The atmosphere of the student-organised, leaderless, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last week was hopeful, even jubilant, although the police had attacked the crowds with tear gas
and rubber bullets on Sunday 28 September. Under torrential rain, tens of thousands of peaceful Hong Kongers made their way to Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok. I was volunteering at a station to distribute supplies. On Tuesday we had to refuse any more water donations, we had so much already. Food and first aid workers were abundant. Strangers quickly became friends. ‘Hong Kong people are so practical,’ one fellow outlying islander said. ‘They go to work and then come to protest.’
But it soon became clear this was only a lull. The city’s chief executive, C.Y. Leung, appeared on Thursday night, minutes before the midnight deadline set by the protesters for his resignation, and reiterated that he would not go. He then finally made plans with his number two, Carrie Lam, to meet with the students, before giving another stern warning about the ‘illegalities’ of the protest. He had nothing to say about the police brutality the previous weekend.
The peaceful sit-in continued well into the second day of the public holiday and all appeared calm. But on Friday afternoon, all hell broke loose. Across Victoria Harbour in Mongkok, pro-Beijing, anti-Occupy protesters appeared out of nowhere to cause mayhem. Water, food and first aid tents were trampled by masked thugs. Bottles and fists were thrown. People left the scene with bruised and bloodied faces. Foreign journalists were attacked. There were reports of sexual harassment. The havoc went on well into the early hours.
The police were few and far between. On Saturday morning they reported that 19 people had been arrested, of whom eight had connections to Triad groups. Though their inactivity on Friday night remains unexplained, on Sunday the police officer who'd ordered the tear gas attack a week earlier told the South China Morning Post that he had no regrets and was acting on his own initiative.
On Sunday, a man climbed up a bridge in Admiralty and threatened to jump off unless the protesters dispersed. He demanded airtime on the BBC and CNN, and to speak to Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders. After two failed attempts to use his loudspeaker and several hours of pacing and fingerpointing he climbed down to safety, much to the relief of the crowd. It has since been reported that he was a professional stuntman.
The news from the mainland was unsurprising. What we are doing is still ‘illegal’, we are ‘doomed to fail’ and the PLA Daily continues to rally its readers in support for police efforts and for the chief executive. They were also quick to point out the great financial loss during ‘Golden Week’, the public holiday which sees the influx of tourists buying Louis Vuitton handbags.
Cliff Buddle, a senior editor at the South China Morning Post and law professor, was attacked earlier today during a lecture on media law at the University of Hong Kong, because he was 'speaking English'. His assailant, who was neither a student at the university nor a Hong Kong resident, shouted: 'We are all Chinese and you should use Putonghua in class.' He then kicked Buddle in the ribs.
The mood of the island appeared to have shifted with the full moon tonight: order seemed to be (somewhat) restored as police released a statement that there would be no more interference with pro-democracy camps; and fifty mainland lawyers, scholars and citizens published a joint statement in support of our pursuit of democracy.
Protesters handed out flowers and hot soup to civil servants returning to work after a tumultuous week.