Censoring a movement
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Colourful collages were a landmark feature of the 2014 Occupy protests in Hong Kong with a Lennon Wall next to a staircase at the city’s legislature in Admiralty. In 2019 the Lennon walls reappeared in many locations across the SAR, providing people with an outlet to express themselves in a creative manner, acting as a bridge to online social media. By mid-July, however, some items on the Lennon walls were being removed as they enabled doxxing of individual Police officers.
The Lennon Walls in Hong Kong often became flashpoints for conflict between pro-government and pro-democracy protesters. In September 2019, legislator Junius Ho called for a “clean-up” campaign that would target the removal of Lennon Walls across the city. However, rather than being successful in suppressing freedom of expression, this measure instead fueled contempt for the legislator. He was already embroiled in controversy over his alleged involvement with the 21 July 2019 attack on protesters in Yuen Long by triad gang members.
In places like Tsuen Wan, at the end of the MTR’s red line in the New Territories, the Lennon wall there has been repeatedly ripped down overnight, only to be reconstructed in the following days by an active army of pro-democracy supporters. This has been going on for weeks. It has actually made space for new images documenting the latest events and protester sentiments as they have evolved. The Lennon Wall also acts as a focal point for promoting upcoming activity and celebrations of achievements. Sometimes staff of the government’s FEHD (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department) have been directed to remove Lennon Walls and clean up walkways with water blasters. No matter. Even when the wall was sprayed with cooking oil to stop new posters and notes being stuck up, the pro-democracy supporters found ways around the forced suppression of the movement. Of course for some protesters spray paint and graffiti has become their last resort.
Hong Kong is not alone in having Lennon Walls. Nor is it alone in feeling the fury of opponents who have no truck with the pro-democracy or anti-government message. In Taiwan, for example, those who were convicted of damaging or defacing Lennon Walls there have been deported. Similar vandalism of Lennon Walls has been reported in cities like Prague (home of the original Lennon Wall), and university campuses in many places including in Canada, Germany, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand and South Korea.
In Hong Kong a few “yellow businesses” have taken to showing their support for the pro-democracy by establishing Lennon Walls inside or outside their premises, or on the shop windows. It might protect the Lennon Wall but put their business at risk.
With the experience of personally confronting people willfully tearing down a Lennon Wall, I can confirm without question it is scary. It is a mission to convince them that they are infringing people’s personal rights and freedoms, and disrespecting people’s creativity. One Hong Kong university student studying abroad in New York, took to his college online news source to vent his spleen, making strong points about how he views pro-democracy supporters and opponents of the pro-freedom movement:
Campus Times Op_ed
By Edgar Yau
As a Hong Konger, I am appalled by the actions of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). For those not in the know, CSSA recently led a group of students to paint over pro-Hong Kong, pro-Tibet, pro-Uighur, and pro-Taiwan messages in the tunnels.
To the CSSA: This is not your fight. You are not the ones affected. At home I live right next to the University of Hong Kong, where I have to worry about the safety of my siblings and parents every time they leave the house (although my siblings relish any excuse to not go to school). My city will never be the same.
My people will never be the same because of their relentless pursuit of freedom from an oppressive regime. And you dare to tell them to lay down and die? In the name of what? Peace? Look inside yourself and tell me if your anger at my friends and family comes from a place of love, or jingoism.
It makes me sick to see such empty platitudes covering up cries for humanity and liberation. If you want to defend the actions of Hong Kong Police, go right ahead, but don’t do it behind hollow calls for reconciliation.
What is most offensive is not your censorship, but your suggestion that negative peace is an option that benefits anyone but the Chinese government. CSSA, you are a poor representation of the Chinese student population here as a whole, a population that I know to be empathetic, thoughtful and caring.
However, as an international student, I understand both the feeling of separation and the need to more fully identify with your ethnicity or nationality. I feel most like a Hong Konger when I am away from Hong Kong. But that does not justify blind nationalism. The cries to stop violence promote tyranny, not peace. Do not conflate your identity with the actions of your government. I see the apparent necessity in defending the transgressions of a country to which you still have much loyalty. But it is morally imperative to be critical.
I feel those backing the protests often seem far more invested in anti-Chinese sentiment than in genuine solidarity of my friends and my people. The response to all this strikes me as a masturbatory impulse to align with the right side of history. I have seen a blatant disregard for nuance of accountability for the genuine damage caused by movements like these.
I can’t help but feel used. It is much easier to cheer on the liberation of a city when it is not burning around you. These protests are fun to follow. They’re endlessly entertaining, aesthetic, and righteous. But they’re also complicated and morally grey – as all things are. These Xi-Jinpeng-Winnie-the-Pooh memes help nothing. They do not make me feel supported of cared for. I feel like a spectacle.
I understand the excitement over a cause like this, but this is not fun for me. None of this is fun. The martyrdom of my people is not something I take pride in. To my American friends who genuinely care: Support our cause, but don’t treat it trivially. But this is not to excuse you, CSSA, for your chauvinism.
As somebody who participated in the protests over summer, I’ve seen the peaceful majority marching, and the police brutality. I’ve also seen the violence and aggression towards not just the Chinese government, but mainland Chinese people as a whole. After half a year, I can say the emotional toll on me and my family has been great. The toll on my city has been great. The toll on the bodies of my people has been great.
What toll has it taken on you?
Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times
It seems fair to say that the Chinese Communist Party began its censorship of information about Hong Kong well before the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed.
See this report about a different form of censorship: Banning a potential candidate from standing in an election
See this report about CCP's extension of censorship globally: China’s Global Threat to Human Rights
See this report about censorship of an international debate contest: World’s biggest debate contest axed livestream of Hong Kong topic as Chinese spectators staged walkout