The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong is currently being dismantled at the three sites that saw the bulk of the action – the Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. The streets that saw the most significant uprising since Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 are being cleared and cleaned in preparation for the resumption of daily life.
After 150 years of British colonial rule it has manifestly been difficult for Western-oriented Hong Kongese to kowtow to the doctrines of communist rule. This former southern city-state, which was returned to the mainland 17 years ago, has had a dysfunctional relationship ever since.
The “one-country, two-system” agreement, which still allows them to live more or less as before, runs out in 2047. This is obviously causing concern among the youth who know that they and their children will have to face the rigidities of mainland government doctrines.
The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong gained its name from the seas of umbrella – wielding youth, who used them as shelter from the searing sun and torrential rain, as well as the pepper spray and tear gas that they were subjected to. Thus was born the name – the Umbrella Revolution and the fragile umbrella quickly became a poignant symbol of resistance.
The hundreds that started this revolution in September, quickly swelled to thousands, giving passionate voice to their demands and protesting against China’s tedious, top-heavy and lumbering actions towards so-called democratic reform. A key demand was public nominations for elected officials and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, long considered a puppet of Beijing.
The Umbrella Revolution was based on the fervor, ideals and determination of high school and college students. It garnered the interest, attention and sympathy of the world, and even the credibility of the 7.1 million strong population of Hong Kong.
The Umbrella Revolution of Hong Kong is described as a rhizomatic movement. The inventors of the rhizome theory, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say such a movement is as irresistible as a body of water spreading seamlessly and covering all available spaces, eroding everything its path. It resists traditional structure, grows fast and formless, through tenuous connections between individuals and groups. It has little leadership and does not yield to authority.
A rhizomatic movement is therefore not geared to negotiate with established power. This was highlighted at the televised debate on October 21 between protestors and government officials led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. That picture alone was worth a thousand words.
The two sides mostly talked at, rather than with, each other. Lam and her group were unsmiling, stiff, formally dressed, and unyielding. Alex Chow Yong-kang, secretary-general of the Federation of Students, his deputy Lester Shum, and other student leaders were dressed casually in black T-shirts. They argued clearly and concisely for their democratic ideals, rejecting the patently false offers of democratic reform from Beijing.
Although there is a general consensus that their arguments were sound, their talks went nowhere. Not surprisingly, they did not win agreement on any of their demands or achieve any of their goals.
The Umbrella Revolution lasted 10 weeks because prevailing wisdom prevented Beijing from succumbing to a crackdown similar to Tiananmen Square. Subsequent to the initial teargas blitz, which caused a public relations nightmare, they basically backed off, following a policy of retreat. They watched from the perimeters as counter protesters and masked men with gangland links grappled with the protesters. The citizenry watched the drama unfolding, and became convinced that the movement had lost its legs, and the students’ stance was unrealistic and unachievable.
In the end it was the retailers, taxi-drivers, office-goers, shoppers, and general public who, frustrated by the inconvenience, loss of business and interruption of daily life could tolerate it no longer. They brought court injunctions against the protesters. The role of the police was to follow those orders, and assist bailiffs and court officials in clearing out the occupied areas.
What the Umbrella Revolution gained though, was putting the government in a position where it has to be careful of its image. It is aware of the power of social media and its role in toppling governments as evidenced so many times over in the Arab spring. The Government of Hong Kong, as an engine of Beijing, and the police all got tarnished to an extent.
The Communist Party has not come out of it smelling of roses. Their hard-nosed doctrinaire philosophy has once again been exposed to the public eye, as have been the spurious forms of “democracy” practiced on the mainland.
David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain was touched with the backlash as well. Downing Street did nothing against the Chinese ban on allowing Members of Parliament to investigate the handling of the protests, and Cameron was criticized as being weak. Under the Joint Declaration, Britain is the guarantor for Hong Kong if China backtracks on its promise over democratization and autonomy. China has reneged, and Britain has done nothing.
Although the Umbrella Revolution is over, the sentiments and beliefs that caused it are not. Other forms of protests are commonplace, brief, rowdy mobile groups that protest and disperse.
The argument for democracy for Hong Kong is alive and well on social media platforms. Supporters have adopted yellow ribbons for Facebook profile pictures. Counter-protesters sport blue ribbons.
Belligerent groups such as “Civic Passion” are more overtly opposed to China, vowing “autonomy” and “deciding our own fate”. They confront authority and have gained more publicity through the Umbrella Revolution.
Above all, people are optimistic. Supporters lay their hopes on the future. Hong Kong has traditionally stood up to Beijing. Coming generations will continue this proud battle. Each new wave is more battle-hardened, steadfast and determined to take risks for the future.
The Umbrella Revolution of Hong Kong may be over. But lingering traces of the continuing conflict are echoed in countless signs, on boards, walls, and streets and on floating balloons. They spell out “We will be back.”
By Bina Joseph
Main Image by Hurtingbombz – Flickr License
Photo by Pasu Au Yeung – Flickr License