborates on the subject. 

I’d read several a similar essay on October 14 in The Atlantic prior to this, but seeing it in the NYT revived the argument on a wider scale and gave it a new kind of official-ness. I’m not quite sure to what extent I understand the situation or documents, or how they’re being read. For instance, the first image (below) that The Atlantic cites suggests that China was opposed to Hong Kong becoming a Dominion like Singapore. The article rightly argues that this document and one more show that the PRC did not want Hong Kong to have “self-governance […] so that the People’s Republic could enjoy the economic fruits of Britain’s colonial governance.” But then it follows by paraphrasing a professor arguing, “This revelation suggests that the Chinese government’s current claims of democratic largesse are somewhat disingenuous.”

But I don’t think self-governance and democracy are the same, which this article seems to be suggesting. I’m not sure what type of government is entailed by “Dominion,” but I understand that a Dominion is an autonomous territory that is nominally under another the British state. To me, that suggests that rather than China being opposed to Hong Kong becoming a democracy, it was opposed to Hong Kong becoming independent. Self-rule and autonomy in a post/colonial context, I think, means that the territory is not ruled by the imperial power but rather has a locally-run political system that could be a monarchy, a democracy, anything. So equating autonomy with democracy doesn’t seem right.

Here’s another article that also uses an archival document to argue that China’s been suppressing Hong Kong’s democratic reforms for fifty years. But if you notice, the article analyzes the document pretty decently – and then jumps to 1990, forty years later, to argue that Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, tried to introduce democratic reforms but was stopped by China. Hm. There’s a lot that can happen in forty years, and the article offers very little to link one document that says nothing about “democracy” – its focus is on territorial questions – to what the article actually argues. Maybe it’s just bad journalism, and they just couldn’t get into the extensive sources from the 1950s that would have proved their point.

Maybe other readers with a strong understanding of Hong Kong, British, and Chinese history at the time could correct my reading of these articles, or offer other perspectives. For that reason, I’ve got historian Steve Tsang’s Democracy Shelved: Great Britain, China, and attempts at constitutional reform in Hong Kong, 1945-1952 (1988) on my reading list.

Still, Britain didn’t come out looking like the great defender of Hong Kong either. This same day, we found out that the police had gotten lots of its gear – including tear gas – from Britain.

  • Security chief Lai Tung-kwok showed the Legislative Council a video of what he said proved that Occupy Central with Love and Peace has created a movement that is not loving or peaceful, but he was criticized as having crafted that video as a piece of propaganda that left out the use of tear gas and the triad violence in Mong Kok, among other things.
  • SCMP published a reflection on a month of the protests
  • Occupy Central released the details of a one-month anniversary program to occur the following night.
  • René Magritte + Xi Jinping = Umbrella Movement art
  • Inspired by the yellow Lion Rock banner, some funny folks put together banners that the blue ribbon camp (the anti-Occupy groups) could use
October 28 – Day 31

This fabulous photo of Umbrella art began was making the social media rounds – unfortunately this article says it was removed within a few hours. The red 共 means Communist or Communist Party, while the green 真 is short for 真普選, real universal suffrage. Does the yellow umbrella even need explaining?

The one month program was held at Admiralty that night. It was just absolutely incredible to see how many people there were.

I also spotted a group of people having a birthday party and playing American party games (the guess-which-celebrity-you-are game, where you put a post-it on your forehead and have to guess the name written on it) underneath the Lennon Wall. They’d set out Japanese-style umbrellas in a semi-circle to separate the party area from the rest of the protests. It was a bit strange, to see how it was situated at the demonstrations but completely separated in terms of space, language, and culture.

Awkward crop, sorry - but I like my physical anonymity

Awkward crop, sorry – but I like my physical anonymity

Henry and I came across another birthday celebration on October 30 that was very different. There was a box of cupcakes set out in the open, with black icing and yellow fondant (I think, I’m not sure what it’s called) to decorate them with yellow ribbons and umbrellas. I went over to look at the cupcakes in appreciation, and a woman offered us both a cupcake, explaining that it was her birthday. I offered her one of the cookies from the bakery next door to my apartment – and it just happened to be the one saying “生日快樂” (Happy Birthday), in reference to how protesters will sing “Happy Birthday” to shut down an argument. That birthday celebration felt a lot more natural to the space of the protests… being part of the demonstration, rather than using the demonstration as a backdrop to something else.

October 29 – Day 32

At Admiralty, I saw a drumming circle on the overpass leading to Central – the first time I’d seen such a thing. I also saw a new projected image of a lion, which adds to the projection art that’s been around for a while. My sense is that these are signs of the new atmosphere settling in at the protests – instead of worrying about the police and reinforcing barricades, people now go out to share art.

  • This magical bit of protest-related art was advertised on Facebook today: A free Alexter story! So of course I had to sign up to get one. The girls who distributed the books the next few days were a very nice and enthusiastic group. Joshua Wong’s also got fans of his own, though no fanfiction as far as I know of. And speaking of Alex Chow and Lester Shum fans…
  • B1G4WaYCAAIft0kThe Umbrella Man from the iconic photograph used on the cover of Time Magazine stepped up to announce who he was. It’s rather interesting that this happened, whereas the Tank Man from Tiananmen has remained anonymous…
  • Someone also put yellow ribbons on the wax figures of Chinese leaders at Madame Tussauds.
  • This Bloomberg article, “How Smashed Jesus Shrine Reveals Christian Undercurrent to Hong Kong Protests,” offers interesting information that adds quite a bit to what I think is a really fascinating discussion about the place of religion in the protests, but it seems a bit too biased in framing Christianity as a persecuted faith in China… I think it would be wise to remember that it’s not just Christianity that struggles as a faith in China, but all organized religions. And to remember the importance of not just Christianity, but Hong Kong religious practice, here’s this Tweet of the Guan Yu shrine, updated with a fire extinguisher. But in the interest of interfaith cooperation, here’s Occupy Central’s Instagram account with pictures of Jesus and Guan Yu hanging out at the barricades together.
October 30 – Day 33

A group of social workers called the 社工復興運動 Reclaiming Social Work Movement had been printing silk-screen t-shirts at Admiralty the past few days for free – see the design here. This night was also the first night that I heard of t-shirts being printed at Mong Kok as well, though they may have been there earlier.

RTHK and other news channels also discussed the possibility of HKFS students going to Beijing during the APEC forum. But again, those were just discussions.

October 31 – Day 34

I attended a rather disappointing talk at HKU called Understanding the Umbrella Movement [full video here] – and though I hoped it would, indeed, help me understand the movement better in political, social, and cultural aspects, I felt that only two of the five panelists did much to enlighten me. It was a bit of a strange talk, because in the Q&A session, quite a few questions were simply asked and ignored. It might have been in the interest of time, since the moderator was very interested in keeping track of the next people to ask a question, but it was still strange that very important questions – such as the impact on women protesters, after the sexual violence and harassment at Mong Kok – went completely unaddressed.

The person I felt was very helpful was Mirana Szeto, professor of Comparative Literature (woo!), offering a cultural analysis of the protests and the protesters. They acted as overlapping nodes, she said, which made the demonstrations run smoothly; the protests were a form of participatory democracy in that people actively worked together to build new spaces and to reach consensus; and the demonstrations had domesticated public space and time.

This last bit was most interesting – she highlighted how Hong Kong is known as a “borrowed place living on borrowed time,” but the protesters had brought their everyday lives and habits into Hong Kong’s public spaces through the occupation, such that they made a claim on Hong Kong and its future in a way that past generations had not. The idea of public spaces transforming into domestic ones has also been discussed in Hong Kong, but in reference to domestic workers who occupy these public streets, sidewalks, and parks on weekends because they don’t have homes of their own in which to socialize. (Szeto didn’t mention the foreign domestic workers specifically, though.) Hong Kong studies professor Stephen Chu also added onto this, taking evident pride in the way the “Hong Kong Spidie” had transformed the meaning of the Lion Rock and reformed its rhetoric.

The strangeness of the talk, a friend of mine said, might have been due to an increasing sense of political oppression in Hong Kong. For the most part, the professors on the panel did not take strong political stances, and though sometimes they waffled around questions, other times they simply passed on answering them (as I mentioned earlier). Perhaps, my friend suggested, they were afraid to take a stance.

I went by Lan Kwai Fong, the tiny block of bars and clubs in Hong Kong, that night on my way home. I’ve never been much for Halloween, though I enjoyed seeing all the costumes! Unfortunately, no one was dressed as a Chinese zombie… LKF didn’t look like much fun, though, as a massive, tightly packed crowd was already filling up the sidewalks several blocks away from the square hub of LKF. The crowd was moving inch by inch, very slowly, so I was pretty gleeful as I zoomed away on the trolley, watching frolickers go by in their outfits.

  • New York Times reports on American photographer who’s been named by pro-Beijing press as an interventionist
  • The protest sites reimagined as individual protesters
  • This awesome song about the struggles of living in Hong Kong comes out – pretty catchy
  • A Kim Jong Un lookalike appears at the demonstrations!
  • Lion Rock banner copycats hang their banners elsewhere in Hong Kong’s mountains, only to be removed…

And – as a fun tidbit – here’s this:

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