A Study of the 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protestors

The purpose of this article is to examine one of the most powerful protest movements in all of history, the Hong Kong protests of 2019 & 2020 and extract some of the key take-aways from the movement. The protests in Hong Kong were triggered by the introduction of an extradition bill into the Hong Kong legislature which would allow citizens of Hong Kong to be extradited to main-land China. The bill represented the ultimate death of the freedoms that the people of Hong Kong enjoy by opening up the people of Hong Kong to arbitrary prosecution by the members of the Chinese Communist Party. Until 1997, Hong Kong was under the control of the United Kingdom, wherey the enjoyed the freedoms afforded to them by the democratic government in London. In 1997, Hong Kong was relinquished back to the control of the main-land Chinese government under the one country two-systems agreement which guaranteed autonomy for the Hong Kong people. In 2019, the introduction of the extradition bill threatened this fragile balance and the Hong Protest movement was created to combat the threat to Hong Kong’s democracy.

Despite hopes that it may one day re-emerge, the Hong Kong protests were ultimately quashed by the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the collapse in global interest in the protest movement. Regardless, the Hong Kong protestors managed to resist threats of up to 10 years of imprisonment for taking part in the demonstrations in order to successfully push back on, and delay an attempt by the most violent, authoritarian government in recent memory to assert control over their small city-state.

So why were they so successful?

Lesson 1: Keep a Decentralized Leadership

When under threat of years of imprisonment, it is important that the protest movement can survive despite the loss of some leaders. For the Hong Kong protestors, this meant using apps like telegram to decentralize communication. Protests were organized and decided upon by coordinating a multitude of civil rights groups and making final decisions by way of democratic vote. We at the COVID AHL, we took this lesson to heart, which is why we have launched our official protest wiki so that members can organize their own demonstrations.

Lesson 2: Make a Dress Code

The Hong Kong protestors employed one of the most successful instances of the black bloc strategy in recent years. The black bloc works by having members of the protest group all dress in black in order to confuse authorities and prevent any individual from standing out in a crowd, similar to a Zebra’s stripes. In addition, the black clothing acts as a way for protestors to recognize each other so that they can organize and provide protection for their group.

Lesson 3: Be Like Water

When going up against an authoritarian regime, it is important to use flexible tactics. Adapted from a famous Bruce Lee tactic, the Hong Kong protestors managed to amplify their effectiveness by adapting quickly to changing conditions. This means that demonstrations (especially those of the more morally questionable variety) could be organized and adapted in an instant and scheduled mere hours before their occurrence. And if a protest is blocked by police, simply move it. If a strategy is countered by the government, modify it. By coordinating via apps like Telegram, and making decisions by impromptu democratic votes, the protestors were able to adapt their plans quickly.

Lesson 4: Bring an Umbrella

The 2019-2020 Hong Protestors were famous for their use of umbrellas. The purpose of the umbrella is to serve as a last ditch self-defense mechanism and shield against tear gas and pepper spray. Although the recommendation, specifically to bring an umbrella is a good one, the more general principle is to be prepared for police resistance.

Lesson 5: Stick Together

Despite a decentralized leadership and flexible decision making, the Hong Kong Protestors were careful to always stick together. Educated by their failure in the protests of 2014, the protestors realized that they must watch each other’s backs and present a unified front no matter what. Despite all of the disparate civil rights groups and conflicting interests, the Hong Kong Protestors always stuck together on the core set of issues.

Lesson 6: Make a Clear List of Demands, Escalate Until They are Met

The five demands, is a list of five clear demands delivered by the Hong Kong Protestors to the Chinese government. The purpose of the demands was five-fold:

  1. Establish a clear list of demands that all of the civil rights groups could rally behind, despite their differences.
  2. Establish an air of legitimacy amongst the general public.
  3. Deliver to the government some clear criteria to be met, and a promise that the protests would end if they were met.
  4. Establish a moral authority to escalate their tactics when they were not met.

Conclusions

The 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests were some of the most successful in recent memory. By studying their tactics, we can learn how to defy and successfully modify a government which is resistant to democratic change. These lessons and more, have been incorporated into the philosophy of the COVID Anti Hysterics League and adopted into our protest guide which you can find here.