Pin It
Hong Kong protests by Glenn Eugen Ellingsen
A police officer looks up as the man next to him yells "why are you not arresting the people who were beating up the students!?"Glenn Eugen Ellingsen

Has Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution run out of steam?

Pro-democracy protesters speak out as as violence threatens the future of the movement

Hong Kong has become a divided city: on one side stand the pro-democracy student protestors in black shirts and yellow ribbons who started the Occupy Hong Kong movement, now dubbed the Umbrella Revolution. On the other are the anti-occupy protestors: a ‘blue-ribbon’ mob made up of thugs, triads and older citizens.

Following Chief Executive CY Leung’s announcement that he would not step down from office earlier this week, the ‘blue-ribbon’ mob emerged and started a coordinated attack on student protestors at two of the densest commercial districts in Hong Kong – Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. They tore down supply tents, removed road barricades, shouted, cursed, beat students, sexually assaulted women and even injured members of the press.

Police officers nonchalantly stood by as the attacks took place. It took an hour before they removed the agitators and in the end, no arrests were made. It was night of utter indignation for students and their supporters, and it was one of the ugliest scenarios to ever occur Hong Kong’s political history. To say the least, confidence in law enforcement has been crippled and may never recover.

To compound the hurt and disappointment, many suspect that a faction of the ‘blue-ribbon’ mob are triad members and ordinary citizens paid by the mainland Chinese government to cause disruption.

An unverified Facebook thread even surfaced online, which allegedly shows how the payment system worked. Depending on the location of the attack, anti-occupy members would be paid HK$200 to HK$300 (approximately £16 to £24). If they were successful in getting rid of supply tents or "causing chaos", they would get an extra HK$500 to HK$1000. To make matters worse, police officers have been accused of colluding with the triads and were sending undercover policemen into the epicentre of Occupy Hong Kong to cause chaos. 

Their attempts proved in vain; students kept their calm and collectively shouted for "peace" each time they met inciters and provocations. But not all people that disagree with the Umbrella Revolution were radical or hysterical.

“It’s not that we don’t support democracy,” says 62-year old Ng Ka-ho as he stood on the sidelines of the Causeway Bay protest area. “We do, but this issue is much more complex than what any of us can fathom. Even if the students got what they want it would cause a country wide uprising. Tibet surely won’t stay silent. Then what? Anarchy? The country would fall into chaos after all the battles spent unifying it.”

49-year-old Pak Kit-Man agrees: “They need to let this go and let everyone move on with their livelihoods. The students have already won. Now, all they are doing is obstructing the freedoms of other people by barricading the streets. Business are suffering the Hong Kong stock market has been hit hard.”

A heated Mr Wong was shouting at the crowd of Causeway Bay protesters: “If you want democracy, immigrate to England! You think democracy is the answer? Look at Taiwan and Chan Shui-bian. People elected him and look how that turned out.”

These were the voices among many that blamed the Umbrella Revolution for traffic inconveniences, which impeded adults from going to work, kids from going to school, and important mainland tourists from spending their money during the Golden Week holiday. 

We dropped in to see what students had to say about these reactions and whether or not they were discouraged after the enraged outbreaks. “It’s utter bullshit that parents are saying that the blockades are stopping their kids from school," says 16-year-old Tinky Cho from Li Fook Hing Secondary School, who’s properly dressed in a school uniform at one the supply tents. "I live all the way out in Tin Shui Wai (a remote district) and come all the way to the island side for school. And these parents are also saying their kids are stuck at home them with nothing to do. That’s bullshit too. Who says you can’t study when you are home?”

30-year-old flight attendant Karne Li said: “At the end of the day, we are also benefiting the voices that are against this movement. When we see their violence, we are disappointed, but it also proves that what we are doing is right. What will really hurt our economy is if we don’t have freedom of speech."

"China is booming, there is no doubt about that. But even so, major corporations still have offices in Hong Kong. Why? Because we are an organized society that offers a wide range of freedoms. If we don’t have freedom, what good is a healthy economy? If you don’t have rules and protections, you can be rich one day but have it taken away the next.” 

As the Umbrella Revolution moves into its second week, some believe that the momentum of protests has petered out completely. The crowd numbers are receding and people are returning to their normal lives. Friday was meant to mark the start of negotiations between student leaders and government officials, though they have just been called off.

But even so, the often-stigmatised post 90s generation has proven they are more than just mindless wanderers. Intelligent, organised and forward-thinking, they embody a new creativity that has spun out of the movement, best embodied by the "Raise Your Umbrella" anthem (below) that has gripped the pro-democracy protesters. And if you need any more proof, you just need look to the Umbrella Man statue erected at one of the protest sites. It's a 12 foot high sculpture gripping – what else? – a yellow umbrella.