After occupy: Division by ideology and over tactics; polarization

[Updated on April 20, 2016]

During the umbrella movement, “1.2 million people took part in Occupy protests, poll shows.” See also a cross-class movement.

HK democrats/protestors are united over the goal of “genuine universal suffrage” but divided over strategies and tactics. While such differences were set aside during the occupy movement, they came to the forefront after “failure.” It bodes ill for HK’s fight for democracy if people sharing the same goal attack each other. What Chris Patten calls the rowdies long criticized the pan-democrats. During the occupy, they also criticized the leadership formed of the HK Federation of Students, Scholarism, and Occupy Central. I didn’t understand why the rowdies championed the slogan “there are no leaders but only ordinary people” when they themselves had clear leaders with fiercely loyal followers. See also unity and leadership.

While unity is necessary to success (see unity), unity is always difficult. Typically, unity happens when the state is repressive enough.  Even when it is attained, it is usually highly fragile and transitory. Opposition leaders are divided over strategies and ideologies and are involved in a struggle for power among themselves.

1150706_4c431c573a9bf8ee6bb87f5efccc6c33-692x360 [source]

P1200251 [screen printing at the one year anniversary]

Post-occupy: Division, escalation and polarization 

[April 20, 2016] New Federation of Students seeks to restructure to reunite with all student unions of higher institutes 【砍聯計劃】學聯新莊擬重寫會章 不排除普選秘書長

[Apr 29, 2015] What Happened to Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement? Still riven over strategy, tactics, and core values, many now consider the 2014 protests a failure

The activists from last year’s massive democracy occupation have splintered. Nowhere is this clearer than on college campuses represented by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the architects of the fall 2014 pro-democracy protests that roiled the Chinese territory. Students at three local universities have voted to quit the league of university students; more vote drives are underway. Critics, some swayed by rising nativist anger, say student leaders’ insistence on passive resistance at the height of the protests doomed the push for open elections for the city’s chief executive, instead of a slate of candidates pre-vetted by Beijing. As the wounded student group tries to shore up its membership, its allies worry that the loss of a united student front will push the already anemic pro-democracy camp closer to irrelevance…  the federation’s critics insist, the democracy movement remains a leaderless one, even as it becomes less passive. “There will be different kinds of protests, maybe more radical. More radical movements will be possible because we will not have a big organization to control the movements,’’ said Ventus Wing-hong Lau, who organized a referendum drive at Chinese University to sever federation ties. This will make the response from the police and government “more difficult to control, and to predict.”

[May 25] Protest movements split in the new Hong Kong

A reflection on the split 我哋唔好拗咩係左膠,因為如果我哋要拗左膠嘅定義呢,我哋可以拗到個『雨傘節』完結為止都未拗完。」

練乙錚:民主力量重組變化 悲觀還是樂觀?



[Oct 4, 2015] Rowdies hijacked a protest by musicians: Musical defiance: Hong Kong musicians play discordant notes in protest over MTR’s large baggage restrictions:

a few dozen people from localist groups mounted their own protest, chanting slogans and waving flags and placards. Protest organiser and yangqin teacher Mavis Lung said she felt helpless over how localists had hijacked the protest.

Rowdies’ attacks on umbrella leaders

Rowdies’ harsh words on movement leaders have been intensified since the clearing of occupy sites in Dec. They are calling the “umbrella revolution” a failure and putting all the blame on movement leaders. They ridicule people who say that the movement has not really failed. See failed.

香港的「三分之勢」其實成形了一陣子… 建制和泛民只愛用「二分法」或「二元對立」的論調。(三國論政(一)從來不只有兩個立場

周永康,我屌你老母呀 – 熱血時報網站連結



A song by a rowdy criticizing umbrella supporters《醒下啦黃屍豬,革命不是呃like》





Commentaries that defend movement leaders:


In 周永康,I trust




HK Federation of Students split up

[Mar. 28] HKU’s Students’ Union issued this statement on the half-year mark of the outbreak of the umbrella movement:

The scale and impact of the Revolution failed to move the fiscal structure. It occupied but not obstructed. Half a year has gone by since the end of it. Instead of drowning into the Utopia at Harcourt Village and reminiscing the romance and reverence for the Revolution, the fact that it ended in failure is to be accepted, and there is a need for us to evaluate our mistakes and consider other possibilities in further pressuring the regime. How can we ever break off again from the limit of peace? How can we snap off the curb on militancy? / 無論雨革如何波瀾壯闊,仍然無法動搖政經結構,流於「只佔不堵」。半年已過,與其繼續沉溺夏慤村的烏托邦生活,緬懷「雨傘運動」的浪漫與神聖,我們必須接受佔領失敗的事實,檢討過失,思索向政權施加更大壓力的可能。我們如何再次衝破和平的魔咒?如何擺脫武力的潔癖?

This statement has the right diagnosis but the wrong medicine. See the discussion of “pillars of support” in “fallacy.”

HK Federation of Students to continue the insistence on nonviolence and self-determination 來屆學聯「命運自主」作綱領 繼續非暴力抗爭

[Mar. 30] A debate on withdrawing from vs. staying with the HKFS 退聯代表質疑學生無權決定是否加入

HK Connection’s analysis of the wave to withdraw from the Federation of Students after occupy:


[May 7] 4 university student unions voted to withdraw from the Federation:


Passion Times champions withdrawal:


Federation of Students suffers biggest split in 57-year history as HKU quits over Occupy

The debate on university student unions withdrawing from the HK Federation of Students: A Republic, if you can keep it - 記退聯 vs. 讀朝雲文章《記退聯》

Beijing’s Liaison Office in HK is trying to make the HK Federation of Students more Beijing-friendly by influencing member student unions. A City U student disclosed that the Liaison Office was trying to bribe and threaten students running for elections to the student union: 城大學生爆左派威逼利誘 滲透學聯

Divided by ideology

Localism is somehow used as a synonym for radicalism these days. But the majority of HK people are localist in the sense that they want to defend freedom/HK’s core values/HK’s high degree of autonomy, as reflected by the massive demonstration against national security legislation already in 2003. In fact, HK’s relations with mainland China has been the battle line for the entire span of HK’s 3-decades-old democracy movement.

[July 28] A graphical depiction of the ideological spectrum, with Civic Passion and Chin Wan on the extreme left:

 11800169_1186821158011480_6089417436413599926_n [source: SocRec]

More specifically, radical localists argue that it is not HK’s business to care about the prospects of democratization in China.

[Apr 3] Hong Kong student federation quit the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China

[June 4] Rowdies told supporters to boycott the candle light vigil organized by the Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic China. HKU’s student union organized a separate commemoration on campus.  Passion Times held their own in Tsim Sha Tsui. Thus, attendance at competing June 4 commemoration rallies should give us some sense of popular support for various groups:

The Alliance claims that 135,000 people attended the candle light vigil at Victoria Park [Ming Pao story]

2000 attended HKU’s gathering [Ming Pao]

790 attended the Civic Passion’s rally [Ming Pao]

[June 4] Hong Kong’s Long-standing Unity on Tiananmen Is Unraveling 

[June 4] Victoria Park lit up at June 4 vigil as ‘localist’ groups stage alternative ralliesWatch: Hong Kong student groups split over future of Tiananmen Square crackdown legacy

[June 4]【六四26周年】他們為什麼仍選擇維園?他們又為何不?

[June 4] The Alliance’s vigil dropped the song “Chinese dream” and picked up the umbrella movement theme song 【六四維園】集會無《中國夢》改唱《撐起雨傘》


11393375_835530649836089_3264082538084055979_o [HKEJ]

黃之鋒一向愛國,他就是另一個司徒華 – 熱血時報網站連結

Why former democrats want to be in Beijing’s good graces


Divided over tactics: “Peaceful protest has failed us”?

The debates over escalation completely missed the point. Both sides were wrong — the movement leaders were wrong in not advocating more viable alternatives beyond occupying streets; the rowdies were wrong in advocating “using force to counter police violence.” See nonviolence. See insights from “almost a revolution.”

What could protestors have done to put pressure on the government? What could pro-democracy folks do now to sustain the movement without violating the law?

So far, the only non-cooperation act in the society is the call to pay taxes by stacks of checks each amounting to $68.90 or $689, or $6890 etc. This act has symbolic value but doesn’t really achieve anything. See 良心抗稅運動. See updated lists of targeted boycott.

As argued on other posts, the Umbrella Movement didn’t achieve concessions partly because it stuck to a fundamentally unsustainable form of protest, occupying busy streets, rather than diversifying to decentralized methods, such as targeted boycott. See analysis in the J. of Democracy at

And as argued elsewhere too, radical protestors are confused between leaderlessness and decentralized leadership. It is definitely important to have proliferation of civic groups all working toward “genuine universal suffrage.” But it is also important that all these different groups coordinate to form a broad umbrella or composite coalition. It is a big mistake to presume that any leaderless movement — any — can succeed. The literature on contentious politics and social movements does not offer a single example. See unity and leadership.

A sober reflection on the split

「本土派覺得左翼你啲唔work,左翼覺得本土派唔work,大家都覺得大家唔work。邊個唔work呀?真係大家都唔work,其實我哋大家都做緊唔work嘅嘢。……大家都覺得對方唔work,所以係咁喺度嘈。」 (

Two local sources reinforce what I have been saying since day one:

A HK student who participated in a successful movement in Quebec highlights economic sanctions:

魁北克則是以經濟干預為目的,細規模佔領政府的「大水喉」商業機構… (從魁北克罷課反觀香港雨傘運動

Compared with HK, Gandhi and Martin Luther King emphasized economic pressure:

施加經濟壓力… 公民不合作非暴力抗爭要取得成功,在集體犯法之餘,必須配合其他有實際作用的行動,對當局以至整個社會施加實質的經濟壓力,始有成功的希望。… 甘地使出了「排斥英國貨」的策略,抵制英國產的商品。… 甘地和馬丁路德金所發起的公民不合作非暴力抗爭並不是純粹的集體犯法,而是針對有關不公義不平等政策與法律的實際行動,並且是成功對有關既得利益者施加實際的經濟壓力,有助迫使對方讓步。反觀香港的公民不合作非暴力抗爭,基本上就只有佔領街道一途,干犯的非法集會的法例,與爭取的真普選並不相關,而佔領數條街道,實際上亦未對既得利益者造成真正的巨大經濟損失,效果不彰,未能爭取到爭取的目標,乃是正常不過。(從甘地與馬丁路德金看佔領運動的失敗

See my elaboration on targeted boycott:

The fallacy that nonviolence has not worked–“we thought if we could keep the revolution peaceful, it might lead to some changes” (nonviolence)

Targeted boycott and noncooperation — “If we withdraw now, we would lose everything that we have been fighting for”? (boycott)

Escalation by other means? (escalation)

Interview at Texas Tech University

Meanwhile, the National Committee against Israeli Punitive Measures announced a campaign to boycott the products of five Israeli companies for as long as Israel held on to Palestinian tax revenues it had collected at the international borders.

West Bank boycott of Israeli goods makes headway:  The particular brands were chosen because their products would be easy for shops to replace with Palestinian or international brands, said Mr Hemayel.

even if abstaining from most of the products has not harmed Israel’s economy, the activity on behalf of the boycott is important. A boycott allows large-scale participation by people in the act of rebellion, without lifting a stone or firing a shot. The roughshod military-colonialist occupation sticks its hands into every facet of human life and disrupts it: from cradle to grave, and beyond. There is no way to respond individually to every such violent act of disruption. A boycott redirects the feelings of anger and hatred, and the desire for revenge – which are justified, natural and understandable – into channels of mass action (what is surprising is the small number of individual violent expressions of those justified, natural and understandable feelings). (Otherwise Occupied / Palestinians start food fight as boycott intensifies)

Targeted boycott is not fool-proof. Contentious politics is like a chess game–there is no single move that guarantees success. But this well-proven strategy that worked in even South Africa has not been tested in HK. In contrast, the method of occupying streets is well-known to be unsustainable everywhere–it is hardly surprising that the umbrella movement has failed in this episode.


Changing forms of protest

People are tired of the traditional — and deemed ineffective — form of protesting for a day or an evening? “We are all looking for a more sustainable form of protest”:


Protest fatigue and lack of clear goal blamed for slump in Hong Kong July 1 rally turnout

Front convenor Daisy Chan Sin-ying admitted the turnout was lower than expected. “After the vote on the reform package, there is no burning issue so people may not feel any urgency to protest,” she said.

But she disagreed it meant people had given up on the fight for democracy or considered the march useless. She also dismissed suggestions that the low turnout indicated a lack of public support for their call for an amendment to the Basic Law….

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, attributed it to post-Occupy fatigue and the lack of urgent political issues. “A growing number of protesters also believe the city should no longer stick to peaceful protests in achieving democracy in the wake of the Occupy sit-ins,” Choy said.

Sparse Crowds in Hong Kong as Democracy Movement Struggles

Aside from summer heat of more than 90 degrees Farenheit (32 Celsius), activists are battling internal divisions, protest fatigue and concern that no rally will convince the Communist Party to let Hong Kong people freely choose the city’s leader.

[Feb. 1] 13,000 protestors turned out on the march on Feb. 1

Flash protests


The “shopping revolution” — flash protest — continues. Mongkok on April 14, taken by SocRec:


Ricky Wong’s alternative: umbrella supporters could hang the “I want genuine universal suffrage” banner outside the windows of their flats to create scenes of yellow banners all over HK: 我建議一個讓大家表達意見而且可行的做法,就是在家的窗外插上旗幟。

U. of Science and Technology students boycott the police’s recruitment on campus: 科大學生預告抗議 警隊缺席招聘諮詢

[Mar. 15] On the open day of the former governor’s residence, the police dragged away people who carried yellow umbrellas and protest banners: 【如臨大敵】 【禮賓府開放日禁打黃傘】

The police also checked the IDs of parents whose children carried yellow umbrella balloons into the New Town Plaza in Shatin: 小童拎雨傘型黃汽球入新城市 家長被查身份證


Anti-shopping protest

The “shopping revolution” is mutating into an anti-shopping revolution, with Civic Passion and HK Indigenous protesting against “parallel traders” from mainland China. The police are now using pepper spray inside shopping malls  in Tuen Mun and Shatin.

Parallel tradingThe influx of parallel traders who buy their stock tax-free in Hong Kong to resell it in mainland China at a profit is causing growing unrest. Residents of Sheung Shui, a town close to China’s border, say the increase in parallel importers has pushed up retail prices and causes a general nuisance. Importers argue that their trade benefits the Hong Kong economy.

The radical ranks, who ask their supporters to defy mainstream pro-democracy leaders, may face their own challenges: An uprising is within sight:

The two leading organizations, the Civic Passion and the HK Indigenous, hastily wrapped up the protest around 5:00 p.m, allowing individual protesters to take center stage. For the next six hours, protesters rampaged through the streets of Yuen Long and the police simply lost their grip; many shops had to shut down temporarily for fear of being ransacked. It was no longer a protest in the traditional sense. That’s why I call it an uprising…

[The police]… in order to intimidate and discourage the protesters, merely resorted to arrests, particularly of the leaders. However, such measures proved ineffective in preventing “lone wolves” from acting on their own.

While it is difficult for the police to suppress a “leaderless” protest, it is also difficult for protestors to make any meaningful gains without leadership, unity and coordination. It is particularly difficult to maintain nonviolent discipline to ensure that police violence backfires on the police rather than on protestors. The latest wave of protests against “parallel traders” may be counterproductive as a result.

[Mar. 8]  Fresh clashes in New Territories protest against parallel traders and Hong Kong security chief says anti-mainland trader protests akin to riots

Watch: Mother and daughter confronted by Hong Kong anti-parallel trading protesters ; 十幾人蒙面圍住一對母女嚟鬧,係欺凌!|蕭遙遊;  Figo Chan, a participant, expressed uneasiness: 我拍下了母女被指罵為水貨客的影片,目睹了整件事的來龍去脈/Figo Chan and 什麼是真正的勇武?

Other democrats denounce organizers for not taking responsibility/showing leadership and slipping away, thus leaving unprepared teenagers to be arrested and beaten by the police 進步民主派:守護香港,莫忘初衷 泛民議員團體 反對示威者欺老弱罵無辜 斥有人利用未成年青年; 11MAR2015 【守護香港,莫忘初衷】進步民主派聯合記招(2/2)

Civic Passion member Cheng Chung-tai’s defense: “Do not measure ordinary residents on the moral standards for sages” (‘Blame the government, not us’: Hong Kong anti-parallel trade protesters hit back at ‘riot’ claims范國威:罵錯人應道歉 鄭松泰:不應用聖人道德衡量 ;聖人‧抗爭者‧公權力/鄧力行 ) People often misunderstand nonviolence to mean principled or moral nonviolence when it really means strategic nonviolence–that is, that nonviolence is simply a superior strategy compared with violence. (See Stephan and Chenoweth) Just because nonviolence is often associated with sage-like figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King doesn’t mean that nonviolent discipline is for sages only. Rather, nonviolence has been successfully practiced by ordinary human beings, often marginalized populations, whether in Serbia or Burma or Tunisia or South Africa or Chile.

Earlier Civic Passion apologized for the Yuen Long debacle 黃洋達就光復元朗熱血公民表現惡劣道歉 Protests fail to help local communities regain normal lives

The future of HK Protests and Weapons

Protests about mainland shoppers reveal graver problems:  In recent weeks protests have flared again; far smaller this time, but more violent and similarly fuelled by resentment of the mainland’s encroachment.

Hung Ho-fung on these actions as continuation of the occupy movement 光復運動是佔領運動的延續

[April 11] Shenzhen imposes once-a-week limit on cross-border visits by permanent residents.

[April 13] This “concession” could be a calculated move by Beijing to tighten its control over HK :  Political calculations behind new visa policy:

It’s rare for Beijing to respond so quickly to protests in Hong Kong in such a positive way. And the decisions are clearly being made by the central government, rather than by Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying and his team. That could be another sign that Beijing is taking more control of matters related to Hong Kong…

As the city is nearly evenly divided between those who would support and those who would oppose a proposal based on a framework laid down by Beijing in August, the package could well fail to attract enough votes to be passed in Legco…The central government’s timely decision on the visits by Shenzhen residents could be intended to send a message that Beijing is prepared to change its policies to please Hongkongers. That should help Beijing to win back some support in the battle for public opinion on its reform framework.

[April 15] three in 10 young people unhappy with HK situation :

47 percent of the respondents between 20 and 24 favor upholding justice through civil disobedience… Although they support curbs on arrivals from the mainland, they are against violence against parallel traders, the report said.

A documentary on the anti-parallel trade youth 反水貨客少年

Protest movements split in the new Hong Kong

The nativists kept on going, staging a series of “shopping revolution” protests in which businesses popular with mainland tourists were aggressively picketed. These later morphed into a campaign against so called parallel trading, in which groups of vigilantes stalked areas popular with mainland visitors, looking for small-scale smugglers. This led to some ugly scenes, since the activists were often none-too fussy about who they decided was a smuggler. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing press have been quick to leap on images of old men being shoved over in the street because they were carrying too many shopping bags and young women with children subjected to sustained verbal abuse. Something had changed – and not for the better. Last September, Hong Kong was widely seen as a city in which the people were rising up for their rights. This year, Hong Kong seems to be the only place on Earth where it is acceptable in some political quarters for Chinese people to be physically harassed on the basis of their nationality.



A power struggle

The division has descended into a bitter struggle over leadership in the post-occupy phase and over the very scare elected seats in coming elections.

Passion Times’ call to bring down the pan-democrats in coming elections:


下一場戰役,是人民之間的較量 – 熱血時報網站連結

[May 26] Passion Times: Only by exterminating the pan-democrats can HK walks down the road to democracy 只有消滅飯民、左膠,香港才能走更遠的路 

[Mar. 26] Likewise, CY Leung urges Hongkongers to vote pan-democrats out of Legco

In a question-and-answer session that followed, Leung was asked to elaborate on how the government would handle the pan-democrat lawmakers’ “non-cooperation movement” in protest against Beijing’s stringent framework for the 2017 chief executive poll.

[Apr 6] At the same time, those on the other end of the pro-democracy spectrum are also splitting: Pan-dems clash over Beijing’s restrictive political reform package for 2017 election

About 10 public figures from the pan-democratic camp have indicated their interest in signing a petition initiated by moderates to urge their counterparts in the Legislative Council to back the reform model for the 2017 chief executive race, the person who conceived and drafted the petition said… The planned petition is aimed at pressuring the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers to back down from their hardline stance and reconsider the reform package, which the moderates say could at least bar Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying from a second term.


Police violence and unity

See arrest by appointment.

Though rowdies did not work with movement leaders and are ignored by the government’s public sentiments report (民情報告今公佈 隻字不提熱血公民及黃洋達), the police seem to be treating their leaders particularly harshly. See HK Government Declare War on Localists with imminent arrest of Chin Wan – Local Press 中共及港府正式向本土派宣戰.

Maybe a new wave of police violence could drive the opposition to work together again?


Division after perceived failure is a rather universal phenomenon

Taiwan’s Sunflower movement has also splintered:

The movement has splintered and its members are now busy fighting among themselves… Another divisive factor has been the jealousy that has developed against the young charismatic leadership of the Sunflower Movement… the movement is now split and unable to work —together… (Where have the Sunflowers gone?)

Egypt has likewise suffered from polarization:


Regardless, the fight for genuine universal suffrage will continue.

The police can clear occupy sites, but can’t clear the idea from memories and hearts– see also the removal of the giant banner “I want genuine universal suffrage”:






Various civic groups are spreading the message of genuine universal suffrage.

【社區對話日】義工Wendy分享: 12/4 落區‧灣仔

“Umbrella university” and “umbrella classroom” to promote democracy


 Scholarism is promoting the cause to students:  舉辦中學公民教室 周庭盼論述能「落地」學民辦公民教室 從香港政治制度開始



Filed under Umbrella Movement

4 responses to “After occupy: Division by ideology and over tactics; polarization

  1. Pingback: Final proposal sticks to Beijing’s rigid framework — and our analyses in the Journal of Democracy | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  2. Pingback: Lessons from “Almost a Revolution” | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  3. Pingback: The end of the umbrella movement but the beginning of a new chapter in Hong Kong’s democracy movement | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Beyond

  4. Pingback: What Hong Kong’s student activists can teach the world and what they can learn from other struggles | Hong Kong: From the Umbrella Movement to the Anti-Extradition Protests

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