The eve and day of Admiralty’s clearance

Starting in early December (at least before December 5, when I first saw it), an artist at the east end of Connaught Road had created a massive piece of art called “Happy Gadfly” or “Spirit of the Gadfly” (the “Happy Gadfly” was a name posted in situ, while the “Spirit” is the name I’ve read online) in reference to Irish writer Ethel Lilian Voynich’s 1897 novel The Gadfly. Mainland China-born artist Miso Zo constructed huge flies from leftover materials at the protests: water bottles, tents, umbrella skins and metal frames, and more. The flies faced down a massive spray bottle reminiscent of the pepper spray that Hong Kong protesters had faced.

The Gadfly work was one of the most striking pieces of art at the protests, for its size and ingenuity of materials, but also – to me – for the fact that the artist didn’t want it to be saved after the clearance. As the New York Times described,

He said he wanted to see his fly installation dismantled and destroyed if the police move in to clear the camp, which could happen within days. That destruction would be its own art, with its own meaning.

Yet as the last days of the occupation came, the massive number of souvenirs reappearing at Admiralty left me with the impression of a desire to capture the memory of the protests, and to hold onto the feeling of community they’d experienced at Umbrella Square, before they were lost. It was as though the souvenir era was renewing itself with a last surge in memorabilia. Postcards, stickers, necklaces, bracelets – all were being given out to eager pro-democracy supporters who queued up, sometimes for hours.

20141209_191040Many people had chalked holiday messages on the ground or created Christmas trees bedecked in yellow ornaments and umbrellas. Others had posted signs all over Admiralty, promising, “We’ll be back.” Walking around the site on December 9, I noticed a huge number of people in business suits, a lot of non-ethnically Chinese visitors, as well as a large amount of people with cameras taking photos – like me – of everything. Underneath the taped words calling for “Justice for Ayotzinapa,” someone had added a peace symbol and the words “Ferguson” and “Palestine.”

20141209_180421The hunger strikers were camped near the smaller green stage near Civic Square. People were leaving messages of support for them.

There was also a sense of wanting to find a way to leave a message that the police and the bailiffs could not clear out easily – wanting to do something big, or something clever. Some of the largest yellow banners I’d seen the entire duration of the protests came out these last two nights, inviting passersby to write and draw on fabric stretching many, many feet down the highway. Some people had written huge slogans on the street in dark black, and others began to leave graffiti on walls and streets that had previously been left untouched (aside from tape).

20141209_202632Causeway Bay had a similar feeling, though not as strong. A much larger number of people than usual were visiting the area, walking around, taking photos, but as Causeway Bay had always been the smaller, less contentious protest space, more people were at Admiralty. For some reason, there was a poster on Texan independence – the text of my photo is too blurry, but at the end it pleads for Hong Kong people to consider the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. There was also a signed letter of support in English from an A. Lau, who could be the very famous Hong Kong native Andy Lau (of Infernal Affairs and House of Flying Daggers fame), or it could be any number of other A. Lau’s, of which Hong Kong has many (including the director of Infernal Affairs, Andrew Lau).

拆一個,起百個 Take down one, a hundred will rise

拆一個,起百個 Take down one, a hundred will rise – at the west end of Connaught Road, near Central

On December 10, the night before the clearance, Jeffrey messaged the EM group and asked for one last march through the protest site. However, only a handful of people showed up, reflecting (in my opinion) the stressful schedules of Hong Kong workers, the reintegration of most people back into their usual lives undisrupted by the street occupation, and the general loss of interest many Hong Kong people felt at the occupation lasting for so long with little governmental response.

20141210_190411It was surprisingly something of a festive mood at the site, as if people wanted to celebrate what they had been able to do in transforming the streets into a public, communal space. A group of students was singing across from the study area, and stayed there nearly the entire night. Near the Lennon Wall, outside of Civic Square, people were busily writing messages for the government on brightly colored pieces of paper, folding them into paper airplanes, and tossing them over the fence into the closed-off square.

Massive banners reading “We Will Be Back” were strung from a number of walkways, and the words were posted on flyers and papers all over the walls, barricades, desks, tents, and so on. Gorgeous new chalk art adorned the highway arching upwards toward Central, and a number of young students were still drawing. A young woman was also hand-making small teddy bear phone charms. Near the Gadfly installation, people were busy painting the concrete highway divider and the street with promises to return, while a pair of people in exercise clothes were doing some kind of acrobats or yoga on the other side of the highway.

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20141210_222536With the EM friends, we carried the posters down the street from one end of the site to the other. Unlike previous times that I’d joined their march, there was no shouting of “學生加油” or any other slogans, in order to respect the seriousness of the final night; and more practically, the streets were also jammed with boisterous people, so it was hard to walk with the banners in a straight line anyway and make a strong appearance. Nonetheless, there were still people who clapped and said their thanks or words of support. At the western end of the site, near Central, we stopped and put up the posters by the barricades to take a last photo of them.

The Main Stage that night celebrated the achievements the protesters had made, for instance applauding those who had been at the protests every day, but also reminded people that the struggle was not over. They would now move to a noncooperative campaign among everyday people, to pressure various sectors of the business/political power structure.

Student Front, the group that had been threatening to resist the clearance, announced that after discussions with the other student leaders, it had decided not to act after all. Another person speaking during the open stage period urged overseas Hong Kongers to give the movement support from abroad, calling for Chinese people all around the world to protest at their local Chinese embassy the first Saturday after the clearance.

The Telegraph also has a good piece on protesters’ feelings before the clearance, which I like for the many perspectives and interviews it includes.

Later, as I walked around the site with a friend (who’d just broken his glasses a few hours earlier), we talked about the division in the pro-democracy camp. He said he thought that Civic Passion members tend to heat things up with the police, urging protesters to charge, before running away themselves and leaving others on the front lines. And, he added, he thought the United States was probably behind them, supporting the group. I asked why the United States might have a motive to stir up trouble in Hong Kong, and he suggested having Hong Kong in a mess would be beneficial to the U.S.

I don’t know about that – it seems to me that one big reason not to anger China now is because of its important economic and political position – but certainly people like C.Y. Leung have accused the movement of being supported by foreign forces (though without offering solid evidence). Chen Zouer, the current chairman of the mainland-based Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, argued that an American organization “‘hidden’ in a local university” had given supplies to the protesters “worth at least HK$200 to HK$300 million.”

Leticia Lee, one of the leaders of the Blue Ribbon group who I’ve mentioned before, held a march in opposition to the shoppers on the night of December 10, shortly before Admiralty’s clearance. The article I linked to suggested that her march was illegal, noting that the police may have warned her because her group included more than 30 people, requiring police permission that she had not applied for.

20141211_085619Police vans lined the road leading toward the protest site on the morning of December 11. As I walked past the IFC towers in Central in the morning chill, I saw dozens of people stopped along the edge of the overpass to take photos of the vans below. I snapped my photo and hurried on to Admiralty, where I was due to meet with the friend with the broken glasses (he’d successfully applied glue for the time being).

The protest site was in a strange state. Some people were busy packing up, while others were still – quite visibly – continuing to sleep peacefully, as though nothing were happening. Leftover debris was scattered throughout the area. Some new works of defiance had been arranged overnight – a huge set of mats had been arranged along one side of the highway to spell out the words “We’ll be back,” while new graffiti had appeared on the streets. The Mockingjay symbol had also been spray painted liberally throughout the site.

The remains of at least three shared hotpot dinners the night before were still set on tables and mats where they’d been enjoyed the previous night. There were still a handful of people working at the study area, ensconced in the dark shade provided by the blue tents still set up overhead. A huge yellow banner had been strung from a lightpost near the center of the camp, reading, “人民誓必歸來 WE’LL BE BACK.” Tons of glitter had been spread throughout the streets, as students figured it was probably the most annoying thing to try to clean.

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20141211_091423A huge group was gathered underneath the highway, facing the PLA building. This was where the HKFS and Scholarism students had decided to hold their last stand, along with pro-democracy lawmakers and activists. They sat in a circle in the center of the crowd – which is why you can’t really see them in this photo – and they were surrounded by media, photographers, and supporters.

20141211_092601At about 9:25am, there was a sudden rush of excitement by the bamboo barricade at the west end of the protest site. The bailiffs, it seemed, were moving in, followed by a swarm of journalists. A row of police in blue shirts hung back several feet, watching. The barricade seemed to slow down their progress for a minute, as one or two people squeezed through a small gap to the left of the bamboo and metal web. Then a huge flood of them bypassed the barricade by climbing onto the adjacent planter, then jumping down back onto the street. We joined the crowd on the overpass above watching excitedly to see if the bailiffs would confront the protesters sitting on the ground, but they did not.

I noticed a middle-aged man in a suit walking slightly off to the side of the street, and watched as he opened a bottle of water, threw the cap on the ground, drew in a mouthful of water, and spat it out on the ground. He then put the bottle down on the street and continued walking, having expressed his own personal discontent with the protests (or with the water).

20141211_101020We walked down to the Lennon Wall to see what the situation was there. As we neared, we heard the sounds of drumming – and found two or three people drumming, one of them a young white woman and the other men. The beat they played was a tempered, almost hypnotic tempo, and the drummers did not seem particularly enthusiastic or engaged with their surroundings as they sat with their instruments.

Behind them, a team of volunteers was gathering up materials left over from the supply stations. A man was coordinating their efforts, calling for more people to join in, asking people to take bags of face masks, water bottles, mats, and other items home. “When we come back,” he shouted to the crowd in Cantonese, “you can bring them back here.”

The Lennon Wall itself had been stripped of the many post-it notes that had covered it for the past two months. The stickies had been carefully removed for archival the night before (along with numerous other works), and the only things left were a handful of new posters and the post-it promise, “We are dreamers.” The organic garden that had been growing so merrily across from the wall seemed bare now. As we walked back toward the Big Stage, a group of young people marched by carrying signs demanding free elections and reassuring the world that “清得了佔場,清不了人心” (You can clear out the occupation square, but you can’t clear out people’s hearts).

20141211_102836Near the Big Stage, there was a sudden roar of anger from the crowd amassed. A woman in a bright silver jacket, wearing white gloves, dark sunglasses, and a broad smile, had appeared on the highway divider holding aloft a large white sign. On one side it read, “泛民已完,有水即抽,有禍速卸” (the pan-democrats have already lost, woe to their loss), and on the other it read, “支持警察,嚴懲路霸,重判學氓” (support the police, severely punish the overlords of the road, give harsh legal punishments to the students/hoodlums).

Never before had I heard people so furious with anyone. All around me, people were taking photos of her, filming her, shouting expletives I’d never heard before at her – variations on the classic “屌你老母,” vile language about her genitals, and other words I was very happy not to know the exact meanings of. Some protesters had turned their backs on her to face the crowd, trying to ensure that no one tried to lunge at her; Eric the Artist was also there with his tiny megaphone. All throughout the tumult, she kept smiling. Finally other people convinced her to come down from the divider, and though she was followed by a stream of cameras, she made it into the MTR exit without further incident.

It was just after 10:30 by the time she was gone. The police would be putting the area under lockdown soon. My friend and I decided it was time for us to go as well.

離開是為了回來 We have left so that we may return

離開是為了回來 We have left so that we may return

I’ll briefly recap the rest of the clearance process through Tweets, since I wasn’t there myself:

Here is SCMP‘s wrap up report of the clearance, though the title (“turmoil”) is very much inappropriate. A total of 247 people were arrested, the whole thing took 7 hours, and only by 11pm was all traffic resumed on Harcourt Road. 909 people had their details taken. One of the 247 people arrested, one man, Mr. Wang, was from Beijing. He was quoted at the North Point police station saying, “香港繼續的話,終有一天內地也會有民主” (If Hong Kong continues, then finally, one day, the mainland will have democracy as well).

Hong Wrong, a blog run by freelance journalist Tom Grundy, also had a post on the workers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department who helped clean up the Admiralty site that night. These two photo essays, also from Hong Wrong, offer great images of the clearance. It shows a group of some 200 protesters who managed to sneak back into the area through Cotton Tree Drive shouting their support to the remaining activists.

Journalist and activist Rose Tang, one of the last students to leave Tiananmen Square in 1989, offered these words:

“Our beautiful Umbrella Square is now being trampled by an iron heel. The sky is turning dark. This, together with the blood-washed square at Tiananmen, two tragic romantic dreams will live in my heart forever. The seeds of the Umbrella Revolution have already been sown, and before long they will take root. Hong Kong, China, the Umbrella flower will open everywhere!”


Police complaints and support

A group of residents, including medical volunteers, called for a probe into police violence in Mong Kok and Admiralty on the week of November 30. According to SCMP, the group presented a letter with over 5,000 signatures to the police, demanding an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).

Meanwhile, Robert Chow and the Silent Majority had a rally to thank the police for their service at Wan Chai on December 3. Through November, close to HK$10 million was donated to support officers. SCMP reported that a special fund was set up in October and a public fundraising drive was held through early December, in order to support those officers “whose livelihoods were affected by the Occupy Central protests.” Funnily enough, “it is unclear how the cash will be spent, as relatively few officers have suffered directly as a result of the protests.” It’s a strong contrast to the public response to the 1967 riots, where police were supported by much of society through the establishment of a scholarship fund for police officers’ children.

On the other hand, the Hong Kong police were found to be less popular than the PLA in a poll shared on December 10, which is kinda funny – considering the PLA is a far stronger symbolic representation of the Chinese government! On December 8, Apple Daily reported that one of the white officers I’d highlighted in a previous post, West Kowloon Deputy District Commander Duncan McCosh, was promoted to Assistant Commissioner of Police. The article also proceeded to remind readers that on November 30, he allegedly beat two passersby in Mong Kok. But the police officially said that neither the protests, nor the negative publicity on the police, had hurt their recruitment efforts; they were holding their first recruitment day since the protests exploded that September 28, and they reported they had high expectations for the turnout.

A female police officer also published a letter on December 7, pleading for protesters to stop hurling insults and abuse at officers. In the letter, described in the English-language The Standard, she described her stress at work and her pain at finding out that her husband was a supporter of the movement. In response, another Umbrella supporter wrote his own responding letter on Facebook. I find his tone to be pretty harsh, though I appreciate his comment about helping her make a complaint to the Labour Department about her excessive working hours. Still, plenty of anti-Occupy folks have nasty language as well, such as this guy who likes to use gender-based language quite a bit.

I’m also interested in checking out the Hong Kong Police YouTube channel a bit more – it’s quite a polished channel. Here is a video from November 24 of a police officer who was working in the protests, feeling very humbled at being called a hero for having shared some water with a protester.

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