Hong Kong protests: Thunderstorms can’t drown out campaigners’ calls for Chinese democracy

Citizens brave rainy weather as suffrage protest takes on a permanent air in the city’s political centre

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The Independent Online

Umbrellas – the newly minted political symbols that had hitherto only been used as protection from police tear gas – came in handy in Hong Kong on Tuesday night when a thunderstorm hit citizens who have taken over the main road through the city’s financial and political power centre.

The deluge, common in Hong Kong, only galvanised crowds further as they cheered every big thunderclap and broke into song.

The afternoon started just like the one before it, with smaller crowds holding the territory that police ceded on Sunday night. But by 5pm yesterday, thousands of Hong Kongers had joined the throng, which eventually stretched as far as the eye could see from the centre at Admiralty.

One protester, 21-year-old student Ayumi Lau, put across the protest’s central aim. She said: “First the government should give a proper response to the students. We have no choice but to continue this campaign.

“What will they do for a better system for universal suffrage? Why did they use pepper spray and tear gas against people with no weapons? That’s what we want to know and I still haven’t received a proper response.”

Some in attendance were concerned about what the police might do to clear the street, ahead of celebrations for the People’s Republic of China’s 65th birthday on Wednesday.

But another outing for the tear gas wouldn’t keep her away for long, said Ms Lau. “If they use teargas we have no choice but to leave, but we will be back.”

 

Away from worries of another heavy police reaction, the protest continued to live up to its reputation for at-times comical levels of civility. The road’s lane marking had been used to demarcate standing and sitting zones, and helpers weren’t just picking up litter, they were sorting what they found into rubbish and recycling.

One flank of the road could have been mistaken for a marketplace, its well stocked tent-stalls fronted by enthusiastic young people shouting about the wares they were giving away for free. Biscuits, crackers, chocolate and crisps were there for all to take, along with the essentials for enduring a volley of tear gas: face masks, clingfilm, swimming goggles and wet towels.

Chief among the giveaways were water and cooling patches, essential on a hot day that was clammy even by local standards.

Yellow ribbons, which have become another symbol for the struggle, were up for grabs, and some had gone even further by  ripping yellow pieces of cloth into bands for tying around arms and foreheads.

One of them was James Fong, a 22-year-old web designer, who spent the day distributing umbrellas and ribbons. He said: “We were not really motivated until the police used unnecessary laws on the students. We think we have to do something like this. We didn’t attend any of these protests [before now].”

“The whole of China doesn’t know what has happened in Hong Kong,” said Chloe Wong, a 22-year-old English student, blaming the country’s mass media for censorship. “[Chinese] newspapers don’t talk about the Hong Kong movement.”

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James Fong and Chloe Wong distributed yellow ribbons – a symbol for the struggle – to protesters

Despite the bad feeling towards the police after what many saw as a heavy-handed approach to protests late last week, the pair said they bare no grudges towards officers. “We are not anti-police. We know they are just tools of the government. This is not their fault. We can see that some tried not to follow their bosses’ orders but most of them will follow the orders.”

Mr Fong also pointed to the political and social divisions in China that the protest movement has highlighted. “Most of the people [in China] just ask why we need democracy: ‘I have a car, I have a home to live in, we don’t feel hungry, who needs chaos?’” They don’t understand the truth of how democracy will benefit them.“

Timothy Li, 22, was sitting reading a textbook, on his fifth day at the site. Decrying the electoral process set out by Beijing, he said: “I still hope we can have our own choice, not just the Chinese government telling us what to do. We hope we can speak and the government will listen.”

But Ms  Wong couldn’t hide a note of caution. “I’m rather pessimistic because I don’t think the Chinese government will make an exception for Hong Kong, because other people will ask for the same thing. What we can do is try to form a big protest and wake those who are still asleep.”

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