The Umbrella Revolution

17 Feb 2015 | By Lee Xian Jie


Protestors brace for a fresh round of pepper spray with upturned umbrellas as police attempt once more just after midnight on 29 September to clear Harcourt Road. The umbrella has become the symbol of the movement for universal suffrage and democracy in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

In 2014, Xian Jie followed Lianain Films as they recorded the events in Hong Kong that came to be known as the Umbrella Revolution to capture these photographs. Selections have been published by Al-Jazeera English.


Policemen seek on an overpass above Harcourt Road on the evening of 29 September, while protestors continued a face off with police down below. Local media later carried reports about how police officers had been upset at higher officials for not making arrangements for them to rest.


An abandoned bus on Harcourt Road being photographed by a protestor from within on 28 September. The driver had to leave the vehicle after thousands of protestors occupied downtown Hong Kong. He reportedly said on Facebook that he was surprised to find the bus undamaged when he went to collect it later.


Protestors look on in amazement as a sea of lights appear for the first time in Admiralty on the eve of Chinese National Day. Protestors were waving their mobile phones while singing local band Beyond’s “Boundless Ocean and Sky”, which has become the movement’s main anthem.


A cut-out of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is held up on parade on 30 September at Harcourt Road. Despite repeated calls for his resignation, Leung has said he will not step down.


Protestors putting finishing touches on banners on a walkway directly opposite the Legislative Council Complex’s Civic Square, which students stormed on 26 September, sparking off a violent police reaction and the subsequent large-scale protests. The banner on top with the verse from John Lennon’s Imagine, has become one of the most repeated messages in the Admiralty protest site.


Student leaders Joshua Wong, 17, and Lester Shum, 21, discussing police movements around the Admiralty protest site in the early hours of 2 October. Rumours of imminent police attempts to clear the streets were swirling every night in the first two weeks of the protest. Wong, spokesperson of Scholarism, led the call to storm Civic Square on the evening of 26 September – a stunt that subsequently led to the biggest show of civil disobedience Hong Kong has ever seen.


A police officer waits in a van as protestors blockade Tim Wa Avenue on 3 October. On the left of the road is the Chief Excecutive’s Office and on the right, the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Building. The van later turns out to be a distraction tactic as hundreds of police officers rush in with tear gas and riot gear through a slip road away from the protestors.


At 5:40am on 3 October, police negotiators and protesters broker a deal to allow the police to transport food and water to the officers guarding the blockaded Tim Wa Avenue, on the condition that protestors would pass the food and water by hand from Lung Wo Road across the barricades. The police later went back on the agreement and demanded for their trucks to be let in, angering the protestors.


Volunteers stop an angry crowd from attacking the police in Mongkok on 5 October. Things threatened to spiral out of control as the police were surrounded on all sides and had already drawn their batons. The situation in Mongkok is complex as the protest site is frequented by a diverse crowd. Trust in the police is low, with protestors accusing them of standing by and doing little to control sometimes-violent intruders.


Police use batons to hit protestors occupying Nathan Road in Mong Kok on 17 October. Nathan Road is a prime shopping destination for tourists from Mainland China. First aid stations manned by volunteers reported that at least five protestors suffered lacerations after being hit directly in the head by the police.


Foam mats become another defensive device, as protestors in Mong Kok seek to protect themselves against police batons on 18 October. Police had struck at least five protestors in the head the night before.


Protestors in Mong Kok holding up mirrors to the police on 19 October, asking them to reflect on the amount of force they had applied on unarmed protestors two nights before. Wording above the mirrors from left to right: “We are of the same kind”, “Order, Order!”, “Please be soft”.