Eyewitness to the Umbrella Revolution

Democracy Revolution


When I tell people in Hong Kong that my last job was as a political news journalist in London, they often give me a very confused look and ask me "why are you here?" 


For some people Hong Kong is not an exciting place for a journalist; it's a city that everyone knows about but is not enough of a heavyweight on the international stage to make an impact unlike, say, Beijing


Since the British handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, the city's chief executive has been appointed by Beijing. The Chinese government has promised Hong Kong universal suffrage for 2017, meaning Hong Kongers would be allowed to vote for their chief executive.


The catch, however, is that the candidates contesting the post have to be vetted by a Beijing committee, leading to suggestions that Hong Kongers would only be allowed to choose from three pro-China candidates.


Occupy Central with Love and Peace pledged to lead a movement of civil disobedience against Beijing's proposals, demanding a rethink of the political reforms, allowing Hong Kongers to nominate candidates for the chief executive and for the resignation of the incumbent Leung Chun Ying, otherwise known as CY. Leung.


The precursor to the Occupy movement was the week-long student boycott of classes, which was initially separate from the Occupy protest until last Friday when the planned final day of the boycott saw students rush into Civic Square outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong.


The images of the clashes between police and students caught the international media's attention and saw the student boycott extended. Eventually Benny Tai, one of the leaders of Occupy Central, brought forward the protest date and merged it with the student boycott.


The problem with protests is that a lot of rumors make waves on social media, including one that the People's Liberation Army had tanks ready. One rumor that did turn out to be true, however, was that police had tear gas at the ready.


I was standing a considerable distance from the bridge where riot police threw the tear gas canisters and I didn't know what to expect. It didn't fully hit me that I was breathing it in until I started coughing and crying at the same time, and realized that it had spread quite far.


For anyone who has never experienced tear gas, imagine crying, the kind of crying where you breathe and wheeze heavily and your nose starts to run. At the same time there's a mild burning sensation in your throat. Those closer to the canisters say nearly every part of your body burns or stings - your eyes, your skin, even your lungs.


Once you get over the brief initial shock of being hit by tear gas, you wonder how painful it must be for people underneath that bridge. 


No doubt everyone has seen articles about how polite Hong Kong protestors are, cleaning up after themselves, recycling and apologizing for disrupting the city's public transportation network. A lot of people have spoken of how proud they are and how just simply recycling evokes the Hong Kong spirit.


Even when protestors knew that either pepper spray or tear gas was imminent people came together. They passed umbrellas, ponchos, face masks, and goggles as quickly as they could to those who were closest to the police, helping anyone who was hurt by pouring water on their faces to relieve the burning sensation. 


One of the images that sticks very vividly in my mind is seeing what must have been hundreds of protesters flood onto the main road and walk towards the outside of the legislative council building. A traffic jam was caused as a result but this did not stop the passengers inside those vehicles rolling down their windows cheering "fight for Hong Kong!" and one van driver played the movement's unofficial anthem, the Cantonese version of "Do You Hear The People Sing?"


As we walked, protestors would beckon cheering bystanders to join them. When we all reached the legislative council a man on the loud speaker called on the people across the road and on the bridges to join them, followed by chants and cheers of "Join us! Join us!"


And join us they did, first maybe a handful linking arms as they tentatively crossed the road, then tens, hundreds and later thousands. Having spent just over two months in Hong Kong I always knew it was crowded and full of people, but seeing thousands of people surging forward and joining the protest was one of the most surreal and unforgettable things I have ever seen.



China, Hong Kong, Protest