What The Revolution Wrought: The Umbrella Movement Two Years On

By Joy Pamnani

HONG KONG-It’s been two years since Hong Kong people took to the streets to fight for genuine universal suffrage.

The protests drew global attention, as protestors expressed their demands in peaceful, artistic ways.

The movement seems to have worked in bringing about a different political reality in Hong Kong.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the major events throughout the protests, and changes in Hong Kong’s political scene since.

Political background in the 852

Hong Kong was ruled by the British in the 20th century, and got handed over to China in 1997.

The great difference between Hong Kong and the mainland’s political atmosphere at the time saw both sides reach a deal of “one country, two systems”, granting the city a semi-autonomous status.

That deal lasts until 2047.

Debate however, continues about liberties granted under the agreement. A hot topic being universal suffrage.

Read More: Does The Government Even Want To Save Cantonese From Going Extinct In Hong Kong?

According to Article 45 of the Basic Law, “the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.”

Moreover, the article states “ the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

Media from around the world came to report on the growing Occupy movement in Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Max/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Media from around the world came to report on the growing Occupy movement in Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Max/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Controversy began in August 2014 when Beijing ruled out public nomination, saying Hong Kong voters would only be able to choose from a list of two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee.

The committee likely to contain pro-Beijing election candidates, saw democracy activists argue the announcement was a way for China the ability to screen out any candidates it disapproves of.

Criticism was ignited across the city.

Young people’s call for action

On September 22, 2014, a student class boycott was held at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, at the same time some of Hong Kong’s top tycoons crossed the border to discuss politics with President Xi Jinping.

Students from more than 20 universities and colleges joined the movement.

During the week of 26 September, activist groups Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students, had staged protests outside government offices in Admiralty.

The Galvanizing Effect

As the protests escalated, police used pepper spray against the demonstrators.

Benny Tai, initiator of the Occupy Central movement, officially declared the start of Occupy Central at the central government offices.

Later that evening, police also used the tear gas in dismissing the protests.

The tear gas surprisingly proved galvanizing, drawing Hong Kongers from all walks of life to occupy streets for 79 days.


Protest elementals

During the days, activists blocked several traffic junctions, shutting down the city’s central business districts.

Aside from the Admiralty camp outside government offices, protestors occupied areas in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Canton Road.

The protest spirits were held high in the city, as the yellow ribbon symbol was seen across social media sites in the city.

Read More: What Are The Wukan Protests And Why Should Young People Care?

Many artists contributed to the protest’s peaceful forms of expression, from creating paintings of politicians, origami-inspired yellow umbrellas, and periodic tables defining Hong Kong core values.

Artists gathered to express political opinions of Hong Kong people

A periodic table defining Hong Kong’s core values.

Protestors even hung a banner on Lion Rock Tunnel, calling on CY Leung to step down

Subjects of debate

According to an article by the Australian news network ABC, ANZ economists sent out a research estimating the protests may have cost retailers $400 million, given occupation of roads at core business districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui.

Ordinary citizens fed up of the demonstrations formed an anti-Occupy group in an attempt to dismantle camps across core business districts in the city.

Another debate triggered was the role of police in the protests.

Read More: Was There Massive Voter Fraud In The Hong Kong LegCo Elections?

Throughout the protest, a viral video showing police beating up protestors went viral in the city, triggering a debate about police violence.

City opinion was divided on the issue, but those who supported the police wore blue ribbons.

A man was filmed being kicked and punched by seven police officers near government headquarters in Admiralty during the movement:

Yellow ribbon photos spread across social media sites in Hong Kong.

Political progress

Students managed to hold talks with the government, yet didn’t gain much ground through official channels.

Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and two other activists sought a meeting with China’s leaders to discuss the issue.

However, their visas were declared invalid after they tried to cross the border.

Clearing Camps

In later stages of the movement, camps began to be cleared off after the High Court stepped in.

In early December, three organizers of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement turned themselves in to the police for “participating in an unauthorized assembly”, calling their act a symbolic way to end the street protests.

They called for a shift in the movement’s focus to a long-term march towards democracy.

The three leaders were quickly released.

On 11 December, over 7,000 police arrived at the protest sites, and began making arrests.

The main camp was cleared out, thereby putting an end to the 79-day political movement.

Success of the movement

Despite securing international attention, the Umbrella Revolution failed to win concessions from Beijing.

As of now, Hong Kong isn’t seeing universal suffrage, and many believe the movement wasn’t successful in changing the longterm political agenda.

Some, however, disagree, on the grounds of the fact that political momentum was gained among the population.

“Even if we cannot change the system immediately, if the movement provided more momentum for the fight for democracy, then it’s not a failure,” Dr Chan Kin-man, an Occupy organizer said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Two years on

Hong Kongers gathered to commemorate the second anniversary of the Umbrella Revolution last Wednesday (28 Sept).

Right before 6pm, protestors stood in silence to mark police firing tear gas on those who gathered early in the protest timelines.

Nathan Law is the youngest lawmaker at Hong Kong’s legislature Photo: Facebook/Nathan Law.

Nathan Law is the youngest lawmaker in Hong Kong’s legislature.
Photo: Facebook/Nathan Law.

Although the Umbrella Revolution isn’t occupying the streets of Hong Kong, its leaders have continued to persist in their democratic demands, as evidenced in the July 1st March and June 4th Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary gatherings celebrated every year.

In April 2015, the government formally announced a new voting system, but it failed to gather two-thirds vote at the Legislative Council because it had ignored calls for a more democratic process.

This would leave Hong Kong with the same political system that brought the current chief executive to power.

However, the city’s political scene saw hope after lawmaker elections were held last month.

Being the city’s first major elections since Occupy Central, the results spoke volumes for political sentiment.

A few Occupy politicians secured seats, including student leader Nathan Law, who participated in the protests and is Legco’s youngest ever lawmaker.

Law sees people voting for a democratic future, and with the trust and support of the public, he hopes to bring about political change in the future. “We inherited some spirit from the (Umbrella) Movement and I hope that that can continue in the future,” Law said, in an interview with Hong Kong Free Press.

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Cover Photo Credit: Studio Incendo/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)


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