Umbrella Movement and Imagination of Community in Hong Kong

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.3.05 (Clement House)
Kinman Chan, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This paper discusses the structure and values of Umbrella Movement, a massive occupation of major avenues in Hong Kong in late 2014, and assesses its impacts on people’s imagination of community.  Before the occupation broke out, it was a very structured social movement organized by two scholars and one pastor under the name of “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” (OCLP).   A series of deliberation days and an unofficial referendum were held to gather public views on implementing universal suffrage in 2017 in Hong Kong.  Instead of negotiating with the movement leaders, Beijing made a decision in late Aug, 2014 allowing one-person-one-vote but restricting the rights for nominating candidates from public or opposition parties. The movement then called for occupation of major business area in early Oct to express their dissatisfaction with the decision.  By late September, a series of student strikes triggered an early occupation joined by hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens. The occupation lasted for 79 days with more than one million people participated in different forms.  It is one of largest civil non-violent disobedience actions in human history.

One of most striking features of the occupation was its diffused leadership and decentralized organizational form. “No organizing committee” and “you don’t represent me” were slogans frequently used by some young protestors.  This movement structure led to serious problems in formulating strategies and negotiating with government.  But it also unlashed tremendous space for spontaneous participation resulted in strong sense of ownership among protestors. The “communities” created during the occupation manifested four important values celebrated in the movement:  

Equality: every barricade was “owned” and managed by protestors who called themselves “villagers”.  No top-town decisions concerning the opening of barricades could not be made by OCLP and student leaders without first deliberating with these villagers. 

Sharing: food, medicine, skills (music and handicraft), and knowledge were shared in different supply stations, hobby corners and forums.

Environmental concern: recycling and regenerated energy were promoted.

Aesthetic creation: artists scrambled into the occupation space to paint, erect sculptures, dance, sing and participate in other creative activities.

The occupation is in a way an emergent public space for people to communicate and co-create a community of their own.  This quest for community reflects people’s discontent to the existing hierarchical, utilitarian and over-disciplined society. As the author is one of the leaders of Umbrella Movement, primary data was collected through participant observation. Surveys done by academic and social groups were also used.