Photo Gallery: Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” for Democracy
David Blechman was in Hong Kong during the first week of October while massive pro-democracy protests were taking place. While there, he and a colleague took original photos to document what they saw. Unlabelled photos were taken by his colleague, who requested that her identity not be revealed because she may receive retribution from her employer. This is his take on the situation.
While many students across the world were studying, attending classes, and more likely consuming large quantities of alcohol, the students of Hong Kong have peacefully besieged a city. They have undertaken the task of inherently forcing attention to a conversation to the precarious relationship between Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China, as well as underlying tensions and dissent within Hong Kong that has needed to be addressed for quite some time. A clash between political and economic interests has unfolded in China’s Special Administrative Region that will ideally provide some clarification in regards to the identity of Hong Kong and its ties to Beijing. This showdown will also have ramifications in terms of Beijing’s political prowess, as it sets a precedent for China’s relationship with Taiwan.
Although Beijing has held steadfast from engaging with the protestors in Hong Kong, the actions that they have taken are in line with the authoritarian stance of the Communist Party. Additional social media was blocked from entering Mainland China, including Instagram as well as any Wechat and Weibo posts coming from Hong Kong. So although, Beijing would prefer that the Hong Kong government deal with the protestors, it is obvious that there is still a fear of losing control, and that political reform is currently still not an option for Mainland China.
One of the largest queries of this unfolding of events is whether or not Hong Kong will become the sequel to Tiananmen and the June 4th movement of 1989. However, the China of today is far different than the China of the late 1980s. The decision of Deng Xiaoping to declare martial law stemmed from the fear that political instability would return China to the same conditions it had faced during the Cultural Revolution. China today, however, is a rapidly developing country with one of the largest economies in the world. Deng Xiaoping bought the last 25 years of China’s economic development with the blood of the protesting students.
Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, is one of the most divisive characters of these dramatis personae. The student protestors are calling for his resignation propagating the fact that he was elected with a marginal 689-vote victory (out of a committee made up of 1,200 people). In a comment made by Leung on June 6th, 1989 following the events of Tiananmen he stated, “We strongly condemn the Chinese Communist rulers for their bloody slaughter of the people.” However, since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, Leung’s tone has drastically changed. In a 2013 statement, Leung is quoted saying, “The SAR [Special Administrative Region] Government makes no comments on matters of June 4th.” Most recently, Leung has been slammed with allegations of financial impropriety after receiving what is reported as more than $6 million dollars from an exclusive non-compete deal with an Australian firm. Hong Kong is by far one of the most capitalist cities in the world; it is either ironic, or appropriate that it is under the dominion of the current manifestation of the Communist Party. What is most clear about Leung Chun-ying is his ambition to maintain his position at any cost.
The protest itself was relatively calm last week. Following intense standoffs with police firing tear gas, the students’ determination and organization paid off, as police discontinued the use of force against them. Each time police would approach them, the protestors would put their hands in the air to demonstrate their aversion to violence. Messages of support and protest decorated the walls of Central Hong Kong, including city buses covered in signs. A mural of multicolored post-it notes allowed people to leave messages, and a projector beamed messages of support from around the world onto the side of a building. The best views were to be found standing next to the media, watching from the building-to-building walkways above the street. Umbrellas were everywhere, as they had become a popular symbol of the movement: they were used by protestors to shield themselves from tear gas canisters, and many have dubbed the protest the “Umbrella Revolution.” Yellow ribbons were attached to railings and signposts as well as sported en-masse by Hong Kongers. At night, students listened to speeches by organizers and academics, and had discussions. They slept out for days in what are normally the busiest streets of the city, defying the elements, and yet maintained a positive disposition. Food and first aid stations were organized and clearly identifiable, with volunteers distributing supplies as well as organizing garbage pickup and recycling. From an outsider’s perspective, it was a youthful paradise, but there was a certain sincerity and solemnity to the spectacle.
While the most probable outcome of the protests in Hong Kong will be an eventual easing of tensions, the discussion is on the table but yet to be had. Beginning last week, anti-occupy protesters began showing up in the Mung Kok area of the city and confronting protesters. There were allegations made that the anti-occupy movement had connections to the mafia and the government; videos on the Internet show mostly middle-aged people countering the students. One video in particular has been spreading widely on mainland media, where a man begs students to end the protest because he has children to feed. (The video is in Cantonese, but it’s certainly possible to get a feel for the conflict.) Needless to say, the Communist Party has propagated this video as well as other emotional appeals. In the last week, the numbers of students have decreased from the barricaded areas, and most conflict between demonstrators, police, and counter-protestors has become minimal. The barricades still stand, but many are wondering whether they will hold.
Student leaders are set to hold meetings with government officials this week, and there is talk of the Hong Kong government trying to play with legal technicalities that might appeal to the students; however, the students are steadfast in their demands. It would not be improbable that the talks will fail, and the students could return back to the streets in numbers. Truly, the Hong Kong government is powerless in this situation, as their leadership, made up of the wealthy elite, has economic interests too closely tied to Beijing, which is just what Beijing wants.
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