ⓘ Art of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests. Activists and artists taking part in the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests use artwork, painting, music, and other forms of ar ..

Art of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests

ⓘ Art of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests

Activists and artists taking part in the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests use artwork, painting, music, and other forms of artistic expression as a tactic to help spread awareness about the events that have happened in the city. Working without a leader, individuals who create protest art are commonly referred to as the "publicity group", and most members work under pseudonyms.


1.1. Language Cantonese language play

Due to the existence of homophones in Cantonese, Hong Kongs dialect allows great potential for wordplay. Replacing characters with similar tones or pitch patterns can significantly change a phrases meaning. An early slang term for the protest, "sending to China" Chinese:送中, which is a homonym for "to see off a dying relative", quickly gained attention. Another popular slang term "Railway of the Communist Party" Chinese:黨鐵 is a wordplay of MTR Corporation because they sound phonetically similar. To deter online trolls and alleged Chinese spies monitoring the forum, some netizens communicated using phonetically-spelled Cantonese words, which are difficult for mainland Chinese to understand. A variety of Cantonese slang also developed during the protest; for instance, when protesters recount the events of their "dreams" Chinese:發夢, they are recounting their experiences during the protests. When protesters deploy "fire magic" Chinese:火魔法, they are throwing petrol bombs. When a protester chants "it is raining" Chinese:落雨, fellow protesters will unfurl their umbrellas to hide the group in action. Fellow protesters were called "hands and feet" Chinese:手足, which conveyed the idea of unity.

Protesters also ridiculed statements by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the police. According to the Japan Times, "the legions of tech-savvy youngsters never miss an opportunity to invent new chants, memes, banners and slogans that often turn the criticism against the movement on its head". As a result, the protests led to the creation of caustic memes such as "reporter your mother" Chinese:記你老母 and "freedom hai" Chinese:自由閪, which mocked the polices use of profanity against protesters. The latter phrase is derogatory because the word "hai" is one of "the five great Cantonese profanities" but the protesters embraced the term with pride then turned them into WhatsApp stickers and printed them on T-shirts and banners. Artists created a variation of the "Bingo" mini-game that allows people to guess what Lam may say during a press conference to mock her condemnations of the protests; Lam often used the same set of words or four-character idioms to describe the protest.


1.2. Language Common themes

The Hong Kong protesters have created a variety of slogans to raise awareness and express their solidarity; these were chanted during mass marches and from their apartments at 10:00 pm as part of the "Million Scream" campaign. The slogans were generally used to express dissatisfaction with the government, boost morale, reiterate demands and the key principles of the movement. They included the following:

  • "We go up and down together" Chinese:齊上齊落; following several suicides, the protesters have chanted this rallying cry to raise peoples mental-health awareness and express unity among themselves.
  • "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times" Chinese:光復香港 時代革命; first introduced by pro-independence activist Edward Leung as his campaign theme for the Legislative Council by-election in 2016, the slogan gained more popularity as the protests escalated. Lam said the protests were a series of separatist riots though Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the slogan has lots of room for interpretation and its rise in popularity was due mainly to peoples belief the authorities have lost their moral basis of power. Election officers asked several candidates standing for the District Council election the meaning of the slogan before they validated their qualification.
  • "Hongkongers, add oil" Chinese:香港人 加油; initially a rallying cry for the protesters to encourage each other and to gain strength and support, the slogan changed to "Hongkongers, resist" following the implementation of the anti-mask ban. As protests continued to escalate, it changed to "Hongkongers, revenge" following the death of Chow Tsz-lok.
  • "There are no rioters, theres only a tyrannical regime" Chinese:沒有暴徒 只有暴政; after police characterised the protest on 12 June as a riot, protesters demanded the government retract the classification.
  • "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong"; the slogan was used to call for the international community, the US in particular, to support the ongoing protest movement. When Daryl Morey tweeted his support, China temporarily suspended all NBA broadcasts.
  • "Five demands, not one less" Chinese:五大訴求 缺一不可; a slogan used to iterate the protesters five core demands and affirm their determination not to stop until the government met all of them. It was often used during the protests but especially after Mayor Carrie Lam agreed to answer one demand by withdrawing the extradition bill.

Protesters have often taken inspiration from historical events and pop culture. This includes the phrase "give me liberty or give me death" from Patrick Henrys speech during the American Revolution, and "If we burn, you burn with us", a quotation from Suzanne Collinss novel Mockingjay ; the latter phrase was among the graffiti sprayed during the storming of the Legislative Council Complex on 1 July 2019. Analysts believed it reflects the more desperate tone of the protests compared with that of the Umbrella Revolution. Protesters frequently call members of the police force "dogs", "triads", "popo", and "Black Police". Police officers have called the protesters "cockroaches". Graffiti that cursed the police has also been depicted.

Counter-protesters and pro-Beijing activists have widely circulated the slogan "I support Hong Kong police, you can hit me now" Chinese:我支持香港警察 你可以打我了 on Sina Weibo after protesters cornered and assaulted a reporter from the Global Times at Hong Kong International Airport on 13 August 2019. After Liu Yifei shared the phrase on her Weibo page, there were calls to boycott her upcoming film Mulan.


2.1. Art Protest art

Protesters create posters to promote upcoming protests and rallies that sometimes serve as subversive criticism of the police, the government, and others. They are sometimes meant to provide light, comedic relief by satirising recent events. Art is also created to show the unity among protesters, encourage fellow activists, and raise mental-health awareness. Posters are seen as a peaceful, alternative way for citizens to express their views without participating in protests. Most artists remain anonymous or used a pseudonym in line with the movements leaderless nature. Ideas for their designs were crowdsourced using the forum LIHKG, where users vote for the best for wide distribution, typically via Lennon Walls erected throughout the city, Telegrams channels and Apples AirDrop features.

Protesters have typically adopted the Japanese anime art style. Inspiration was taken from various other pop culture media. When the Student Union president of the Hong Kong Baptist University was arrested for possessing laser pointers, described by the police as "laser guns," protesters created a series of posters incorporating a variety of Star Wars themes and elements such as lightsabers.

Dan Barrett noted that protesters favoured dystopic and anti-authoritarian themes in their designs. According to him "Genres depicting heroes and heroines defeating evil totalitarian regimes and rulers, despite insurmountable odds, appear to be particularly motivating among the younger generation of Hong Kongers on the frontline of the resistance movement." Many protest art designs resemble album covers or Hollywood movie posters. Several notable people involved the protests, including a man wearing a yellow raincoat which resembles Marco Leung, a woman whose eye was bleeding alluding to the 11 August incident where a female protesters eye was allegedly injured by a bean bag round, and Chan Yi-chun, a protester arrested during the 15 September North Point conflict, are common characters found in protest art.

Traditional Chinese elements were also incorporated into the designs. Hell money and joss papers imprinted with key government officials faces were also created and burned as the protesters followed the traditions of the Hungry Ghost Festival. Some protest posters replicate the design of a traditional Chinese almanac. Protesters created "elder memes" Chinese:長輩圖, which inform and appeal to senior citizens about the events in the city to sway them to their cause. Elder memes are images that use bright and colourful graphics with usually outdated fonts, overlaid with pictures of flowers or religious symbols.

A large variety of derivative works were also created in the protests. The design of the MTRs warning signage was reworked to a set of "Mind the Thug" cards using the same typography, referencing the Yuen Long attack. Artists have also reworked several historical paintings to fit the Hong Kong context. For instance, the French revolutionaries portrayed in Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix were changed to people donning the protesters attire. The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo was also reinterpreted to portray secondary school students participating in a human chain outside their schools. Photos taken by journalists have also been converted into artworks. Some art was also inspired by wartime recruitment posters.

Pro-Beijing activists have also created their own protest art, mainly portraying protesters as an insolent group of rioters and depicting the police as a group of "righteous" heroes maintaining the citys order. Protesters were also depicted as "cockroaches" after the police begun using the term to describe them.


2.2. Art Neighbourhood Lennon walls

Inspired by the Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic, a banner reading "Lennon Wall Hong Kong" was set on the outside wall of a Admiralty district staircase, turning the wall into one of the landmarks of the occupied district. The original Lennon Wall was set up in front of the Hong Kong Central Government Offices staircase. During June and July 2019, Lennon Walls covered with colourful post-it messages about freedom and democracy "blossomed everywhere" Chinese:遍地開花, appearing throughout the city. They are typically found on the walls of underpasses and pedestrian bridges, on shopfronts and inside government offices. Protesters have also plastered protest posters, derivative works, and/or illustrations on Lennon Walls to spread awareness. Pictures of police brutality were highlighted to broadcast the protesters interpretation of the events. Protesters used post-it notes to create Chinese characters and diagrams.

Hundreds of portraits of key government supporters and officials were plastered on the ground on footbridges and underpasses, allowing pedestrians to step on them as a way to vent their anger. On some Lennon Walls, citizens can use a slipper hung by protesters to strike the portrait in a manner that resembles something called "villain hitting". Areas near Lennon Walls became sites for art exhibitions; protest art was pasted on the wall, the ground, and/or roofs. Lennon Walls led to conflicts between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing citizens, some of whom attempted to tear messages off the walls and physically assaulted pro-democracy activists. Police removed officers personal information from a wall in Tai Po. Protesters declared they would put up hundreds more Lennon Walls for each one removed Chinese:撕一貼百. To prevent walls from being torn down easily, protesters covered them with sheets of transparent plastic. During marches, some protesters turned themselves into "Lennon Man" as other protesters stuck post-it notes on their clothes.

According to a crowd-sourced map of Hong Kong, there are over 150 Lennon Walls throughout the region. Messages of solidarity for the movement have been added to the original Lennon Wall in Prague. Lennon Walls have also appeared in Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo, Taipei, Berlin, London, Manchester, Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland.


2.3. Art Protest mascots

The LIHKG website pig and dog a shiba inu became the protests unofficial mascots; these ideographs were conceived as emoticons to celebrate the beginning of the year of the dog and year of the pig and quickly gained popularity as LIHKG, a Reddit-like Internet forum, became a key communication channel for protesters.

An internet meme based around the character Pepe the Frog has been widely used as a symbol of liberty and resistance, and has gained international media attention. Protesters created Whatsapp stickers showing the character dressed in protesters attire, turning it into a pro-democracy everyman that quickly gained popularity as the protests unofficial mascot. Many other versions, such as Pepe in riot police uniforms or as Carrie Lam have been created. While the character is typically associated with far-right ideology and was viewed as a hate symbol in the US, Pepe has a different reputation in Hong Kong, of being the expressive "sad/smug/funny/angry/resigned frog." With Pepe being so "rehabilitated," the characters creator Matt Furie expressed his delight about the cartoon frogs new role, writing "This is great news! Pepe for the People!".

Several Hong Kong bakeries adopted the mascots as options with which customers can choose to decorate their cakes. They were also made into toys and sprayed as graffiti.

Protesters crowdfunded a 4-meter 13 ft tall pro-democracy statue named Lady Liberty Hong Kong. The statues design originates from the reverse delivery demonstrators costume. The statue is clothed in a yellow helmet, eye mask, and respirator; its right hand holds an umbrella and the left a flag that reads, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times".


2.4. Art Songs and anthems

A 1974 Christian hymn called "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" became the "unofficial anthem" of the anti-extradition protests and was heard at the many protest sites. On 11 June 2019, a group of Christians began to sing the four-line-verse and simple melody at the Central Government Complex as they held a public prayer meeting the night before the Legislative Council was scheduled to begin the second reading of the extradition bill. On the morning of 12 June, led by pastors, they stood between the crowd and police to help prevent violence and pray for the city with the hymn. Under Hong Kongs Public Order Ordinance, religious gatherings are exempt from the definition of a "gathering" or "assembly" and therefore more difficult to police. The song was sung repeatedly over the course of 10 hours and a video of the event quickly became popular online. Hong Kongs local ministries, many of whom support underground churches in China, supported the protests. Most city churches tend to avoid political involvement but many were worried about the effects of the extradition bill on Christians because mainland China does not have religious freedom laws.

"Do You Hear the People Sing", the unofficial anthem of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, was commonly sung during the protest. It was also sung by protesters during a friendly football game between Manchester City and Kitchee on 24 July at Hong Kong Stadium to obscure the playing of the Chinese national anthem and to raise foreign awareness of the situation in the city.

A group of anonymous composers wrote the song "Glory to Hong Kong" Chinese:願榮光歸香港, which became a theme of the protest and was regarded as the citys unofficial national anthem by protestors. On 10 September 2019, supporters sang the song at a football match for the first time during a FIFA World Cup qualification match against Iran. On the same night, the song was publicly sung at more than a dozen shopping malls across Hong Kong. Composed by Thomas dgx, the song has since been translated into several languages. Its lyrics, include the phrase "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time", were mainly written by users of LIHKG. The songs music video includes demonstration scenes and was uploaded to YouTube on 31 August 2019. Several covers, including a Cantonese opera rendition, were released. A version featuring a 150-person orchestra became YouTubes most viewed music video in 2019 in Hong Kong.

Protesters have also sung the British "God Save the Queen" and the American national anthems, "The Star-Spangled Banner," while demonstrating outside those countries consulates-general to appeal to their governments for help.

Hong Kongers have also composed several pieces of original music. Local rappers and bands have released songs that criticise the government and the police. The ninth-most-popular music video on YouTube in the city was a protest theme named "Nei Fei Wo" Chinese:和你飛, which has an introspective tone and focuses on the depression and exhaustion protesters have faced during the protests. The lyrics urge protesters to stay united in a time of difficulty. The songs name alludes to the July 2019 sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport that was named "Fly with you", itself a wordplay of "peaceful, rational and non-violent protesters". A remix of Sias song "Chandelier" titled "Fat Mama Has Something To Say" Chinese:肥媽有話兒 quickly gained local attention. It was remixed using a speech given by Maria Cordero at a pro-police rally, edited, rearranged and auto-tuned to bend her pitch to the song, with the lyrics replaced with anti-police rhetoric.


2.5. Art Banners atop mountains

In a manner similar to what happened during the Umbrella Revolution, activists scaled the Lion Rock, an iconic natural landmark overlooking Kowloon that carries with it Hong Kongs special identity and displayed massive banners. In June 2019, the League of Social Democrats LSD displayed a banner denouncing the extradition bill. On 20 August that year, another group of protesters pinned a banner reading "Oppose institutional violence, I want true universal suffrage" on the mountain; the banner was removed by firefighters. The statue Lady Liberty Hong Kong was displayed on the top of Lion Rock on 14 October before being dismantled by pro-Beijing activists the following day. Other banners were displayed on Beacon Hill, Devils Peak, and Kowloon Peak.


2.6. Art Flags and symbols

Some protesters waved the flag of the United States in support of the prospective introduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill proposed by the US Congress. Others waved the flags of the United Kingdom, the Republic of China Taiwan, and South Africa. The Dragon and Lion flag used by Hong Kong during the colonial era was also seen during the protests, though its use has often been criticised. Some protestors, claiming inspiration from the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014, have also waved the Ukrainian flag. Another that frequently appears is the Estelada, the unofficial flag of Catalonias independence movement, which has been a source of inspiration; parallel rallies expressing solidarity between the movements have been held in the two regions.

Protesters created a version of the regional Hong Kong flag depicting a wilted or bloodied bauhinia flower. A black and white version of the Hong Kong flag, referred to as "Black Bauhinia", has also been seen in protests.

Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist and political dissident, designed the Lennon Wall Flag, a symbol of Hong Kongs pro-democracy movement. According to him, the flag was inspired by the Lennon Wall in Hong Kong. It consists of 96 coloured squares that symbolise the post-it notes on the walls: The number 96 represents 1996, the year before the handover of Hong Kong. "Every colour on the flag is a different voice. And every individual voice deserves its place in Hong Kong," he said.

The "Chinazi" Chinese:赤納粹 flag – a portmanteau of "China" and "Nazi" - was created by combining the flag of the Peoples Republic of China and the that of the Nazi Party to draw comparisons between the Chinese and the 1933-1945 German Nazi governments. Variations include golden stars forming a Nazi swastika on a red background and Nazi swastikas replacing the golden stars on the Chinese flag. American journalist and political commentator Nicholas Kristof mentioned graffiti in Hong Kong denouncing the influence of Chinazi in The New York Times. Barrister Lawrence Ma, a Shanxi committee member of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference CPPPC with Australian nationality, said the person using the flag violated Section 4 of the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance.

Pro-Beijing counter-protesters used the Chinese national flag as their main symbol. Several Hong Kong and mainland celebrities declared themselves "flag protectors" after protesters threw several Chinese flags into the sea in August 2019.


2.7. Art Lights display

The use of laser pointers gained popularity following the arrest of HKBUs Student Union president Fong Chung-yin. On 7 August 2019, a group of protesters gathered at Hong Kong Space Museum and shone laser pointers on a wall of the museum; some chanted slogans like "laser pointer revolution" and joked "Is the building on fire yet?". The laser rally was held after the police concluded laser pointers are "offensive weapons" that can cause fire. Some protesters displayed Star Wars lightsaber toys to mock the polices description of laser pointers as "laser guns".

During the Hong Kong Way human chain campaign and the Mid-autumn festival period, hikers and trail runners scaled Lion Rock and shone lights at the city using cellphone flashlights and laser pointers. During a #MeToo rally in August 2019, protesters shone purple flashlights using their phones to show their support victims.


2.8. Art Protest masks and handicrafts

Protesters began folding origami cranes named "freenix" Chinese:自由鳥, viewed as a symbol of peace and hope. During the Mid-autumn festivals, Hong Kong residents crafted lanterns bearing messages encouraging the protesters.

After the government implemented a ban on face masks using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, protesters continued to wear masks in rallies and protests. In addition to common surgical masks, protesters wore masks depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Chinas Paramount leader Xi Jinping, and cartoon characters such as Pepe the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, which was banned in China after internet users compared Xis likeness with Disneys depiction of A.A. Milnes character. Protesters wore the smiling Guy Fawkes masks depicted in the graphic novel V for Vendetta, which has become an inspiration and the mask regarded as an anti-authoritarian symbol. For a march on Human Rights Day, 8 December 2019, a group of activists led by Simon Lau joined the crowds wearing colourful masks featuring Pepe, a pig, a and shiba inu. Over a 10-day period, Laus team cast 117 oversized fibreglass masks, each bearing "a story of Hong Kong peoples suffering".

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