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Umbrella: the symbol of non-violent protest

By Stephanie Szeto @stepszeto

 

Hong Kong weather is known for its unpredictability. To protect against the sudden rain and strong sunlight, Hongkongers used to prepare an umbrella in their bags all over the year. Since last September, Hongkongers have found a new way to use the umbrella to shield them from the burning pepper spray as well as clouds of tear gas, which had been used by the police to break up mass of serene and ordered protesters who appeared at government’s headquarters to show their support to the captured pro-democracy students. However, the tear gas had the counter-effect to call on tens of thousands of Hongkongers from all ages to approach the government’s headquarters. Although police fired the tear gas more than 80 times into the crowds, the increasing number of Hongkongers who were full of disapproval of the use of tear gas flocked to the protest sites. They held up an umbrella as a shield and put on either surgical masks or safety goggles to protect their faces or eyes. Some of them who did not have goggles wrapped their eyes with plastic wrap taken from kitchen at

home. From their basic gears, we could certainly tell that they just wanted to protect themselves rather than attack. They craved for justice and democracy but not a war.

Since then, the umbrella became the symbol of this non-violent protest which astonished the Western media dubbed the movement as “Umbrella Revolution”. Despite the fact that the protest leaders insisted it was a pro-democracy movement rather than a revolution or the Hong Kong based English newspaper South China Morning Post keeps using the term “Occupy Central”, it could be seen from social media that Hongkongers preferred “Umbrella Revolution” much more. It is because 1) the protesters went out spontaneously to support the students, say no to tear gas, and voice out their desire for justice and democracy as said before rather than spurred by the three Occupy Central advocates. Actually, protesters disregarded the three advocates who have proposed the occupation more than a year without taking any action. 2) The Cantonese translation of Charter Road, located in Central, can have the meaning of “umbrella fight”, therefore, the term “Umbrella Revolution” depicted thoroughly the situation that the protesters were holding umbrella to fight for democracy in Central area. Moreover, 3) umbrella is familiar and symbolic compared to an abstract idea of “occupation”. The term “Umbrella Revolution” spread across the social media and stimulated a lot of creations ever since.

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