Hong Kong protests: Is this the coolest and most civilised uprising ever?

The radical politeness of Hong Kong's protesters may be impromptu, but it’s strategically savvy too

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How cool are Hongkongers? And isn’t what’s going on there at the moment the most civilised uprising in history? I’ve never been there, but now I really want to. I’ve always imagined it as a brusque sort of place, like New York but even ruder, but it turns out that they – the protesters, at least – are polite, conscientious, even slightly apologetic about their seditionary stirrings.

Not since young Czechoslovakians inserted flowers into the barrels of guns in 1968 has a popular movement taken such a pacific approach. In Paris that year the weapon of choice was the paving stone; in Hong Kong there are no weapons of choice, but if there was one I suspect it would be the umbrella.

I love the fact that the barricades have signs on them saying “Sorry: No Entry”, while youngsters walk around with deodorant and cooling water spray for anyone whose revolutionary fervour is making them sweat. I love the homework sessions, and the cardboard sign by the war memorial asking people to keep off the surrounding grass. “The morning is being spent mostly removing rubbish left over from last night’s huge crowd,” Saira Asher reported for the BBC. And when a man pelted schoolchldren with rotten eggs and told them to get back to their classes, how did they respond? With projectiles of their own? No. They cleared up the mess.

This outbreak of radical politeness may be a largely impromptu phenomenon, but it’s strategically savvy, too. The slightest whiff of violence would have seen the mainland government’s heavy mob weighing in – almost certainly with more than canisters of tear gas, Contemptuous as they are of world opinion, even China’s rulers would think twice before inflicting violence on such a peaceful protest. The waiting game they’re playing is surely the wisest and most effective way for them to proceed.


It’s dispiriting, then, to think that it probably will all end in tears and tear gas. And what a shame that Britain is prepared to do so little to fight the demonstrators’ corner for them.

Having abandoned the people to the depredations of a government that seems unable to keep its word – and although, I admit, that government is unlikely to give British views a great deal of credence – we owe the people of Hong Kong at the very least a representation from Sebastian Wood, our Ambassador in Beijing, to the great and glorious leaders of the People’s Republic. He must respectfully request that they a) tread carefully in the streets of Hong Kong, and b) keep the “one country, two systems” promise they made when they took the place over.

Is that too much to ask? I think the answer to that, sadly, is “Yes”.