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This article examines the origins and dynamics of an extraordinary wave of protests in Hong Kong in 2019–2020. Despite lacking visible political opportunities and organizational resources, the protest movement drew resilient, mass participation unparalleled in the city's history and much of the world. Drawing from original on-site surveys and online datasets, we conceptualize the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement as a form of “total mobilization from below.” The totality of the mobilization depended on a set of interactive mechanisms: abeyant civil society networks concealed after the 2014 Umbrella Movement were activated by threats over extradition and institutional decay, whereas affective ties developed through conflicts and mutual assistance were amplified by digital communication. The movement's characteristics in terms of protest scale, mobilizing structure, use of alternative spaces, and group solidarity are examined. The spasmodic moments of mobilization are explained by a nexus of network building that took place in an unreceptive environment and at a critical juncture. The roles of threats and emotions in mass mobilizations are also analysed.
The extant social movement literature tends to regard the youth as radical actors and senior citizens as conservative actors. However, the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement in Hong Kong exhibited strong solidarity among protesters across generations, despite the radicalization of protest actions over an extended period. These phenomena contradict Hong Kong's traditional political culture, which favors peaceful and orderly protests and the worldwide trend where radicalization often leads to internal division in movements. By analyzing the data collected from onsite protest surveys in December 2019 and January 2020 (N = 1,784), this paper presents the mediating role of guilt in shifting senior citizens from opposing radical actions to supporting them and feeling solidarity with militant protesters. We find that the relationship between age and feelings of guilt is stronger among respondents who experience state repression. The findings shed light on the affective and relational dimensions of protest participation, showing how the traumatic conditions under which different social actors are welded together by shared emotional upheavals facilitate ingroup identification and affective solidarity.
Reviewing the extant literature on China's public sphere from the perspective of 20th-century history and social science, this introductory essay argues for the continued relevance of studying the publications and public practices associated with knowledge communities. By steering away from normative definitions and by envisaging publicness as a process, a connection can be explored between social discourses and political practices in China. Discursive communities, based on shared identity or sociability, may appear marginal, but at key moments they can play a unique role in modifying the dynamics of political events.
This paper surveys the process of discursive contestation by intellectual agents in Hong Kong that fostered a counter-public sphere in China's offshore. In the post-war era, Chinese exiled intellectuals leveraged the colony's geopolitical ambiguity and created a displaced community of loyalists/dissenters that supported independent publishing venues and engaged in the cultural front. By the 1970s, homegrown and left-wing intellectuals had constructed a hybrid identity to articulate their physical proximity to, yet social distance from, the Chinese nation-state, as well as to appropriate their sense of belonging to the city-state, through confronting social injustice. In examining periodicals and interviewing public intellectuals, I propose that this counter-public sphere was defined first by its alternative voice, which contested various official discourses, second by its multifaceted inclusiveness, which accommodated diverse worldviews and subjectivities, and third by its critical platform, which nurtured social activism in undemocratic Chinese societies. I differentiate the permissive conditions that loosened constraints on intellectual agencies from the productive conditions that account for their penetration and diffusion. Habermas's idealized public sphere framework is revisited by bringing in ideational contestation, social configuration and cultural identity.
This chapter examines the contingent and endogenous causes that sparked the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Spurred by two contingent events generating pre-emptive and massive mobilization, the movement was a spontaneous transformation of the long-planned Occupy Central campaign. Networked efficiently through social media, autonomous individuals from diverse backgrounds rallied in various physical spaces, resulting in a self-mobilized and decentralized protest structure. These dynamics and ecology facilitated participatory practices and sustained a resilient occupation. Using an on-site survey, in-depth interviews, and participant observation, this chapter constructs a counter-frame conceptualizing the Umbrella Movement as a popular civil resistance, thereby contesting the official and media framings that regard the occupation as an illegal assembly, separatist movement, or social justice movement.
Keywords: framing, occupation, social media, public space, Hong Kong, Umbrella Movement
This chapter examines how and why spontaneous events vividly transformed Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), a planned, elitist civil disobedience campaign, into the spontaneous and popular Umbrella Movement. Mainstream literature regards spontaneity as either only important in the early stage of social movements, or impromptu, emotional, unplanned, and hence difficult to conceptualize. However, as Snow and Moss stipulate, spontaneity is “events, happenings, and lines of action, both verbal and nonverbal, which were not planned, intended, prearranged, or organized in advance of their occurrence” that routinely shape the occurrence, course, and character of protest events (2014: 1223). Flesher Fominaya (2015) also debunks this understanding of spontaneity by referring to how the evolution and maintenance of collective actions are path-dependent and conditioned by contingent events as much as by antecedent framing.
This chapter brings the idea of spontaneity to an examination of the dynamics of an occupation that is unparalleled both locally and globally. According to Snow and Moss (2014: 1122), the triggers of spontaneity involve: (1) an ambiguous moment; (2) emotional priming, (3) non-hierarchical organization; and (4) a specific ecological context—all intertwined in a movement. Unplanned and unintended contingent events are not an antithesis of rationality and organization. Instead, the Umbrella Movement shows that human beings can and do make conscious, on-the-spot decisions in the face of emotion and uncertainty. Spontaneity is thus pervasive and consequential in collective actions, and should be treated as a process rather than as a stage (Cheng and Chan, 2017).
Analysis of the 2014 Umbrella Movement speaks to three strands of academic literature: contentious politics and space, hybrid regimes and democratization, and social movements in China and Hong Kong. Based mostly on fieldwork conducted during the occupation, this book brings together 14 experts who studied the Umbrella Movement from different theoretical perspectives with different methodologies. The studies in the book analyze the occupation as a spontaneous and emotional contentious action, which made good use of public space and creative passion. They also show how civil resistance was shaped and constrained by the hybrid regime and situate the Hong Kong movement in a broader comparative perspective in reference to past student movements in China and protests in Taiwan and Macau.
Keywords: civil resistance, social movements, China, Hong Kong, hybrid regime, Umbrella Movement
For 79 days in 2014, the Umbrella Movement staged Hong Kong's most spectacular struggle for democracy and brought the city into the global spotlight. Sparked by disgruntlement over Beijing's denial of an unfettered, free chief executive election in 2017, the protest began with a class boycott and later morphed into a spontaneous, resilient street occupation of three centralized locations in the city. Roads and pavements were turned into protest sites and tent villages. The label “Umbrella Movement/Revolution” originated from a cover story in TIME Magazine, which showed protesters holding umbrellas aloft to fend off tear gas and pepper spray from the police. The protesters’ actions signified the peaceful and plebeian nature of the protest—a bottom-up and spontaneous campaign against top-down state control and power.
The Umbrella Movement was a significant episode for both new global activism and Hong Kong's political history. Even by international standards, it was a mass-scale civil disobedience movement spanning nearly three months. University polls showed that 18–20 percent of the city's population, or 1.3 to 1.45 million people, participated in the movement (CUHKCCPOS, 2014; HKUPOP, 2014). The number of protesters who participated in the Umbrella Movement is similar to other recent monumental events that brought about significant political changes, such as the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, in which 18 percent of Ukrainians participated, and the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia and Egypt, which comprised 8 and 12 percent of their respective populations (Beissinger, Jamal, and Mazur, 2012).
This volume examines the most spectacular struggle for democracy in post-handover Hong Kong. Bringing together scholars with different disciplinary focuses and comparative perspectives from mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, one common thread that stitches the chapters is the use of first-hand data collected through on-site fieldwork. This study unearths how trajectories can create favourable conditions for the spontaneous civil resistance despite the absence of political opportunities and surveys the dynamics through which the protestors, the regime and the wider public responses differently to the prolonged contentious space. The Umbrella Movement: Civil Resistance and Contentious Space in Hong Kong offers an informed analysis of the political future of Hong Kong and its relations with the authoritarian sovereignty as well as sheds light on the methodological challenges and promises in studying modern-day protests.