Umbrella Movement through the first week of November: Movement or Revolution?

November 1 – Day 35

Going down the stairs this morning, I heard the security guard at my apartment building listening to 一起雨傘, the anthem of the Umbrella Movement, on his radio. He’s a cool guy. Sometimes I give him stickers and things that I pick up at Admiralty.

November 2 – Day 36

I rewatched Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Carma Hinton documentary on the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. It’s a bit eerie to watch, and to see the similarities. I certainly don’t feel comfortable making direct comparisons, as much of the international media did when the Movement here began, but there are striking visual similarities. Most stunning, for me, was seeing how during the occupation of Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong actually sent money and tents up to Beijing to support the students. The tents that they set up were small and blue, set in lines – strongly reminiscent of the exact shape and color of many of the tents in Admiralty and Mong Kok.

From Reuters

I think what’s fascinating – and very important – is that while the students who protested then and now didn’t position themselves as revolutionaries. They didn’t and don’t say that they wanted to overthrow the Chinese or Hong Kong governments – they posed themselves as moral guides of the government, reminding them to uphold their promises and to work for the people. In Beijing, they emphasized their loyalty to the regime; in Hong Kong, the students might not like CY Leung or many of the legislators locally, but they’re trying to go to Beijing (today, November 15, in fact) to speak directly with Beijing lawmakers. It’s an echo of the way that, as Hinton’s documentary shows, people upset with local concerns would go directly to the seat of power – the emperor, the NPC, whatever – to present their grievances, which to me looks like a sign of respect, acknowledgement, and self-submission, rather than a sign of revolution.

And that makes me reflect on the role of the international media in protests in China. I remember someone going over the finer points of “革命” as something to do with getting rid of lies, but I didn’t quite understand this – so I’m sure I need to think more about the connotations of the words “revolution” and “革命.” Still, I was really disturbed to see clips of Western media in Hinton’s documentary, and the way reporters said how they had gone to China to report on the historic Sino-Soviet meeting and instead walked into a “revolution.” Henry said that according to the Tiananmen Papers, Beijing did rely on foreign news reports in their meetings to assess the situation on the ground. And so if foreign media called the movement a “revolution” when the student leaders themselves did not see themselves as revolutionaries, then I think the media did a serious disservice and framed the protests in a more radical light, which possibly put those demonstrators in danger.

In Admiralty

In Admiralty

In Hong Kong, it was a foreigner who coined the term “Umbrella Revolution” – an outsider’s term that tried to define the movement – and a debate has ensued in street discourse about whether this is a revolution or a movement. Using the word “revolution” implies challenging the government, rather than seeking to reform it – and that threat of “revolution,” I think, has led China and Hong Kong governments to make all those accusations of foreign intervention. I certainly knew that the media can be biased and make mistakes or inaccurately frame events, but I never quite appreciated that until now. This Tweet is what Slate says may have been the first instance of the term “Umbrella Revolution,” written by a New Yorker named Adam Cotton. Personally I don’t trust this, considering that the post date is September 27 (Hong Kong time), but the tear gas wasn’t used until the early evening of September 28.

  • Standing posterboards of Xi Jinping holding a yellow umbrella have popped up everywhere at the protests. Some folks don’t like that he’s become an unofficial mascot of the movement, but others do – it’s a funny kind of debate where some want to keep him at the movement and others want to remove him or destroy his images.
  • A map on Facebook of the occupied sites.
November 3 – Day 37

Hong Kong got rather cold and windy today – it’s been a sudden change from sweltering humidity, to a touch of dry heat, to chilly wind and grey skies. I’ve been pretty surprised at the weather, but it’s nice. It reminds me a lot of Los Angeles, to have only two seasons: summer and (short) winter.

Henry also sent me this video, which I think is possibly among the best music produced in the Movement thus far. It’s a remix of the words of an anti-Occupy protester who was seen with a knife cutting cords and ribbons holding together barricades. A reporter asked him why he had a knife with him, and he replied that he always carried a knife with him because he like to eat fruit, etc, etc (which in Cantonese, can be said colloquially as 乜乜乜 (“mut mut mut”)). Since then, 乜乜乜 has been a favorite phrase on posters to mock the enthusiastic anti-Occupy fruit-eaters.

  • A little egg and wall piece appeared near the bathrooms by the Lennon Wall at Admiralty, a reference to a Murakami quote.
  • Meeting minutes of public discussions at Occupy sites can be found at this Facebook page
  • A taped message saying, “Justice for Ayotzinapa” – referring to the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero, Mexico who went missing recently – appears in Admiralty
  • While reading at the study area in Admiralty, an older man dressed head-to-toe in yellow and pushing a cart full of yellow paraphernalia walked by, jabbing his finger at the students as he yelled, “Never! Never! Never! Never give up!”
  • Here’s a video with a partial recording of the student-government talks on October 21.
  • Someone compared the Umbrella Movement to the 1966 riots in Hong Kong (also known as the Star Ferry riots, in which youth protested the increased cost of ferry tickets) on the radio
  • Some photos of signs in Mong Kok
  • The Guan Yu temple is explained in this image
  • A children’s Q&A session with the police goes horribly wrong and horribly amusing
  • Zhou Fengsuo 周鋒鎖, one of the 21 most wanted student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests, arrived in Hong Kong and did this interview with SCMP
  • Pro-Occupy protesters create a petition mocking Robert Chow’s Alliance for Peace and Democracy and Silent Majority petition – where his groups calls for signatures to “Support our police,” the mock petition calls for signers both in person and online to “Support our ginger” (Ginger being a name they like to call Robert Chow, after CY Leung accidentally mispronounced his name and Chow said it was fine).
  • The anti-Occupy groups hold a rally at Chater Garden
November 4 – Day 38

I attended an English-language Hong Kong University Student Union event called the Umbrella Movement in Global Arena. It was moderated by Yvonne Leung, HKUSU president, with panelists Claudia Mo, a Civic Party legislator; Benson Wong, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University on government and international studies; and Nathan Law, one of the HKFS student leaders who was at the student-government talks. The talk was really focused not on Hong Kong’s movement in a geopolitical global sense, but in terms of international media’s approach to the movement. So a lot of this focused on the terms “revolution” versus “movement,” and the impact of the media on the movement’s shape and progress.

2014-11-04 12.48.24As I mentioned earlier, Law was very clear to point out that the demonstrations were not a revolution. Though some protesters have this demand, he said, overthrowing the regime is not their goal. Responding to a question about whether HKFS would go to Beijing, he and Leung said that they had not set a date yet. Law emphasized that by going to Beijing, they were not trying to dismantle the “One country, two systems” framework – rather, they wanted to reinforce it, and to show the people of Hong Kong that they respected that framework and the “political reality” of Hong Kong’s relationship to Beijing as a Special Administrative Region. We’re telling Beijing that it’s not revolution, but we want to solve problem by communicating with them, he explained. Leung added that Beijing’s NPCSC was the governing body that had hurt “One country, two systems” with the White Paper and their decision on Hong Kong’s political reform – again emphasizing that they wanted to act as a reminder of the government’s promises, not as a revolutionary force.

Claudia Mo was definitely the most charismatic speaker – and of the most interesting figures in the movement, generally, with a great sense of humor and fashion sense. She argued that this was “a mind revolution, a mental revolution” – and also criticized the international media for its interest in reporting something exciting. She mentioned an AP reporter who, when the student boycott and the early stages of the movement began, did not film the protests because they seemed too nonviolent; she also claimed that the Guardian was responsible for coining the term “Umbrella Revolution.”

She’s also very straightforward in her language. Asked whether the Umbrella Movement was a step toward Hong Kong independence, she said flat out that it was impossible to have an independent Hong Kong, noting that up to 80% of the water in Hong Kong came from China, and that eventually more than half of its electricity would as well. “Independent, how?” she asked.

Benson Wong added, interestingly, that rumors of Hong Kong independence might even be a conspiracy theory spread by Beijing in order to sow seeds and rumors of an independence movement – which would then give them a “legitimate” reason to suppress the demonstrations. (It might be impertinent to note that the individual who asked this question was a white/European exchange student, but it reminds me of the impact that foreign media and foreign interpretations have on the course of local events.) And Law added that not only was it practically impossible for Hong Kong to be independent, but it was also “theoretically” impossible as well because Hong Kong did not have centuries of unique culture and history that could give it the cultural identity – the nationalism, in other words – necessary for independence.

I was also very much struck by the personalities of the HKFS students. One person asked what they had learned from the student-government talks, and while Law said that he learned the importance of opening communication and being a calm and rational speaker, Leung was shocking humble. For such a clearly intelligent individual, who emerged from the talks as a widely-celebrated debate hero and a master of legal matters, she said that she learned that her knowledge on law and politics was insufficient, and she added that she also realized her insignificance! Having read lots on gender and how women tend to downplay their abilities in the workplace, I wonder if this is a related issue.


  • Henry spots people in Mong Kok taking self-defense lessons near the Guan Yu altar; OCLP offers a brief history of the smashed Jesus statue in the Chapel on the Street
  • Zhou Fengsuo offers another interview with the Washington Post
  • Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, testifies before the House of Commons on “The UK’s relations with Hong Kong: 30 years after the Joint Declaration” – read the text of his statement here
  • Cab and bus drivers are known to be among the most strongly anti-Occupy groups in Hong Kong, and this Wall Street Journal video offers some interviews with taxi drivers who aren’t so anti-Occupy
November 5 – Day 39

This evening was an event on the relationship between the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement, held in Mandarin at HKU. Zhou Fengsuo attended the event as well. I was pretty impressed that I understood what the speaker, Chang Tieh-chih, was saying, especially with his ridiculously fast Taiwanese accent – but then I realized that I would understand certain words and phrases, but strung together, I couldn’t quite put together the whole of his meaning. It’s strange – though it’s easier for me to recognize Mandarin words, I find my comprehension of Cantonese to be much stronger. I wonder if this has to do with me having grown up with Cantonese, making it an easier language for me to follow/feel…

So the result of this was that I didn’t get too much of the talk, but Chang drew some comparisons between Taiwan and Hong Kong in terms of their Lion Rock narratives of history and individual success (think of the American Dream narrative and its emphasis on hard work and self-reliance).

That night I went down to Admiralty. It was November 5 – Guy Fawkes night, made famous by Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and the quote “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” People were handing out Guy Fawkes masks, and at one point, a group of maybe 100 protesters, all wearing masks, marched through Tamar Park and down to Lung Wo Tunnel, the site of the standoff on the night of October 14. They stopped just at the crosswalk facing the PLA building, where the police were observing the protests.

2014-11-05 23.16.23Watching from the park above the tunnel, I couldn’t tell what they were doing there – if they wanted to cross the road, or if they wanted to re-occupy the tunnel, or what. A large group of perhaps 20-30 police crossed the street first to meet them and blocked off one lane, instantly creating a huge traffic jam. The police and protesters faced each other for a long while. In the meantime, someone watching the proceedings from the park had brought their pet ferret, who bounded about the grass, joyfully sniffing people’s feet. Ultimately nothing happened, and the masked protesters left. I was pretty glad. It seemed pointless to cause a confrontation.

Unfortunately, Mong Kok was a different situation. It was marches at first, but there were clashes later that night. Though the exact sequence of events leading up to it is unclear, I’d bet that if it wasn’t November 5 – if people had not called for a Million Man March and donned masks in a subversive gesture – then there would not have been a confrontation. Here’s a video from that night, where you can see the protesters geared up with construction hats and umbrellas for protection. At around the 3:40 mark, the police arrested someone and tents are pulled down; around 10:10 is another confrontation in which a cop pulls out his baton.

China Uncensored was also there that night to cover the situation in Mong Kok – you can see them at 8:30 in the bottom right corner of the video above. They’d been in Hong Kong the last few days. I might have mentioned this mock-“Daily Show” online show, which I’m not exactly a big fan of. I don’t think the show is very funny, first of all, which is perhaps a shallow comment; I also think the inability (or refusal) of the presenter to pronounce Chinese names accurately reflects the staunchly foreign interpretation they have of events in China. Certainly I think their coverage is relevant and important, but I’m still personally not a big fan.

  • Referencing the arrest of an individual who posted messages on a popular online forum called HKGolden calling for occupations, and the arrest of another individual who posted the personal information of a police officer and his relatives, Hong Kong police issue a statement emphasizing that

According to section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200) (i.e. access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent), any person who obtains access to a computer with any of the following intention or purpose:

(a) with intent to commit an offence;
(b) with a dishonest intent to deceive;
(c) with a view to dishonest gain for himself or another; or
(d) with a dishonest intent to cause loss to another,

whether on the same occasion as he obtains such access or on any future occasion, commits an offence.

  • The Standard reported that members of Parliament will be going to Hong Kong “by the end of the year,” despite being warned off by China – in my opinion, this trip isn’t going to do much. Most people here have practically no faith in the British government, feeling very much abandoned by their former colonial master. One of my Nepalese buddies explained this very bitterly, saying that the British had already abandoned the Gurkhas and their families in Hong Kong, only giving them the right of abode in Britain after a woman campaigned for their rights; he wasn’t surprised that Britain would abandon Hong Kong, either.
  • A graphic of various superheroes of gods “attending” the demonstrations
  • Various politicians, figures, heroes, etc also rendered as yellow umbrella-wielding icons
November 6 – Day 40

Blogger Roydon Ng published this piece on The Typewriter, offering a good, very fact-heavy outline of the Hong Kong protests. He’s also been keeping an awesome blog with day-to-day updates that’s been much more regularly maintained than this blog!

This SCMP article about Hong Kong people’s attempts to get housing offers a really great perspective on how dire the situation is, and how strong the social problems in Hong Kong are.

November 7 – Day 41

CY Leung. Cunt of the year. Your voice. Gotta ignore it!

CY Leung. Cunt of the year. Your voice. Gotta ignore it!

I heard about a talk at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Shek Mun campus titled “鏗鏘女聲:反思佔領運動中的女生參與和成長” (“Resounding Female Voices: Rethinking Women’s Participation and Growth in the Occupy Movement”). I ran out there – such a long trip by MTR! – and found the talk a little less inspiring than I’d hoped. It seemed to be very much like a class rather than a panel discussion, with speakers offering more questions than analyses. This rather frustrated me. I’d been hoping, for instance, that speakers might talk about the misogynistic language and images in some of the protest posters, which I’ve mentioned before – one of them did bring these images up, but only at the end of her talk, and only to ask students what they thought of the images (no one offered an answer).

What was really valuable was the emphasis on sharing stories – it was very interesting to hear students and speakers offer their stories about gendered experiences in the demonstration. One of the speakers mentioned a friend who hypothesized that the peaceful nature of the Hong Kong protests was due to the participation of women (though I have my doubts about this, considering the participation of women in the Egyptian Tahrir Square occupation and the numerous horrifying and brutal assaults they endured). Others talked about the kind of treatment and roles they were given in the protest, such as having certain tasks, or being treated in a certain way. Some women mentioned how during police clashes, many men would act as their defenders, and that although they appreciated their concern, they also felt slightly affronted that they were given this treatment because of their gender.

Another woman told a story about a 75-year-old woman whose children would not let her join the demonstrations. They locked her in her room so she could not get out, but she figured out how to free herself and went straight to the MTR to join the protests – where she ran into her daughter on the train platform, but went on to join the demonstrations anyway.

Afterwards, I went down to Admiralty to hear Fermi (from Unison) talk about ethnic minority women in the protests. She emphasized that they encountered unique struggles in their participation, due to their cultural, familial, and religious situations. She mentioned Ansah, for instance, and how the way she dressed, her role, and the risks she faced all had a different kind of community scrutiny that other women protesters might not face.

  • Here’s a video on the “Umbrella Movement Through the Eyes of Foreigners” from RTHK
  • Human Rights in China (HRIC) calls for essays and other submissions from Hong Kong people to create a “Hong Kong: Voices of the People” special section. They’ve also got this video on “How Has the Occupy Movement Changed You?”
  • Civil Human Rights Front, the organization that puts together the yearly July 1 rally, calls for a march on Sunday
  • Coconuts Hong Kong writes on “How does Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement compare to other global uprisings?”
November 8 – Day 42

1779787_741185445960649_270241733481835376_nZhou Fengsuo spoke at Admiralty, but I wasn’t able to go. The Hong Kong Pride Parade was also today, so I also missed that! In total, some 8,900 people participated, including Alexter.

That night, there was a sudden blockage of protesters at the bridge leading to Tamar Park. A group of demonstrators, upset that the government still had not given them a real response, took it upon themselves to block the overpass. Riot police gathered, but luckily nothing happened. This later became known as the “Big Stage Incident,” reflecting divisions among the protesters and dissatisfaction with the HKFS leaders.

  • Twitter account Global Soldarity HK reported, “Just got word that overseas Chinese embassies are now fishing for names of organizers of last mth’s rallies around the world” – I have no idea how true this is, but it’s pretty unnerving.

3 thoughts on “Umbrella Movement through the first week of November: Movement or Revolution?

  1. Hello. I was interested to read your analysis. I am Adam Cotton, the one who coined the term you object to on Twitter. The write up on wikipedia is correct. I posted that moments after seeing the first use of pepper spray on students and their use of Umbrellas to repel it. I was watching it unfold in tweets from reporters there. This was Sept. 27. Not sure if the time difference accounts for your confusion. IIRC it wasn’t tear gas in question, it was pepper spray.

    As for the substance of your objection to the term, I have no regrets whatsoever. Two years later, Hong Kong is still in chains, and will be indefinitely. No amount of passive, polite protestations were ever going to get political autonomy from Beijing — the notion is too simple, sometimes naive — and people are now starting to understand that. The term flowed naturally from the imagery and in retrospect I think echoes the peaceful. Velvet Revolution of Czech Republic/Slovakia. But the idea that one should not anger the dragon, and instead seek to mollify and placate it, is at the very crux of Hong Kong’s absurd psychological complex vis-a-vis China.

    Moreover, I find your objection to the “foreign” nature of my tweet rather churlish (and a common complaint) considering that Hong Kong is supposed to be a cosmopolitan city. HK will have a hard time pressing its case and an international city *and* a nationalist cause. It’s more a matter of pettiness and small-minded parochial ownership of the turf of this political cause.

    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your comment. The time differences may have caused some confusion, but it’s always hard to identify origin points with something as broad-based a movement like this. My doubts weren’t about whether Hong Kong should have the anger and strong reaction to the injustice they have faced – it is more a question about pragmatism. Is it pragmatic to call for a revolution if it alienates other would-be supporters? The word is a tricky one and has frequently resulted in movements facing harsh crackdowns and demonization. This is a question that I think all movements for justice face, and I still haven’t found my answer to it yet.

      I think you’re right that Hong Kong will face a hard time juggling its identities both as cosmopolitan and nationalist, and in part, this is why I think the violence and intense nationalism that caused serious divisions among Hong Kongers are worth re-evaluating. Finally, if Hong Kong is such a cosmopolitan city, yet its residents still face inequalities of mobility – some people will not be able to leave, others have passports that allow them to leave – then to what extent should their politics be defined by those who have the privilege of leaving?


      • Appreciate your response. I agree with all of your points, and you’re right that native HK’ers are invested in this. I think that the objection to the term “umbrella revolution” goes straight to the heart of the Hong Kong peoples’ conflict with China (if I understand them correctly, and it seems like a simple and universal objection to me): it’s about human freedom, freedom of speech. And for China to freak and clamp down because of words used in Hong Kong is exactly what the problem is about. Freedom of speech is a basic right that is deeply part of Hong Kong culture, going all the way back.

        I can only speak for myself, but my use of the term is entirely innocent; it seemed to express the iconic new appearance of those umbrellas, which in turn expressed the resourcefulness and superb peaceful organization of the students, and it echoes earlier “The ___ Revolution” terms, and the way “The Arab Spring” echoed “The Prague Spring” etc. I’m not agitating for violent revolution and neither is anyone else I know of. But the way that Hong Kong activists have self-censored their speech to avoid the consequences sure to come from Beijing… that’s the whole problem with Hong Kong right now, isn’t it? Even you and I know our comments on this page are being filed by Chinese intelligence. To me the whole issue about the term “umbrella revolution” is the nature of the objection to it. I’ve yet to see a molotov cocktail fly in HK so I don’t know what violence you’re referring to.

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