“When we felt threatened, we opened umbrellas and raised our hands”

You can protest under my umbrella.
You can protest under my umbrella.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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A reader in Hong Kong writes:

I was at the uneventful (if tense) Legco [Legislative Council] demonstration on Saturday as well as last night’s demonstrations between Causeway Bay and Central.

It was as much depressing as, ultimately, uplifting. When I was incapacitated by a blast of pepper spray, I somehow found myself being reverse crowd-surfed to a safe area.

There, a young girl cradled my head and poured water into my eyes. Some others wiped the chemicals off my arms and legs. When they went on to help the next injured person, an old woman kept watch over me, speaking soft Cantonese and plying me with all manner of snacks and drinks. These were complete strangers. Later, when we scrambled to avoid the first tear gas attack, a small band of people committed to staying put and helping the crush of smoke victims climb over the concrete barriers and into safety.

When we felt threatened, we opened umbrellas and raised our hands.

When the police decided to retake the street, they sprayed chemicals in our faces, pointed rifles at us, smashed our limbs with batons. While they were throwing tear gas with reckless abandon, our side threw not one rock, not one bottle, not one egg, nothing. None from our side brandished a firearm, a knife, a club, anything at all. I have neither seen nor heard any reports of protesters looting, burning cars, destroying property, or intentionally injuring police.

Young women felt safe enough to doze off during the lulls. In what other city would tens of thousands of ‘rioters’ act with such restraint?

The government warned against the chaos Occupy Central would cause. It’s all too clear to me which side is supplying the chaos and which side is conducting itself with dignity. These demonstrations may have been sparked by anger, but they’re sustained by compassion and love.

It is of course interesting to note the spread of the “hands-up/ don’t shoot!” gesture from Ferguson to Hong Kong, but the circumstances in the two places have 100 times more differences than similarities. There are profound differences as well with the other obvious comparison for mass movements among Chinese people, namely the movements throughout China in the summer of 1989.

What is happening in Hong Kong is uplifting, for reasons this reader explains—and surprising, for anyone who knows the generally non-politicized nature of Hong Kong.

But it is also quite a sobering time, as soon as you think about the options open to the PRC government in Beijing, and the instincts it has displayed in the face of all recent challenges of this sort. Beyond question, this is a challenge that the still-relatively new government of “Mr. 11,” Xi Jinping, has brought upon himself. That doesn’t mean that it will end nicely.

More tomorrow, and overnight good wishes those driven to such unexpected expressions in Hong Kong.

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