At the foot of public housing estates, beneath the glitzy lights of busy shopping districts, up on the rocky ridge of the iconic Lion Rock mountain, and alongside the rumble of trams, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong protesters joined hands today.
They formed a 60-kilometer-long (25-mile) human chain dubbed the “Hong Kong Way” in a show of solidarity as the city enters the 12th consecutive weekend of mass protests. More than 210,000 people took part in the event, according to organizers.
The event, hatched as an idea only this week as a suggestion on the online forum LIHKG to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, quickly captured the imagination of demonstrators. They began to organize online, creating promotional videos, mapping out the route of the large-scale human chain, and setting up Telegram channels for different sections around the city.
As night fell this evening, people began gathering at metro station exits throughout the city. Volunteers helped to direct demonstrators along the route, and organized in real time over Telegram to ensure the chain was continuous.
The chain even wound its way up 1,620 feet (495 meters) above sea level to Lion Rock, the mountain at the core of Hong Kong’s identity and a symbol of the city’s spirit of perseverance.
On Hong Kong Island, streets that just two weekends ago were smothered in tear gas were thronged by people lining sidewalks and holding hands. Chanting slogans—”Hong Kongers, add oil!” and “Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!”—they held mobile phone flashlights aloft, sang protest anthems like “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and at one point collectively covered up one eye with their hands, in reference to a protester shot in the eye by a police bean-bag round earlier this month.
Ivan Chan, a participant chanting with exuberance, said that the human chain felt different from the other demonstrations. “This time it demonstrates harmony and love rather than venting anger and hate. The spirit is unity,” he said.
Kathy Yeung, a veterinary nurse, said she joined the human chain because she feels an urgency to seize every chance to speak out: “I have to use this moment when we can still speak out to speak out…If we don’t speak out when we still have this opportunity, then all future opportunities will be extinguished.”
The Hong Kong Way comes just five days after as many as 1.7 million demonstrators took to the streets in a peaceful rally on Aug. 18)—and before city gears up for another weekend of protests. The Chinese territory has seen a rare period of calm, with last weekend the first in more than two months with no tear gas fired by police.
The quiet may crumble as protesters have called for an escalation in actions, after chief executive Carrie Lam again refused to address popular demands this week.
This story has been updated with final turnout numbers.