The Umbrella Movement failed (or was already failing then)? Why do some people say that?

[Updated on Sep 29, 2015]

See also divided, unity and leadership. Pundits argue that the Umbrella Movement failed because it did not compel CY Leung to step down or to re-open consultations on universal suffrage. To begin, success is difficult everywhere:

Jeremi Suri, a University of Texas historian who has studied global revolutions… As Suri puts it, “we’ve relearned the lesson that it’s a lot easier to get people out in the street than it is to make a political difference.” (2014 protests: From Ferguson to Hong Kong, impact unclear

Lin Fei-fan, a student leader of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, has a similar view:

“很多朋友可能認為雨傘運動失敗了,或者訴求沒有達成。其實我覺得也沒有那麼悲觀。因為事實上香港人在這次運動中,給北京政府已經很大的震撼。過去這幾年我參與很多社會運動,覺得很挫折的時候,我都想一件事情。就是馬英九到底在想甚麼,北京政府到底在想甚麼。其實他們在想你們哪一天自己消失,你們哪一天自己放棄。我覺得香港民眾其實要記住這一點,你們沒有放棄的權利.” (台灣太陽花學運一周年 at about 20 min.)

[Mar. 21] Of course, CY Leung and his supporters are celebrating their victory:  特首晤建制派 指佔中失敗;  梁振英昨在禮賓府宴請反佔中核心成員

[Jan. 2015] Paradoxically, what Chris Patten calls the “rowdies” are also calling the movement a failure. It seems that the purpose is to put all the blame on the leaders of Occupy Central, HK Federation of Students and Scholarism. First, they don’t seem to understand that the way to keep the momentum of any movement is to claim victory, however, small. Second, the rowdies seem to be encouraging this split, which had been set aside at the height of the movement, so that they can assume leadership in the post-occupy phase. See split.

A key lesson from other movements is that focusing on “failure” makes people lose heart — thus it is important to claim small victories so that people are motivated to carry on.

[April 3, 2015] Hong Kong’s pan-democrats: Plagued by a chain of failures, yet unrecognised for their mini-victories 

Cardinal Zen says Occupy Movement was a success





Original post:

Student leader Alex Chow says: There really is nothing to lose because HK already lost everything with the NPCSC decision. (「其實我地仲有乜可以輸??人大落下831這項決定時,全香港已經輸清光。」

It is also argued that Occupy Central already failed too – that it failed to mobilize as many protestors as students, and that it failed to capitalize on the outrage at police violence by calling to end Occupy prematurely on September 28. But such a view misses the point. We should look beyond a single episode and examine its role in the long stream of contention. Occupy Central and its mutation into the Umbrella Movement have fundamentally rewritten Hong Kong politics. Never before would activists be willing to stage disruptive actions and thus risk criminal charges, pepper spray, tear gas, and thug violence. As activists so proudly put it, they have been baptized in the flames of fire. Through their collective courage, they have fundamentally transformed Hong Kong as well. McAdam, Tilly and Tarrow etc argue that contentious politics is like a chess game. This means that there is no particular move that will guarantee success or failure — it all depends on what the other side does and how events turn out. In contentious politics, success and failure are hard to define, for many reasons. For one, we should examine processes as well as outcomes. In terms of process, the umbrella movement is unprecedentedly successful. It has completely transformed HK and HK people. Today’s teenagers will certainly continue to fight for the next 70 years. There is also the question of dating the beginning and end points. When do you date the end of a movement and thus call it a failure? HK’s democracy has been 30 years in the making. The umbrella movement marks only one episode (or chapter) in a long stream of HK’s democracy movement. At what point can one say that the movement has failed? Take the anti-apartheid movement, it looked like it had failed at every episode (especially when the regime repeatedly imposed states of emergency in 1985 and after) until it finally succeeded. The walk to freedom, as Mandela said, is long.

John Garnaut provides one poignant explanation for why some international observers are condemning the umbrella movement to failure:

The meta-narrative of ever-growing power is … the incentive for economic beneficiaries to avoid seeing, or to rationalise, or to even actively support China’s underground program to degrade, dismantle and decapitate the institutions of civil society and government enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Before the umbrella protests of Hong Kong it was easier to believe that it was only a matter of time before the peripheries were fully absorbed into the empire and made safe for Chinese Communist Party rule. And that’s the way the way that Hong Kong’s great multinational banks, the world’s top four accounting firms, and even the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong still see the odds, judging by their recent statements. Geoff Raby, a former ambassador who represents Australian corporations in Beijing and sits on the board of Andrew Forrest’s iron ore company, Fortescue, was empathetic with the protesters he surveyed in central Hong Kong. Indeed, their earnest faces were haunting reminders of those he’d seen a quarter of a century earlier in Tiananmen. And, to him, their hopes are as futile now as they were back then. To contemplate otherwise would not just be wrong, as he put it this week in the AFR, but “ideological”. So much so that Canberra should resign itself and allow history to take its inevitable course if the People’s Liberation Army is once again sent in. “It will be a time for cool reason, rather than ideological enthusiasm,”according to Raby.


For verdicts of limited victory: Han Dongfang:

One of the things that we should do, or the organizers should do, is recognize the victory and the success—again, again, again, repeatedly—and stop thinking that we haven’t gained anything. Because if you are continually thinking that “we haven’t gained anything,” then, psychologically, you are stuck.

What they have gained immediately is, as you just described: they have created a community in Mong Kok. And the process itself is more important to me than whether their three demands, or two demands, have been met, or whether you’ve achieved half or 80 percent of your demands. Let’s think of it this way, democracy is a long-term process, rather than a one-goal kind of achievement, or gains that you measure by percentage—50, 70, or 100 percent. Just walk in Admiralty, or walk through Mong Kok, and you will see a kind of democratic self-education happening, and it’s happening in Hong Kong—this business-oriented city. No one, certainly not I, has ever thought that it could go this way. So this is a short-term success and this generation has awakened.

And second, this generation is not going to die next month. They’re growing stronger and stronger into adulthood, middle-age, their 50s, to participate in future Hong Kong politics and social policymaking. And many of them will be government people in the future. So, think about the future impact—20, 30 years from now. This success is immeasurable..

Protests expose vulnerability of an unloved government  Hong Kong’s Summer of Love and the Umbrella Generation:

For all the dramatic banners demanding “genuine universal suffrage,” come 2017, Hong Kong will almost certainly be practicing exactly the brand of universal suffrage that Beijing deems appropriate. But that’s beside the point. From its origins as a protest movement with a narrow set of political demands, the Umbrella Movement has morphed into a defining generational moment, one whose impact will be felt even stronger in 2027 than in 2017.

Hong Kong Protesters’ Quiet Victory The now-cleared youth protesters showed the city what democracy looks like.

Haruki Murakami Says Hong Kong Protests Won’t Be in Vain

Mr. Murakami said he was disappointed things didn’t turn out as many had hoped. “But what you did for democratization will not be in vain,” he said. The author said the very fact of the demonstrations can’t be ignored. “Please continue to change the world, even if it is bit by bit,” Mr. Murakami said, adding that he supported the protesters.

Murakami tells HK pro-democracy activists: Fight on! : “I will stay behind you and your efforts in fighting for democracy will never be in vain,” Murakami told a Hong Kong fan.

村上春樹:相信你們為民主走過的路不會白費:「許多的事情未能如你們所願,讓我感到很可惜,但我相信你們為了民主化而走過的路絕不會白白浪費。驟眼看,當下好像『什麼都沒發生過』般,但在看不到的地方,確實對某些人和事起了變化。你們走過的路,已作為事實留下來,沒有人可以無視事實,而世界是以事實作為基礎而改變。今後,請繼續一點一點,逐步改變這個世界。我會為你們加油。 村上春樹啟」

The power of perseverance


For verdicts of failure: An anonymous observer warns that the movement could fail unless ordinary protestors and leaders can work together and diversify tactics: 雨傘運動即將失敗的幾種原因

As fatigue sets in, time for students to admit defeat : 

Hong Kong protestors might fail but that doesn’t mean the West shouldn’t take them seriously

Resistance Is Futile (

光復我香江:對雨傘革命慘敗的思考 (

從甘地與馬丁路德金看佔領運動的失敗 (

—— From rowdies:


留戀撐起雨傘式失敗 不如先建好獨家村



See a similar debate over the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan:

[If] success [is] measured on the question of whether the movement had managed to nix the CSSTA altogether, or prevent the Ma administration from signing future such agreements with Beijing…, then the Sunflower Movement probably failed.… Rather, the true success of the Sunflower Movement was its ability to send a powerful signal across Taiwan and, more importantly, to the international community that pressures have been building up within Taiwan… [There had been] a premium in foreign capitals on stability and predictability in the Taiwan Strait, with the belief that the KMT was better placed to ensure continuity… The Sunflower Movement therefore succeeded where others had failed: It channeled mounting anxieties and in doing so on a large scale it put Taiwan on the map. ( Where have the Sunflowers gone?) the Sunflower Movement has reanimated civil society in Taiwan, which had grown dangerously pessimistic and disorganized over the years. The genie appears to be out of the bottle for good, and activism will likely be a fact of life in Taiwanese politics for years to come. (Was Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement Successful?)

— References:



Filed under Umbrella Movement

5 responses to “The Umbrella Movement failed (or was already failing then)? Why do some people say that?

  1. Pingback: Umbrella Movement — Why is the Tiananmen analogy wrong? | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  2. Pingback: Post-occupy: Divided over strategies and tactics though united over genuine universal suffrage | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  3. Pingback: Unity and leadership are critical to success–why it is wrong to advocate “there are no organizers but only ordinary people, no orders but only commonsense” | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  4. Pingback: Post-occupy: Divided over strategies; time for targeted boycott | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  5. Pingback: Reflections One Year On | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Beyond

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