Friday, October 10, 2014

HONG KONG'S UMBRELLA: An Icon for the Ages

Hong Kong Umbrella Man

The umbrellas being both utilized practically by and adopted as symbols for the protesters in Hong Kong stand a good chance of becoming icons for the ages.

Can you think of a concrete symbol of a social protest movement that has gained as much traction?

Gandhi's use of the spinning wheel comes to mind. Yet even there it is questionable whether it had as much currency for the vast majority of participants in the mass movement at the time.

Gandhi with spinning wheel
Gandhi promoted hand-spinning of
yarn as an act of resistance against
British imperialism in general, and
British export industry in particular.
Flag of India
The Ashoka Chakra wheel symbolizes
dharma, and also suggests motion
and progress. Further, it alludes to
the symbolism of the spinning wheel
in the independence movement.

When you look at the images coming out of Hong Kong, it's clear that the umbrella works on many different levels.

HK: Umbrellas as sun shield
(Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)
Hong Kong = Practical

At a purely practical level, the umbrellas of Hong Kong have provided protection against rain and sun.

(Hmmm . . . perhaps something we can learn here in Chicago, where the elements don't always cooperate.)

HK: Umbrellas as pepper spray shield
(Photo: Alex Hofford/EPA)
The umbrellas have also provided practical protection against pepper spray.

As such, they are a great symbol of the fundamental practicality of Hong Kong people in general, and the student activists in particular.

HK: Umbrellas as canvas for messages
(Photo: Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)
Hong Kong = Articulate

At least equally as important, the umbrellas have proved to be effective "canvas" for messages and signs.

Moreover, the umbrella offers up an outline that is immediately recognizable, and lends itself to rapid and effective reproduction, giving it tremendous iconic potential as an icon for use in all kinds of graphics.
HK: Chalked umbrella icon
(Photo: Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA)

All of which is extremely appropriate, considering that Hong Kong people are great communicators.

Hong Kong = Public Spirited

HK: Umbrellas for everyone!
(Photo: Becky Peterson, Your Take)
We have all been inspired by the stories of how the demonstrators in Hong Kong have pooled their resources, so that everybody has food and hydration and a place to rest -- and an umbrella.

(Memories of the Occupy movement, and the sharing in communities such as Occupy Chicago, starting from day one.)

Public-spiritedness has been a central concern of the modernization of China -- starting with Yen Fu's translations -- and this moment is really showing how people in Hong Kong have taken up this value in a serious way.

"Umbrella Man" (Artist: "Milk")
Hong Kong = Instrumental

There is one more thing that is significant about umbrellas. They are one of those category of things that people can wield in their hands -- a category including weapons like swords and sticks, but also all manner of traditional tools like axes and hammers, not to mention modern tools like smartphones and computer keyboards.

There is something very special about the power of such implements to extend the power of the human being, particularly extending through the magical appendage that is the human hand.

It has been observed that it is the special preserve of humans to be able to simultaneously wield tools (in their hands) and communicate with each other (with their words) in order to accomplish group aims that go far beyond anything that can be accomplished by the individual.

One wonders if the power of the umbrella icon will contribute meaningfully to a much more far-reaching influence for the Hong Kong protests than most of us have imagined to date.

PPL from #HongKong need ur #Help
Pls sign online petition #UNSC
#UmbrellaRevolution #thankyou

Related posts

Large protests in Hong Kong have been occuring in Hong Kong for decades. Street demonstrations at the beginning of 2010 exhibited a new high in diversity, expression, and energy.

(See #0101hk: Visual Imagery of Hong Kong Protests Jan 1 2010 )


In the days and weeks ahead, we have an enormous opportunity to better understand how people in one of the most important places in the world think and operate. What would be truly valuable would be for us to convene many more conversations about the underlying issues, and the big emerging directions.

(See Empire, Chinese Style ("Why the Leung Face?") )

The resistance art on the West Bank wall has become iconic for the movement to resist the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As a part of our preparation for this prayer justice walk on Good Friday, we created some sign boards that replicate art found on the Wall (also known as the Separation Barrier) in Israel. Palestinians and visitors from throughout the world have added their own street art, graffiti, and public art to the Wall, as a sign of protest, an invitation to peace, and a critique of the lack of global intervention. We are posting pictures of our recreations of some of these sign boards in honor of those amazing artists (some known and others anonymous). These signs should help each of us consider what our own role could be in ending the injustice in the Middle East – whether gaining further personal awareness about the Wall, writing to a legislator, reading more about the plight of Palestinian people, or supporting a justice organization working in the Middle East.

(See Completed "Wall" sign boards - for Good Friday event)

It seems to me that that folding cranes -- and folding cranes together with other people -- is very similar to prayer. It's a simple, discrete activity that anyone can participate in. It can be very brief. It can be very private. But it can also open up all kinds of possibilities.

(See FOLDING FOR PEACE: How many uses can you think of for a crane? )

Orange jumpsuits have become iconic for the movement against indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo. The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo holds weekly vigils at Dearborn and Jackson in Chicago every Friday at 4:30 p.m. to support the Guantanamo Hunger Strikers and to demand that Guantanamo be shut down.

(Learn more about weekly vigils by the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo.)

More related links

Every revolution needs an anthem. Here's "Raise the Umbrella" [Umbrella Revolution] by Denise Ho, with English translation and a video collage by Alice Tong.

The New York Times reports "[I]t is unlikely that Ms. Ho will be singing that song in mainland China, where, she said the other day, she gets about 80 percent of her income, mostly from performances. She has had no invitations to perform there since the summer, when she began publicly showing support for the pro-democracy movement. " (See "Stars Backing Hong Kong Protests Pay Price on Mainland" by Amy Qin and Alan Wong, October 24, 2014)