The Umbrella Movement turns

The occupation zone at Mong Kok is gone, though resistance to the clearance certainly isn’t. The student leaders launched an attempt to escalate the protests by shutting down the government offices in Admiralty on Sunday night, only to be beaten back by the police. Despite students’ attempts to strengthen their position and to force the Hong Kong government to respond to their demands, the actions of the court and the police to slowly chip away at the protests continue. Reviewing the past few weeks has helped me see the progression of the struggle and the development of a new turn toward confrontation among some “protesters” (I put this in quotations because of the debate over who those “protesters” are) and a new level of violence and force used by the police. Here goes, starting from…

November 17

The Hong Kong-Shanghai stock connect on the morning of November 17 took place without much incident – perhaps because all journalists’ umbrellas were confiscated – except there were some grumblings on the Hong Kong side that this city was on the losing side of the connect, with less investment in Hong Kong than in Shanghai. But isn’t that so much of what is driving the discontent in Hong Kong – the mainland’s economic rise, while Hong Kong watches? It brings to mind the term nouveau riche. (Though there is this interesting article stating that recently, local buyers have been driving up housing prices, not mainlanders as often said.)

SCMP reported that the protests would be cleared out on that week, and the Hong Kong government published a press release confirming a small clearance procedure to occur on the 18th in Admiralty. These came just as a Chinese University poll found that some 67% of 1030 people surveyed wanted the demonstrations to end. Another survey by Hong Kong University surveyed 513 people and found that about 83% of those respondents also wanted the demonstrations to end. I’m not exactly a statistician, but I find these numbers very, very small (especially the survey based on 513 people, which the Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong has highlighted) compared to the total 7.2 million residents of Hong Kong.

In preparation of the clearance in Admiralty, protesters near CITIC Tower began removing tents and personal possessions. Bailiffs and police were on hand to help monitor and support the staff of CITIC Tower as they removed metal and plastic barricades from the streets blocking entrance to the car park underneath the Tower. (Here’s an image of a spokesperson explaining the order in which the barricades would be removed. Journalist Tom Grundy also found that CITIC group, the company that owns CITIC Tower, is a state-owned enterprise.)

Joshua Wong and several other demonstrators slowed the operation by refusing to let all the barricades in that area be removed, arguing that the injunction ordering the clearance only specified those objects obstructing the road, and that therefore those barricades and other objects on the sidewalks and roundabout (such as the Umbrella Tree) were off-limits. They won this compromise, and the rest of the demonstration area was left untouched.

Nonetheless, the pressure of an impending clearance led to many clamors for an “upgrading” or escalation (升級) of the protests. An estimated 3,000 police, which SCMP noted was “more than a tenth of the 28,000-strong police force,” were reported to be preparing for the clearance of Mong Kok. And so that night, at about 1 in the morning, a group of protesters seized the initiative and, using metal barricades as a battering ram, attempted to break into the Legislative Council.

They weren’t able to actually get in – a number of fellow pro-democracy individuals attempted to stop them from committing an act contrary to the movement’s principles of nonviolence, such as the famous Long Hair and the Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, and police armed with pepper spray pushed them back (here’s a video of the moment when police arrived). Still, they were able to shatter two glass doors.

The next day, Occupy Central’s three founders and other pan-democratic politicians denounced the violence. The students also criticized the action though they were less strong in their responses, with the Hong Kong Federation of Students saying that its members had not been a part of the action and that protesters had been “misled.” Joshua Wong said that the violence would negatively affect other demonstrators, and called for better communication and consensus among protesters before taking radical action while condemning those who had instigated the action for “在事後逃去無蹤” (fleeing without a trace after the incident) without taking responsibility for what they had done. Scholarism posted a statement on its Facebook page, as did HKFS (loose English translation here). The general feeling was that those people involved in the smashing of the Legislative Council doors were of a different, more radical group than the rest of the protesters – more radical than even People Power or Civic Passion – and that perhaps they were even total outsiders or triads, paid by other forces to create a violent scene to spark more anger against the movement. There were also spats between the two groups over who had responsibility for the action.

What did HKFS mean by saying that the protesters had been “misled”? Apparently there had been a rumor going around on the online forum that a bill on online copyright issues would be discussed in the Legislative Council the next day. As SCMP explained it, the bill was “labelled by some as the online version of the Article 23 antisubversion law,” which made it even more explosive, associated with memories of the massive protests against the anti-sedition proposal Article 23 on July 1, 2003. But there was no such discussion happening until the following month.

Still, the new tone of the protests had been set. This was the most drastic act of violence and aggression put forth by the demonstrators themselves – a distinct break from the pledge for nonviolence, no matter how much the leaders tried to condemn it. It also marked a serious division between the protesters themselves. People began to criticize the leaders’ operation and what they argued was their monopoly over the movement and the Big Stage, the makeshift stage built in the center of Admiralty and fenced off by barricades. Already there had been problems with the Big Stage, as I’ve discussed before, and this was another strike against it.

Badcanto explained the five points of discontent: “1. bar dissidents from going up on the stage 2. closely follow out-spoken dissidents 3. Take down netizens’ talkin stage in Admiralty 4. Reveal identities of protesters who broke into LECGO.” Many were furious that the pan-democratic leaders and politicians had pointed out those involved in the protests, leading to their arrests; the arrest of the Editor in Chief of Local Press 本土新聞, for instance, was strongly decried. An SCMP article on an informal survey done by student protesters and volunteers suggested the results of the survey reflected the divide. Half of those questioned said they would end the demonstrations if the leaders asked them, while others would not.

IMG-20141121-WA0000IMG-20141121-WA0001On the 21st, messages and images appeared online urging people to gather at the Big Stage at 7pm at Admiralty to take it down (拆大台). The one on the left reads, “結束一台專政” (End the dictatorship), and the one on the right reads similarly and calls for people to exercise their right to be heard. A number of protesters were angry at the pan-democratic leadership’s condemnation of the storming of the Legislative Council, arguing they had not ever been “misled” but instead were fully aware and in support of the action.

That same afternoon at 4pm was the time that a group of protesters had marked for the occupation of the British Consulate. These folks had set up signs in Admiralty and Mong Kok for a while, and their argument was that the British government still had a responsibility to Hong Kong to make sure that China upheld the agreements they’d made in the 1980s. Indeed, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, had made a statement before the U.S. Congress supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy struggle. (He noted in his speech that “clearly, Xi Jinping is a much more imperial leader.”) I went up to see how the “Fourth Occupation Zone” was going.

2014-11-21 16.14.02It was a small crowd of perhaps thirty people, with about as many journalists and onlookers. I wasn’t quite sure why, but there was a banner reading “Occupy Zone” in English, Chinese, and Korean. This made me wonder if Koreans living in Hong Kong were significantly involved in the protests, or if there were attempts at coalition-building with South Korean farmers who had been famous for their role in the 2005 anti-WTO protests, which was the last time that tear gas was used in the city. (This tweet notes a man in South Korea on a tour, hearing his tour guide say Koreans were supporting Hong Kong.) Several of the protesters included white folks, and when I asked, two said they had lived in Hong Kong a number of years, and two others said they were visiting the city. A number of people raised yellow umbrellas and small signs written in both English and Chinese. The Hong Kong colonial flag was raised again.

People on megaphones were also giving speeches in English and Chinese. One woman said something I found particularly strange; I couldn’t understand it in part because I was too far to hear clearly, because my Cantonese isn’t good enough and her English isn’t good enough, and because the language seemed bizarre. She said, and I paraphrase, I am calling for Queen Elizabeth to help save my “kidnapped daughter,” who has been kidnapped and controlled for three years in Australia. She mentioned something about her daughter having a BNO passport, which is the British National Overseas document. It doesn’t actually give the right of abode to anyone anywhere, but serves as a travel document (though it’s not recognized by mainland China, which doesn’t allow for dual nationality) and marks the holder as a British national (but not as a British citizen).

2014-11-21 16.48.44Perhaps the most exciting part of the protest were the taxi drivers passing by who would honk in support, or who would roll down their windows and shout at the demonstrators. One fellow was audacious enough to drive by and shout once, then to turn around and pass them again. When the protesters saw the car re-approaching, they yelled, “It’s him!” and broke into loud shouts. A policeman walked up to the driver’s window, and I suppose he asked him to leave the scene. For the remainder of the time that I watched, he didn’t return.

2014-11-21 20.27.51That evening I returned to Admiralty. At 7pm, a crowd of journalists had gathered around the main stage to wait for the online dissidents to appear – but nothing happened. I was near the study area when, shortly before 8pm, I heard a huge commotion by the MTR entrance, and, turning, I saw a mass of people moving quickly toward the main stage, carrying step-ladders over the divider in the middle of the road. Perhaps a hundred people surrounded the stage. I stood on the divider to try and get a view of what was happening, before going to the overhead walkway to watch. You can see in the photo the huge mass of dissidents thickly surrounding the main stage, which is set up at the bottom right corner; to the upper left are onlookers, many of whom were supporters of the main stage.

The dissidents apparently tried to demand access to the stage, but the people in charge of it refused. It was the scheduled time for people who had registered and waited to speak freely on the stage, the more regular period during which anyone could go up to give speeches; those in charge of the stage were adamant about respecting this hour. But as people stood on stage and spoke, the dissident group set up their step-ladders as smaller stages, opened their posters and banners, held up their signs, and began making their own speeches and shouts. Often those speaking on the main stage plead for unity in the face of internal division. One person called for occupiers in Admiralty to join him in the “Fourth Occupation Zone” at the British Consulate. Another person, more confrontational, directly criticized the dissidents and a shouting match between them broke out.

2014-11-21 20.39.35Yet it was clear that the dissidents did not, after all, want to take down the main stage. What they chanted for instead was for the stewards who had turned in the names of protesters to the police to be stripped of their positions, naming specifically Alex Kwok, the very man who’d been arrested several days prior for defending Jimmy Lai. They said he’d been responsible for the arrests of fellow protesters, and that he’d written off those people as “not students” and claimed they were just stirring up trouble. They wanted more equality in the movement, rather than for some to be ordained as leaders or enforcers.

Several times student leaders, including Lester Shum, went onstage and promised they would go down and speak to the dissenters; the Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-Yan also went on stage to loud boos, but he promised to go down and speak with the people as well. (Here’s a great video of what the atmosphere was like, with shouting from both sides.) From what I could tell, it was Lee who spent more time down in the crowd debating with various dissenters – he’s in the middle of the media flashlight in the bottom left corner of the above photo, with the second bright light just above it shining on a large banner. I spotted the guy who’d been holding the colonial flag at the British Consulate that afternoon standing near the banner, but other people were speaking on a megaphone there. The students went in a group into the crowd, but did not stay long; shortly afterwards I saw them in a huddle within the fenced-off perimeter of the main stage.

The following day, Chan Shu Fai 陳樹暉, the former Secretary-General of HKFS and now the Deputy Convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, published a response to the previous night’s events. He explained several of the misconceptions about what marshals/stewards were doing, and emphasized that the problem was really about trust among the protesters. A few days later, the New York Times put out an article on divisions between the protest groups.

In all the commotion, Causeway Bay’s occupation area has seemed to be completely left out, and people there recognize it in good humor.

Two days later, recognizing the need for more dialogue and communication, the Occupy Central founders held a “community dialogue day,” and student groups like Scholarism set up tables at five stations around the city to speak with people about the demonstrations.

Leticia Lee, an anti-Occupy organizer, also appeared in Mong Kok that night – she’s been well-known for several years as a supporter of the National Education bill that was shelved in 2012, though her English-language Wikipedia page seems to be written by local Hong Kong people who don’t like her (I’m saying this based on the strong negative coverage, as well as the occasional grammatical slip). Her name only recently began appearing openly in protest signs and posters, though SCMP reports she and several other “anti-democracy” leaders have been taking radical actions for a while. She’s also been known to be against LGBTQ rights, and is quoted as having said in October 2012, “We are always Chinese. Our root is always China” – a very contentious claim for the many people here who claim they are “Hong Kongers” first.

It is interesting, though, to think about the gender dynamics of leaders on the pro- and anti-Occupy sides: it seems that more women get highlighted as leaders in the anti-Occupy campaigns, whereas fewer women are leaders in the pro-Occupy camp. I don’t quite know what to make of this, but a number of the strongly “anti-locust” activists who protest against mainland visitors in Hong Kong are men, and as we’ve seen, there is some very misogynistic language used in posters against CY Leung and other government officials. Is it an issue of gendered framing and targeting (although there is evidence that women are stepping up and breaking gender conventions)? Or, considering the way Leticia Lee frames herself as a parent, is it an issue of generational difference?

On November 24, the “Fourth Occupation Zone” at the British Consulate was cleared. It was generally quiet, though some people were forcibly removed. The Occupy Central leaders also made a plan to turn themselves in to the police on December 5, in keeping with their original plan to occupy the Central district before turning themselves in to be arrested for civil disobedience. However, the student leaders did not agree with this plan and instead determined to stay at the demonstrations until they were arrested. It’s a difference in approach to the strategies of civil disobedience, I think.

I’m going to continue this update in a bit – what happened next was the clearance of Mong Kok, which intersected with the release of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson not to indict Darren Wilson and the outbreak of rioting and protests throughout the United States.

  • October 10 – Bloomberg reports that indeed, the triads’ businesses have been affected by the protests. A bit of an old article, but it’s rather funny and interesting to see how multiple networks of economic competition are working across the south China region.
  • November 12 – The Telegraph has this great feature on the elderly protesters in the demonstration camps
  • November 14 – The Economist published an article on foreign domestic workers, “The Other Occupy Central,” quite relevant and important. Though I would note that its claim that foreign domestic workers are called “amahs” here to be incorrect; from my experience, most people will call them 姐姐 jiejie (older sister).
  • November 16 – Joshua Wong took a selfie with a pro-Beijing supporter in Mong Kok who was criticizing him. He’s got a good sense of humor.
  • November 16 – This photo taken in Mong Kok purports to be of anti-Occupy folks. It’s a striking photo. I’m not quite sure why.
  • November 16 – This video shows a group of pro-Beijing supporters at Admiralty as they play revolutionary songs. I’m pretty heartened to see how the pro-Occupy protesters formed a ring around the anti-Occupy group to prevent anyone from sparking a confrontation. Good job, guys!
  • November 17 – SCMP did a great feature on how the protests reflect generational gaps and family conflicts.
  • November 17 – A video shared today on Facebook shows a group of Pakistani men protesting against American drone strikes in Pakistan marched to the U.S. embassy (though I’m not sure what day this march occurred).
  • November 17 – An article published by Mingpao and translated here questions whether the CCP has been funding anti-Occupy groups through connections such as the 世界華人華僑和平促進會 (World Peace Promotion Association).
  • November 18 – A Twitter account using the logo of the anti-Occupy Silent Majority group has been posting things the past few weeks, sometimes large quantities of porn, sometimes pro-democracy messages. Today it winked at the Internet at large, giving a nod to its true origins in the online forum HKGolden.
  • November 18 – A Facebook page was found purporting to be for and by students who “愛國愛港” (love the country and love Hong Kong), but with an age group distinctly out of the typically student age range.
  • November 18 – The son of Reverend Chu Yiu-Ming, one of the Occupy Central co-founders, spoke to SCMP about the movement. Benny Tai’s daughter also released a letter a few days ago.
  • November 18 – The Legislative Council also considered a proposal to erect fences, similar to those surrounding Civic Square, around the LegCo offices.
  • November 20 – Non-permanent judge Syed Kemal Shah Bokhary urged protesters and the government to engage in a “real conversation”
  • November 20 – An HKTV drama called “The Election” seems all too relevant to the current situation
  • November 20 – Numerous articles are reporting on the cyber attacks occurring in Hong Kong, emphasizing that this is the “largest cyber attack in history” with – though Forbes notes that it’s not safe to assume they are all originating from the CCP or even from mainland China.
  • November 20 – I wish I could find copies of these mangas with images and stories about the protests
  • November 21 – This piece of art, set up like a museum exhibition, was put in front of the Lennon Wall. I took photos of each item, but haven’t quite had a chance to go through them…
  • November 22 – For an introduction to Cantonese curse words, and to see the bravery of pro-Beijing folks, check out this video of a man holding a PRC flag in Admiralty
  • November 24 – The first locally-trained South Asian ethnic minority social workers receive their certifications
  • The New York Times has a great post on “A Cinematic Context for Hong Kong’s Turmoil.”
  • CY Leung apparently has a blog (all in Chinese).
  • Benny Tai gave this talk on September 26 on “Will Hong Kong Ever Have Genuine Democracy?” – how much has changed in Hong Kong since!
  • A cartoon calendar of events in the first month of the protests
  • An interesting comment: On February 17, 1972, the SCMP reported the spokesperson of HKFS saying, “To be Hong Kong-born Chinese and not just Chinese poses an embarrassment to us, and a problem to be solved” (Stephan Ortmann, “Hong Kong: Problems of Identity and Independence,” in Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest and Powerlessness, eds. Meredith L. Weiss and Edward Aspinall (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012),
  • Here’s a great article on the use of language in the protests, published on October 28

A small handful of stories on Occupy and mainland Chinese:

  • Oct 1, NPR: “Hong Kong Protests Offer A Revelation To Mainland Chinese” [link]
  • Oct 1, NYTimes: “Mainland Chinese Tourists Get a Glimpse of Rebellion” [link]
  • Oct 3, SCMP: “Mainland Chinese youths launch Facebook campaign to support Hong Kong protesters” [link]
  • Oct 9, NYTimes: “Support for Protesters Is Hard to Find on the Streets of Beijing” [link]
  • Nov 3, Quartz, “The uglier side of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement pits Chinese against Chinese” [link]

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