A Eurasian Movement — Why is the Tiananmen analogy wrong? And interacting dynamics with Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement

[updated on J. 20, 2016]

Why is it that international observers cannot resist the temptation to liken the Umbrella Movement to Tiananmen? Even commentaries that suggest that Tiananmen is the wrong analogy still use the idea in the headlines. If one looks hard enough, it is not difficult to find parallels. Why is the analogy so mistaken? Most of all, Hong Kong has freedom even though there is no full democracy. Han Dongfang puts it well:

“While Hong Kong’s Occupy Central With Love and Peace movement bears a superficial resemblance to the 1989 demonstrations, Mr. Han explains that they have less in common than many think: ‘The big difference is, at Tiananmen, we were asking for reform and democracy, which didn’t exist in China. We wanted something we didn’t have. Here in Hong Kong, they already have free speech and rule of law,’ Mr. Han says. ‘They can go out on the streets and protest. They are fighting so Beijing doesn’t take that away.’”  Han in A Protest Veteran in Hong Kong — Lessons from Tiananmen for the students of the Occupy Central movement.

Another Han interview: Building Hong Kong’s Future: Interview with Han Dongfang (建設香港的未來:韓東方訪談)

According to Tung Chee-hwa, the first post-1997 Chief Executive: “The [People’s Liberation Army] will not be sent to Hong Kong streets,” he said. “I have full confidence in the Hong Kong police in handling the protests.” Asked whether that was the central government’s position, he said: “Yes”.

According to Jimmy Lai of Apple Daily, “A violent crackdown will ruin China as it ruins Hong Kong.” Whether this sentiment will turn out to be right or wrong, it is quite widely shared at the moment.


Unlike Han Dongfang, most other Tiananmen-era dissidents use the Tiananmen analogy because they project their hope onto Hong Kong.

Ma Jian, Hong Kong: the river of democracy will flow to Tiananmen Square: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/03/hong-kong-protests-tiananmen-chinese-democracy

Rowena He, The fight for democracy is not just a challenge for the people of Hong Kong: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/fight-for-democracy-not-just-people-hong-kong

Xiaobing, Searching for Umbrella Man http://www.asiseeithk.com/2014/10/searching-for-umbrella-man_75.html

吴祚来:香港公民抗命是89民运的继续,“广场”迁移到了香港 http://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/gangtai/ck-10222014114555.html

Zhuo Fengsuo, Tiananmen leader sees hope for Hong Kong during emotional visit to Occupy protests http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1631257/ex-tiananmen-leader-sees-hope-hong-kong-after-emotional-visit-occupy

[July 10] From June 4 to Occupy: 25 years of change in Hong Kong – in pictures


Other observers, some sympathetic to and some critical of the HK protests, use the Tiananmen analogy to predict likely failure.

Umbrella revolution casts shadows of Tiananmen: http://www.enidnews.com/opinion/article_c2c44340-490c-11e4-836b-f3f358bd202d.html?mode=print

When the Umbrella Man was set up at Umbrella Square in Admiralty, protestors expressed a sense of uneasiness because it reminded them of the Goddess of Democracy erected at Tiananmen Square right before the crackdown. umbrellaman_afp_getty_small

The tank of peace arrived at Admiralty on Oct. 23:


Of course, student protestors do have Tiananmen in the back of their minds. After all, this is a generation that grew up with intense interest in Tiananmen and whose parents personally witnessed Tiananmen. But it is important to see that they are trying hard not to repeat the same mistakes that contributed to failure in 1989. One such lesson is to appear to be respectful and reasonable during the talk with government officials on Oct. 21, that is, avoiding the rude attitude of Wuer Kaixi and other Tiananmen students during their talk with Beijing officials.


Some Chinese are critical of the Umbrella Movement 內地網民翻牆fb質問何謂民主 黃之鋒一句秒殺萬人like



[June 2] University students say HK has a duty to foster China democracy

TAM 11391348_10153070410773026_2183303876151088692_n

chart [source]


See also “The Umbrella Movement already failed or is failing?”: https://victoriatbhui.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/the-umbrella-movement-failedis-failing/

“Views from China” https://victoriatbhui.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/views-from-china/


Some analyses look beyond Tiananmen, but still try to find parallels with other student movements in China’s tumultuous modern history.

No Tiananmen Redux: Picking the Right Analogy for the Protests in Hong Kong: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142143/jeffrey-wasserstrom/no-tiananmen-redux#cid=soc-twitter-at-snapshot-no_tiananmen_redux-000000

The spoiled brats of democracy: Hong Kong’s students take their place in a long and noble Chinese line: http://www.economist.com/news/china/21623775-hong-kongs-students-take-their-place-long-and-noble-chinese-line-spoiled-brats

Out of Tiananmen’s Shadow: Why the Protesters Have Already Won: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142159/john-delury/out-of-tiananmens-shadow


HK has always had a distinctive history from the rest of China.  Instead of debating if this is another Chinese movement or another color revolution, we are better off to see this HK movement as a fusion of Chinese and global symbols. Hong Kong is, after all, where the East meets the West.

“The eclectic imagery of their movement — in which quotations from international figures like John Lennon were placed beside statements by Chinese writers like Lu Xun — showed that there were other, perhaps more compelling, ways to make elements of China’s culture and past speak to 21st-century concerns than the mainland’s heavy-handed patriotism.” (The Elusive Chinese Dream http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/27/opinion/the-elusive-chinese-dream.html?_r=0)

傘聚 UNITED UMBRELLA [Music video]– a fusion of Lennon’s Imagine and local songs

Lennon symbols are ubiquitous:

This flyer of Lennon on the importance of maintaining nonviolent discipline was extensively posted in Mongkok when I visited on Oct. 21. (That batch of flyers was removed along with roadblocks by counterprotestors later in the week.)


The Lennon Wall at Occupy Admiralty


Lennon Walls from Prague to Hong Kong

HK featured on http://www.lennonwall.org

From the World to Hong Kong

Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Martin Luther King: see quotes on civil disobedience.

Albert Einstein:


Plus the famous quote by Japanese author Haruki Murakami: “If there is a hard, high wall and an egg breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.” Joshua Wong quotes Haruki Murakami.

[Nov. 7] It seems that the respect is mutual. Haruki Murakami sent this message to HK protestors on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:

“We can see [a world without walls] with our own eyes – we can even touch it with our own hands if we try hard…. “I’d like to send this message to the young people in Hong Kong who are struggling against their wall right now at this moment.”… In February 2009, Murakami accepted the Jerusalem Prize despite calls to boycott it in the wake of Israel’s large-scale offensive in Gaza. Speaking in Jerusalem, he compared walls to authoritarian systems and military might and eggs thrown against the walls to individual lives, concluding that he “will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Inspiration from the Hunger Games’ freedom sign



Also the Anonymous mask:

1412375_1007087872651477_1551447484809696445_o     10307234_1006636949363236_3106412346085072153_n

But HK protestors may want to know that Anonymous is not uncontroversial for grassroots movements. See A look behind the mask reveals a naïve techno-utopianism and Does Anonymous Do More Harm Than Good?


[Mar. 2015] Hong Kong people watch Selma and see HK, thus excited to hear Common mention HK in his acceptance speech:

In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters find kinship with ‘Selma’

Hong Kong Activists Welcome Oscar Mention by Selma Songwriters




Taiwan observers see the seeds of the Umbrella Movement in the Sunflower Movement: “When the dust finally settles on Occupy Hong Kong and scholars look back on its astonishing rise and slow fall, the Sunflower Movement is likely to gain prominence as its most direct precedent.” (In search of sunflower seeds in HK)

In the realm of ideas, it is difficult to say who copies whom. If one looks hard enough, it is easy to find echoes of HK in the Sunflower movement too. HK students had been baptized by the anti-high speed railway campaign in 2010 and the anti-national education campaign in 2012, i.e., before the sunflower movement. The first HK version of “Do you hear the people sing (人民之歌)” became popular in the anti-high speed railway campaign, before the Taiwanese version. (HK has yet a different version for the occupy movement “Who hasn’t spoken up.” See art.) And HK students’ satyagraha walk at the time deeply moved Taiwanese students. (See video 80 後反高鐵苦行 感動台灣) See the occupy generation.

If the Umbrella Movement shares similarities with the Sunflower Movement and if HK and Taiwanese students are inspired by each other, it is because HK and Taiwan are similarly situated under China’s “one country, two systems” model. Thus, the Sunflower Movement

[drew] lines with regards to the ways of life and freedoms of all Taiwanese and sent a clear warning that anyone who crosses those lines will face a challenge from thousands of highly educated, connected, and united Taiwanese… [Movement leaders] had defied an entire state apparatus, pro-China oligarchs, biased media, world indifference and a famous gangster, and they stood their ground. (Sunflowers End Occupation of Taiwan’s Legislature)


Under the Shadow of China: Beijing’s policy towards Hong Kong and Taiwan in comparative perspective

「香港就是台灣的今日」— 林飛帆、黃之鋒談台港互動與國際連結

Hong Kong and Taiwan: Losing hearts and minds:

There have been bits of cross-pollination between youth movements in both places, but with little impact on events in either. (Chinese officials, for their part, blame “hostile foreign forces” from America and Britain for fomenting unrest; a committee of British parliamentarians has been denied entry to Hong Kong on the grounds that they had unfriendly intentions.) Yet many grievances of young people in both places are strikingly similar.

China’s Taiwan Denial

“If you truly wanted to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people, make a good example in Hong Kong. Obviously it’s not helping,” he  [Andrew Hsia, the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council] said.

Resisting Chinese Influence: Social Movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan 

“[T]he movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong . . . are essentially about the reaffirmation of a distinct local identity.”



Taiwan’s elections in Jan 2016

[Jan 15, 2016] Why HK people love to watch Taiwan election festival

[Jan 18, 2016] 689: The difference between Tsai Ing-wen and CY Leung

[Jan 19, 2016] Meet Freddy Lim, the Death-Metal Star Who Just Became an Elected Official in Taiwan

[Jan 21, 2016] Taiwan election: The implications for Hong Kong

[Jan 21, 2016] China responds to Taiwan elections with military drills, Facebook trolling

Twenty-Somethings in Taiwan and the Country’s First Female President

Survey: One in three HK people supports Taiwan independence


Filed under Umbrella Movement

2 responses to “A Eurasian Movement — Why is the Tiananmen analogy wrong? And interacting dynamics with Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement

  1. Pingback: Foreign/external forces at work in Hong Kong? | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  2. Pingback: Not a Christian Movement | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Beyond

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