Hong Kong’s protest leaders: Faces of the ‘umbrella revolution’

Agence France-Presse
Hong Kong’s protest leaders: Faces of the ‘umbrella revolution’


These prominent figures are heading the call for fair elections of the city's next leader in 2017 with candidates backed by the public, not vetted by Beijing


HONG KONG – From a 17-year-old student firebrand to academics, lawyers, bankers and a Baptist minister, the most prominent leaders of the pro-democracy protests sweeping Hong Kong span a range of occupations and ages.

All are participating in what has become known as the “umbrella revolution” after demonstrators used umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray and tear gas fired by police over the weekend.

These prominent figures are heading the call for fair elections of the city’s next leader in 2017 with candidates backed by the public, not vetted by Beijing — something that the Chinese authorities have categorically ruled out.

The Law Professor: Benny Tai

Photo from EPA

University law professor and co-founder of the Occupy Central pro-democracy group, Tai has been at the vanguard of the push for civil disobedience as a pressure tactic for political reform in Hong Kong.

The 50-year-old formed Occupy with a fellow academic, sociology professor Chan Kin-man, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming 18 months ago and has pledged a “new chapter” of protest in a city which is more used to organised marches than spontaneous demonstrations.

His organisation spearheaded an unofficial poll on electoral reform in June which saw almost 800,000 people vote, galvanising the city behind the push for free elections.

Tai underwent a backlash earlier this month after he said Occupy had failed to affect Beijing’s policy, but the group later reaffirmed their commitment to the civil disobedience campaign.

“I personally have the confidence that one day democracy will come to Hong Kong,” Tai has said.

The Firebrand Teenager: Joshua Wong 

Photo from EPA

With his mop of hair and trademark black-rimmed glasses, 17-year-old Joshua Wong is one of the most outspoken leaders of the pro-democracy movement, renowned for his rousing speeches and confrontations with authority.

Wong, who has just started university in Hong Kong, founded the student group Scholarism and in 2012 successfully mobilised tens of thousands of protesters against the government’s plans to introduce pro-Beijing “patriotic education” into the city’s schools.

“We don’t think we can persuade the government with our words. Only when there is action that leads to unrest in society will the government consider compromising,” Wong had said.

Gossip columns debate his love life and his stage presence has won him a loyal following amongst both young and old.

The Literature Student: Alex Chow 

Photo from AFP

A fan of Chinese literature, 24-year-old university student Chow says his studies inspired him to campaign for change in Hong Kong.

“Chinese literature reflects reality… and criticises society through words,” said Chow, who heads the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

He has led students on class boycotts and in their occupation of the city’s streets, taking an uncompromising stance.

“If you do not carry out any action, your opponents will not see how seriously Hong Kong people are treating democracy,” he has said.

In July Chow led a sit-in which saw more than 500 people arrested following one of the biggest ever pro-democracy marches in Hong Kong‘s history.

The Money Man: Edward Chin 

Photo from AFP

The hedge fund manager joined Occupy Central in March, forming part of a powerful faction of wealthy financiers fighting the mainland’s influence over markets and political life.

Targeting the growing clout of Chinese cash, corruption and nepotism in the key financial hub, they have also spent tens of thousands of dollars on campaign advertising and events.

“Whenever we need money, we just raise it in a few days between ourselves,” Chin told AFP earlier this year. “We just sign the cheque.”

The well-known Occupy Central supporter penned a weekly column for a Hong Kong business journal for eight years. It was recently dropped.

The Sociologist: Chan Kin-man 

Photo from AFP

A Yale-educated expert on Chinese civil society who has described democracy as his “vocation”, Occupy Central co-founder Chan says he has suffered death threats because of his political stance.

The 55-year-old says it is no longer safe for him to travel to mainland China because of his views, forcing him to abandon research projects there.

An emotional Chan apologised to Hong Kong residents for the disruption caused by the protests, but said it would bring about a “fair” system.

Following the tear-gassing of demonstrators at the weekend, Chan was quoted as describing the protests as a war and not a battle.

“A lot of people think that the action now is not enough and that flowers (of protest) must continue to blossom everywhere,” he said Wednesday, warning the movement would spread.

The Reverend: Chu Yiu-ming 

Photo from AFP

A veteran figure in Hong Kong‘s pro-democracy movement, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming has spearheaded campaigns stretching back to British rule.

The Baptist minister joined forces with academics Tai and Chan earlier this year to form the triumvirate of leaders behind the Occupy Central campaign.

Prior to Occupy he was best known for helping Tiananmen Square protesters to flee the mainland in 1989 for safe houses in Hong Kong, and helping them secure asylum abroad.

He refuses to talk fully about his role in their rescue for fear of jeopardising those involved.

A quieter presence than his counterparts, he represents the strong Christian undercurrent in the movement, with both Tai and Chin also committed believers. –

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