In normal circumstances, on Thursday evening I would be going to Hong Kong island’s Victoria Park for the annual vigil remembering those who died in Beijing on the night of 3-4 June 1989. But this year the gathering has been banned. The ostensible reason is a Covid-19 rule limiting public groups to a maximum of eight people.
It looked like the last day of term outside Hong Kong's Admiralty station this morning as dozens of youngsters carried their rucksacks, boxes and blankets to the entrance. Across the road it looked like the last day of Glastonbury, people packing up their tents or sitting around. The main site of Occupy Central, a movement demanding ‘genuine universal suffrage’ for the 2017 Hong Kong election, was being cleared after 74 days of civil disobedience.
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.’
I didn’t expect to see Occupy Central on the streets when I arrived in Hong Kong at the end of September. Like most tourists from the mainland, I went down to Central with a couple of friends for a close-up look at one of the world’s greatest consumer cultures in action, but the protest had been brought forward. On the subway there were dozens of teenagers wearing yellow ribbons in support of the cause. My friend in Hong Kong, who knows a little Cantonese, overheard one of the girls saying the boy she had a crush on had gone to the protest and she wanted to join him. They got off at Admiralty station, close to the demonstration. Love is the handmaiden of revolution. Later on TV we saw the pepper spray and tear gas, and we heard rumours – it turned out later they were orchestrated – of rubber bullets and armoured vehicles on the streets, yet there was calm for the most part, despite the odd flurry of projectiles and an attempt to shove through a barrier. The police reaction seemed guaranteed to bring more people out.