Hong Kong ‘umbrella revolution’ awaits National Day

Scots journalist Kenny Hodgart reports from Occupy Central

Protesters mob the area around the government offices. Picture: Getty Images

Even as some were leaving the scene at 11pm last night, others were still arriving. Some entirely fresh recruits, too – including three young lads, none older than 18, who emerged from the Admiralty mass transit rail station bearing boxes of bottled water they had brought to help hydrate the masses.

Apart from what they had seen on television, or social media, this was their first taste of protest.

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The new arrivals were distinguishable by the freshly pressed look of their black T-shirts. Many among the tens upon tens of thousands of Hongkongers who have taken to the streets since the weekend have been on the go for days now; others have done their occupying in shifts, fitting it in around work or study. There is tiredness in the air, but the show of strength goes on.

Today brings National Day, when people in all of China are enjoined to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic, now 65 years old.

In Hong Kong, with most people on holiday, it is instead likely to bring even more working people of all ages on to the streets, in solidarity with the young students who have – in defiance of Beijing’s intransigence – driven a remarkable charge for real democracy in the former British colony these past few days.

One banner yesterday in Central district bore the words, in English: “I can’t keep calm, because Hong Kong is dying!!!”.

The black T-shirts are supposed to signify a city in mourning. But these past couple of days have felt like a celebration on the vast thoroughfares and overpasses that stretch east from the city’s normally traffic-besieged commercial heart.

The “umbrella revolution” – so-called because of the hundreds of umbrellas which have been used as protection against pepper spray, as police clamped down on what was still only a relatively small protest on Sunday – has to date been the least riotous, and the politest, revolution in history.

As the crowds have grown, the police have stood off. In Admiralty you are beset only with smiles and singing. It is so civilised not a scrap of litter is allowed and teams busy themselves crushing bottles for recycling. Striking students sit on the road with textbooks on their laps.

Yesterday the umbrellas came in handy for their primary purpose, as heavy rain fell. But it was not heavy enough for people to give up their positions.

Tao Kwong, 27, who works in catering, told The Scotsman he thought the protests would last the whole week. “The response from the Hong Kong government so far has been completely useless,” he said.

“The citizens really feel like they are ready to scream. These few days, Hong Kong has changed. Nobody ever expected that this would be so big, or that so many people would join.

“We thought that the Hong Kong people were selfish and only interested in money, but the reaction of the police to some small protests at the weekend has brought them on to the streets to stand together.”

For all the anger that has surfaced, it remains the case that protesters have kept remarkable discipline, however. As another protester put it: “No cars have been vandalised, no shops looted, nobody is throwing anything at the police.”

Jessica Ho, who with her husband was pepper-sprayed by police at the weekend, laughed when it was pointed out how well-behaved demonstrators have been. “Maybe it’s too civilised,” she said.

In the end, though, there may be something else at play here, mingled with the spontaneity of the protests and the shared anger: a sense of fatalism as regards any notion that Beijing will listen.