The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

New China Hand: 10 things we learned from the Occupy movement.





It has been a rollercoaster ride for supporters and opponents of the Occupy movement in Hong Kong, with the police and ordinary citizens caught in the middle. Here’s 10 lessons we can take from the movement so far:

1. The political activism of students is contagious – and well defended

Did everyone go through a political phase at university? It seems the students in Hong Kong are more than willing to get involved in mapping out the future of their society and making demands to government backed up with real action. This is especially impressive in a city usually associated with political apathy and naked consumerism. And it’s catching: look at the response from citizens when the police used tear gas or started clearing away protest sites. The message is clear: we have jobs to go to, but we will defend the right of our young to be heard fairly.



Photo by Mr.J


2. Clean & tidy protestors

The people of Hong Kong enhanced their global reputation with the organised, peaceful and – above all – clean nature of the protest camps. Hong Kong is a city of outsourced domestic labour and a littered harbour, but the protestors have shown us that it’s still within the erhical code of the territory to clean up after yourself and take care of your waste. Is this something that can be extended even further to society at large?

3. Street universities – free learning

Education is a big deal and big business in Hong Kong. Limited university places are competed for ruthlessly and the value of a good education seems to constantly be on the increase. How refreshing, then, to see university professors and figures from across society give up their time for free to anyone who’ll listen. Is it time for a speaker’s corner in Hong Kong?

4. Police also can show restraint

The police have really had a tough time of it over these few weeks, caught between the rock of government and the hard places of the protest venues. Generally speaking, however, they have shown off the professionalism that the force is known for – certainly if we compare their response with how comparable protests have been suppressed around the world. However…

5. Police decision making and strategy still seem to have much room for improvement

The decision to blanket streets with tear gas, riot police and pepper spray was a massive tactical blunder and only served to swell the ranks of the protestors and give them a valuable symbol: the umbrella. Looking on as thugs tore into protest areas – and protestors – in Mong Kok was also not the force’s finest hour. The alleged beating of a nomination council member may have been the actions of a few frustrated officers, or part of an evening of venting against the protestors. The clearing of a major protest site on Friday – just before the end of the working week – seemed to invite trouble, though. All these actions need to be reviewed as their effects were multiplied under the spotlight of local and international media.

6. Protestors can really build!

The complexity and sturdiness of some of the barricades put up in the last week show off a good deal of professional input, but also the ability of protestors to learn on the job. Can we not harness the talents of these youngsters for even more productive ends?


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Photo by Sean Creamer

7. Pedestrianisation really suits Hong Kong

Having strolled around the Mong Kok site on a Saturday afternoon, it’s difficult not to conclude that the biggest shame when the movement comes to and end will be the return of heave traffic, pollution and narrow pavements to what could be a heart of the city. Similar observations have been made for the island sites. Is the government missing a golden opportunity to do a bit of town (re-)planning?


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Photo by Sean Creamer

8. Who really controls HK (and how)?

It was always clear that Hong Kong would be dancing to the mainland beat after the handover, but might it have been reasonably assumed that the leaders of the territory could relate the most serious problems and concerns of the city to the highest corridors of power? The police have never seemed more like a political tool, and as for the heavies that stormed Mong Kok a few weeks ago, what was their real motivation? Lots of serious questions about the government of Hong Kong appeared seemingly overnight.


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Photo by Sean Creamer

9. 101 uses for the humble umbrella!

If you didn’t carry one at all times before for Hong Kong’s capricious weather, you might now be holding onto two or three. It deflects pepper spray, police batons, rain, sun and air conditioner drips. One Chinese umbrella manufacturer even chose this month to issue its IPO, so business must be booming following one of the best unintentional advertising campaigns ever. Keep calm and carry one!


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Photo by Sean Creamer


10. This city is not dying – the people won’t let it!

The quote ‘this city is dying, you know?’ from the drama ‘When Heaven Burns’ for a long time seemed to encapsulate the feeling of doom and decline about Hong Kong’s future. In the weeks leading up to the protests, articles appeared about jumping ship – leaving Hong Kong for areas with a clearer future. Whatever your politics, these weeks have shown that there is a new generation of politically-aware, socially-active citizens who will not let the city just fall away. They’re forcing the issue of the question of Hong Kong’s medium- to long-term future. The answer is still far from clear, but at least it has been asked, and loud enough for the whole world – Beijing included – to hear.

Anything else we could add to to the list? Anything you disagree with? Is it even possible top hold two apprently-conflicting opinions about the police?!? Comments below, pls.

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Photo by Sean Creamer

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Photo by Sean Creamer


4 comments on “New China Hand: 10 things we learned from the Occupy movement.

  1. brielle87
    October 20, 2014

    So amazingly proud of the protesters for standing up and letting their voices be heard in a civilized way. I think the police really dropped the ball with the gas and pepper spray; they had an opportunity to show themselves not to be just puppets of the establishment, but in Mong Kok they lost face that day.
    Hopefully something positive will come out of this and Beijing will do the right thing.

    • NewChinaHand
      October 20, 2014

      The behaviour of most of the protestors has been pretty inspirational, but as I’ve written before it’s hard to see where this is all going. The movement will be remembered for it’s ending: ominously, the June 4th incident occurred at the end of weeks of peaceful, civil protest inside TianAnmen Square itself. I just don’t see the political ability required on either side to bring this to a satisfactory end. How pessimistic!

      • brielle87
        October 20, 2014

        Maybe it is not pessimism, maybe you are being realistic.

  2. theguestroom
    December 13, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Guest Room.

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