Young and old unite behind cause

Joshua Wong Chi-fung (centre) demonstrates during the Umbrella Revolution. (Getty)

Joshua Wong Chi-fung (centre) demonstrates during the Umbrella Revolution. (Getty)

Hong Kong’s so-called Umbrella Revolution has no singular leader – the protesters come from a swath of Hong Kong society, and have a range of demands – but it does have a handful of de facto spiritual guides.

They can be divided into two camps. Leaders of the influential protest movement Occupy Central with Love and Peace – Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming – are mature, politically experienced and self-restrained. This older group may have been eclipsed by student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, who tend to be more idealistic, headstrong, and social media-savvy.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung

Wong (17), the leader of the student group Scholarism, has been one of the city’s most outspoken pro-democracy activists for three years.

Wong founded the group in 2011 to protest a Beijing-backed proposal to implement a “patriotic education” curriculum in the city’s public schools; the following autumn, he mobilised 120 000 people to occupy the city government headquarters, causing officials to shelve the plan.

State media have attempted to discredit him by portraying him as an “extremist” with shadowy ties to the United States (he firmly denies the charge).
Police arrested him last Friday night after a group of students scaled a fence to invade the government complex. By the time they released him on Sunday afternoon, his detention had already catalysed further demonstrations.

Despite his age, Wong is known as a political firebrand: “You have to see every battle as possibly the final battle,” he told CNN. “Only then will you have the determination to fight.”

          Alex Chow Yong-kang
Alex Chow Yong-kang

Alex Chow Yong-kang

Chow (24) is general secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students – Scholarism’s closest ally – and a student of sociology and comparative literature at Hong Kong University. He has also worked as a journalist at Ming Pao, a local pro-democracy newspaper, according to his Facebook page.

In July, Chow organised an “occupy” protest on a public thoroughfare hours after the conclusion of an annual rally; the sit-in precipitated more than 500 arrests. “It’s not enough to repeat the march and the assembly every year,” he said at the time. “We have to upgrade it to a civil disobedience movement.”

Although Occupy Central had called for the Umbrella Revolution protesters to disperse by Thursday, Chow told the New York Times that “residents may occupy various government departments” by then if the government refuses to budge.

          Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man
Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man

Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Tai, the 50-year-old public face of the 18-month-old Occupy Central protest movement, has been a law professor at the University of Hong Kong since the early 1990s. Although his critics paint him as a radical, Tai has mastered a calm, scholarly approach.

He has reportedly received death threats for his activism. “I used to be just a university academic living in my comfort zone, spending my spare time sending my children to school and going home for dinner,” he told the South China Morning Post in May. “Now my daughter and two sons volunteer for the movement. My wife is Occupy’s campaign manager.”

Chan Kin-man

Chan (55), a former sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has repeatedly expressed his willingness to be fired or even arrested for his activism. Before he founded Occupy Central with Tai, he spent years studying China’s civil society; through much of the 1990s, he studied Hong Kong’s democratic development at Yale.

Chan joined Tai in seeking universal suffrage for Hong Kong a decade ago. “I have advocated dialogue with the central government for many years, but now I will take part in the civil disobedience movement,” he said earlier this year. “If [Benny and I] face a trial in court, we won’t dispute that we broke the law and we will make a political statement in the courtroom to spell out our vision.”

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming

Chu Yiu-ming (70), a silver-haired Baptist minister, has spent decades spearheading pro-democratic initiatives in Hong Kong. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, he led a covert operation to help Chinese activists escape persecution.

Chu recalled the moment he heard the news of the bloodshed in an interview with Bloomberg in May. “The tears came down,” he said. “I made a prayer: God, what can we do?” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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