Hong Kong, Society & Politics

In My Eyes: Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” (Part 1)

“Are you safe?” “What’s happening over there?” “Is your school closed?”

Since the escalation of the pro-democracy protests last week, I’ve been getting WhatsApp and Facebook messages from concerned friends and relatives, wanting to know what it’s like and how I’ve been (safe and well, thank you).

Being in a priceless position to witness this so-called revolution unfold right before my eyes, I’m privileged to share with you Hong Kong’s most critical political debate thus far–from the perspective of yours truly. (And because the protests are still an ongoing affair, I plan to split this into several entries so that I can cover this as comprehensively as I can.)

“9/22 student strike”: Stark black-and-white posters like these are plastered all over the campus of City University of Hong Kong.

So, what’s happening?

It all started a few days after I’d arrived in Hong Kong, when Beijing approved an “overly conservative” electoral framework for the upcoming chief executive elections in 2017.

Under the “one country, two systems” policy that’s been in place since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the leader of the Special Administrative Region is chosen via a nominating committee. Some Hong Kongers are unhappy with the fact that this committee is largely comprised of pro-Beijing members, who vote for two to three candidates that are then presented to the electorate.

Basically, this means that Beijing vets a slate of candidates, from which the people choose their next leader from. Thus, there is no genuine “one man, one vote”, since candidates are first appointed, and then elected.

In response to this undemocratic development, dissatisfied student groups launched a nationwide class boycott campaign across secondary schools and universities.

By the time my semester started at City University of Hong Kong, promotion for the boycott was in full swing.

The students set up a publicity booth and manned it daily: they handed out brochures and yellow ribbons, solicited signatures to petition the principal for his stand on the matter, and delivered speeches with the help of a megaphone, calling on us to support the boycott.

Pro-democracy leaders invited to speak at a rally held on campus.

I was amazed.

To me, political causes and movements consisted of abstract theories and faraway issues that were dealt with on paper in exchange for grades, deliberated amongst more ‘politically aware’ peers, or discussed over long-winded family dinners.

But these students–most of whom were younger than me by one or two years–were rolling up their proverbial sleeves and getting their hands dirty in the nitty-gritty reality of politics. They were pouring in time and effort for what they believed in. And to me, that was amazing.

Students and supporters paste notes of encouragement and support onto a replica of the Goddess of Democracy, a statue that symbolized freedom and liberty during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Make no mistake, not everyone was equally enthusiastic. Many students I spoke to said that whilst they supported the movement in principle, they were still planning to show up for classes or were hesitant to attend the rallies held elsewhere. Some were worried about their grades, others about getting arrested.

Yet for the most part, they were generally supportive of the boycott’s aims: to indicate their discontent with the electoral framework and to demonstrate their espousal for “true” democracy.

The posters roughly translate to say, “We must fight for the opportunity to have universal suffrage.”

As a Singaporean student studying political science, I was intrigued–

firstly, by how politically active the students in my university were; and secondly, by how Hong Kongers all responded with the same answer, no matter how I spun the question or to whom I posed it to.

“Do you think this will work? Do you think it will change anything? Do you think the government will listen to you?”

Some paused and shook their heads slowly, brows knitted in contemplation. Others responded straightaway, as if it were a mantra they repeated to themselves when their hopes wavered.

“What else can we do?”



4 thoughts on “In My Eyes: Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” (Part 1)

  1. Oh, I always wondered what 922 stood for, but it’s the date, right?

    I also found it astonishing how politically active they are here compared to back home. It really motivates me to be less sluggish about political matters when I return.


    • Hi Vanessa!

      Yes, it refers to 22/09, the day the class boycott began.

      I totally agree–I was surprised to see how active and enthusiastic the students here are! It makes me a little ashamed that I don’t think I’ll ever feel that strongly for my country.

      Then again, I could justify my political apathy with the excuse that in Singapore there isn’t anything of that magnitude worth protesting over, and because we lack the political culture of freedom to assemble, protest, etc.

      Is it common for Finland to have street protests?


      • So, it’s illegal to protest in Singapore?

        We don’t really have huge street protests and I’ve never heard of anyone taking over the streets. Mostly a bunch of people standing in some area and holding up signs. Not even a lot of them. Definitely not in the scale of Hong Kong. Sometimes there are a few protestors, like animal rights activists, who will do something extraordinarily odd. E.g. girls in bikinis in the middle of winter in the city center who are against fur trade. We are actually more fond of strikes.


      • Oops sorry, looks like I’m mistaken–the laws were relaxed in 2008. Now protests are permitted, in a designated area in Singapore (called the Speakers’ Corner), as long as the organisers are Singaporean and don’t touch on sensitive issues of race, language and religion.

        Actually just one or two weeks ago a solidarity event was held in Singapore to show support to the protestors in HK.

        But strikes and protests outside of the Speakers’ Corner are still very much banned. I was just reading an article today that said that there hasn’t been a public protest like that in HK since the 1960s.

        But in Finland, don’t people get fed up about strikes? I heard from another student from London who said that even though it’s a pain, they side with the strikers (like the train or bus workers unions), so they just put up with it.


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