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Myth and myth-making in HK protest art: a thread

(Sep 21, 2019)

HKers have been fighting for 3 mths, and we've seen how powerful modern myths can be. They frame our battles, help us we see ourselves as a ppl, but also, they sometimes freeze solid a mvmt that's supposed to 'be water'.

One modern myth we've gone to again and again is the Avengers. They appear here as a bit of a joke early on in mid June, after the govt unleashed tear gas because there were 'rioters'. We joked those few rioters must be superhuman to warrant such overreaction. 😂

Heroes from an Avengers: Infinity War poster pasted over an image of a mass demonstration in Hong Kong.

It then gets grim. These are from July - the 1st alludes to how Dr Strange 'beats' Dormammu by losing again and again. 2nd is from Endgame - the chance of winning is infinitesimal, and if we lose... So we have to win, whatever it takes.

A series of photos of major protest milestones: the 1.03 million person march on Jun 9, the 2 million march on Jun 16, the Jun 12 protest, and the Jul 1 occupation of LegCo. Image ends on a screenshot from the movie Doctor Strange, where the protagonist declares, "No, but I can lose. Again. And again. And again. Forever. That makes you my prisoner." This is captioned with a Chinese phrase reading, "Hong Kongers, never defeated!"
Left to right, top to bottom: 6.9 1.03 million person march. 6.16 2 million person march. 6.12 Wounding of the Bauhinia. 7.1 Hong Kong people's LegCo. Hong Kongers, never defeated! A screenshot from the movie Doctor Strange, with the words "Whatever it takes" at the top partially fading into dust. The screenshot is annotated with a comment in Chinese: "(If) we lose this time, there is no returning. We must beat them, until 2047."
Caption reads: "(If) we lose this time, there is no returning. We must beat them, until 2047."

By Aug, HKers have become the Avengers, because no one was coming to our aid. We're heroes assembling to take on a titan. But sense of dread pervades - note that ref to Ragnorak. Thor comes to that conclusion after deciding he had to burn down his home to save the world.

A modified Avengers: Infinity War poster, made to read "Airport: Infinity War" instead, with a background formed from overlaid images of the airport occupation, riot police firing a shotgun, and frontliners with umbrellas up against tear gas. Text at the bottom reads, in Chinese, "Continue to Fly-with-you", a reference to Hong Kong International Airport occupations. Text at bottom reads: Continue to Fly-With-You. A poster advertising a march on Aug 18 at 3 PM, from Victoria Park to Charter Road. The main slogan reads, Hong Kongers, ASSEMBLE!! as well as "Stop triad violence, limit police chaos" and "Support the Five Demands". A poster advertising a march on Aug 18 at 3 PM, from Victoria Park to Charter Road. The main slogan reads, Hong Kongers, ASSEMBLE!! as well as "Stop triad violence, limit police chaos" and "Support the Five Demands". Two photos. The top photo, of the Hong Kong skyline, is captioned, "Hong Kong is not a place". The bottom image, of a street filled during a peaceful march, reads "IT'S A PEOPLE". Hashtag in the corner, in Chinese: "Leaving the island but not the people?"
Hashtag in the corner, in Chinese: "Leaving the island but not the people?" A colourful illustration of all kinds of hongkongers in protest gear, representing a variety of protestor "types" such as medics, journalists, peaceful protestors and frontliners, as well as well known protest figures such as Uncle Chan of Save the Children. Text in the middle reads, in Chinese and English, "Hong Kongers, Assemble. We will go together."
Text in the middle reads, in Chinese and English, "Hong Kongers, Assemble. We will go together."

September, Avengers still here, especially Cap. His shield defends our frontline fighters. His words too. We've not given up, even after seeing our friends fail and fall 5 years ago. And we're here to fight. (That's a deep cut, whoever made that ‘permission' poster).

Illustration of a frontline protestor in hard hat and half-face respirator, in profile. He is carrying a black bauhinia flag and a Captain America shield. Text on the bottom left reads: 9.18 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Vertically-rotated image of Harcourt Romanticist's redrawing of Liberty Leading the People, with protestors in place of the revolutionaries. Text, in English, reads: some people moved on. BUT NOT US. #FightForFreedom #StandWithHongKong Illustration of black-on-yellow silhouettes of frontline protestors, extinguishing tear gas with cones as more tear gas canisters come down. Text, in white, reads: Some people moved on/But not us. Poster advertising un-permitted rally for Sep 15. Image is a illustrated closeup of two hands held together, by two people dressed in yellow. Text on top, in white, reads: We're way past asking for permission.

We tapped into Star Wars later. Started as a fun bit of trolling - in early Aug, HKPF arrested a student for buying laser pens, saying they're offensive weapons. 😂 From then on, laser pens (and occasionally toy lightsabers) became very much part of the protest and the art.

Yellow-outlined Chinese text, and an English translation of the same, overlaid on an image of galaxies in reference to the Star Wars logo. Text reads: Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Lasers Modified photograph of a protestor holding up a reflector, on which other people are aiming blue and green laser pointers. The beam from the reflector has been edited to read "Extradition Bill" in white. The image is captioned, "May the force be with us." Illustration of a frontliner in a black helmet, ballistic goggles, and a half-face respirator, holding a green laser pointer shining at the viewer and a green lightsaber. Text on top reads WE ARE ONE. Text on bottom reads FREEDOM/Got to fight for it. Two images. Top image is of the Death Star getting ready to fire a green beam of light. Bottom image is a photograph of a protestor holding up a reflector, into which the surrounding people are shining blue and green laser pointers, implying that the protestor in the bottom image is deflecting the shot from the Death Star.

The HK version of Tom Jung's iconic Star Wars poster. We are a new hope. China is the Death Star, the police is its enforcer, Vader, and we have tear gas canisters flying instead of X-wings. Note R2 has been unceremoniously replaced by a bin. I don’t know why either. 😂

An illustration copying Tom Jung's Star Wars poster, with a male and female protestor taking the place of Luke and Leia, R2-D2 replaced with a Hong Kong style orange trash bin, and flying tear-gas canisters instead of X-wings. Vader in the back has been replaced with a gas-masked riot cop. An adapted Star Wars movie poster, with Vader in the back replaced with a gas-masked riot cop. Luke in the foreground has been replaced by a protestor in a yellow hard hat, with a half face respirator, a black short-sleeved shirt, and work gloves, holding a green lightsaber aimed straight up. The caption reads: Hong Kong, A New Hope. Text at the bottom in Chinese reads: "All citizens awaken / At the first light of dawn." Text at the bottom in Chinese reads: "All citizens awaken / At the first light of dawn."

Let’s talk Luke. That’s his lightsaber on here (because me = nerd). Not just his, actually. Anakin’s first, then Luke, then passed on to Rey 30 yrs later. We HKers are just the latest custodians of hope, part of a fight that started long before we were born.

A poster advertising a march at Sham Shui Po on August 11. Text is mainly in Chinese. Top to bottom: "Sham Shui Po, Anti-Extradition Bill (lit. 'anti-return to China'). The poster lists the starting point, meeting time, march start time, and final location, and says the march has obtained a letter of no objection. A list of slogans on the right reads: "A collective blossoming", "Five demands, not one lest", "Push aside corrupt help, return my Hong Kong", "Kick aside corrupt cops, a fair city", "Hong Kong People, awaken".
Top to bottom: "Sham Shui Po, Anti-Extradition Bill (lit. 'anti-return to China'). The poster lists the starting point, meeting time, march start time, and final location, and says the march has obtained a letter of no objection. A list of slogans on the right reads: "A collective blossoming", "Five demands, not one lest", "Push aside corrupt help, return my Hong Kong", "Kick aside corrupt cops, a fair city", "Hong Kong People, awaken".

Fitting the other SW story we see ourselves in is TLJ. We are a desperate Resistance. We are Rose, saving what we love, even as we grieve. We are Luke, facing the might of the FO alone, asking our family to choose better, buying time for our friends. We are the spark...

An illustrated adaptation of a The Last Jedi poster with different Hong Kong protestors in place of the movie's characters. Text at the bottom reads: Sham Shui Po, Anti-Extradition Bill March, August 11.
Text at the bottom reads: Sham Shui Po, Anti-Extradition Bill March

These may just be kids referencing what they know. But these modern shared myths have also helped HKers frame what we're going thru, because... it still feels surreal. But heroes standing up against evil? - a tale as old as time, we can wrap our heads around that.

(Also, I know the likes of @Russo_Brothers and @rianjohnson can't, won't, and probably shouldn't engage in a thread on HK protest art. But still want them to know their stories have left their mark, and inspired a people.)

Apart from identifying with modern myths, HKers have also been active creating their own. The most prevalent is the distinction between the frontline 'braves', and the peaceful 'woleifei'1.

An illustration of peaceful 'woleifei' protestors in black and white on a yellow background. The background contains the faint names of Hong Kong districts. Main caption reads: WE THE FEARLESS MAJORITY. Text in top right corner: Never Forget (English and Chinese). Text in bottom left: Eggs have never been alone (in Chinese).
Text in bottom left: Eggs have never been alone. An illustration of militant 'yungmo' frontline protestors in black, yellow and white, in front of outlines of umbrellas representing the peaceful 'woleifei' protestors behind them. Main caption reads: WE're MANY THEY're FEW. Text in top right corner: Never Forget (English and Chinese). Text in bottom left: Eggs never come alone (in Chinese).
Text in bottom left: Eggs never come alone (in Chinese).

The 'braves' have the most stunning art and posters. Because, I mean... just look at that imagery. We turn street signs into shields. We use mom's oven mitts to pick up tear gas canisters. We have our tennis rackets and umbrellas, in a city of fire and smoke.

A modified photo of a young woman, her face out of shot, holding a makeshift shield made from a road sign. She is wearing a black short-sleeved tshirt and heavy-duty black gloves, with a yellow hard hat hanging from her hip. The background is a foggy black-and-white photo of the Hong Kong skyline. Text, in white, reads: You'll never walk alone (English), Revolution of Our Times (Chinese), Aug 5,  general strike across Hong Kong (Chinese). At the bottom are two hashtags, #FUXKDAGOV and #FUXKDAPOLICE, and the other half of the slogan: Free Hong Kong Revolution Now (English), Liberate Hong Kong (Chinese).
Text, in white, reads: Revolution of Our Times, Aug 5, general strike across Hong Kong (Chinese). A digital painting of a teenaged yungmo frontliner, in a black bike helmet, shatterproof goggles, and half-face respirator with thin black fabric over the respirator. He has work gloves on and is smothering a burning tear-gas canister with a metal wok lid. A digital poster featuring a frontliner tossing back a burning tear gas canister. Text superimposed on top reads: We Fight. Text around the edges reads: Faith is taking the first step / even when you don't see the staircase. At the bottom, a quote: "The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King, Civil rights leader." A black-and-white illustration of a female frontliner in hard hat, goggles and respirator, holding an umbrella. She is getting ready to sprint into a cloud of gas. Superimposed on top (English) in large red letters: "Even the darkest night will end. Together we fight and the sun will rise. Guardians of Hong Kong. Copyright 2019, all rights reserved by Hong Kong Citizens.

More posters of the 'braves' in HK. A crew of masked and geared up young people, posed like reluctant heroes in some cyberpunk world. And always, the damn tear gas.

A photograph of a young frontliner in hard hat, goggles and respirator, standing against an out-of-focus backdrop of a street filled with protestors. It looks like the air is filled with gas and the glow suggests a fire in the back. Text on top, mainly English: Stand with HK. In Chinese: Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times. English: If We Burn, You Burn With Us. God Bless HK.
Chinese text reads: Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times. An illustration of seven frontline protestors standing in a dense cloud of smoke, some in hard hats, a few in just soft hats. Most are wearing eye protection in the form of goggles, swim goggles, or a full-face respirator. Everyone is masked. The protestor in the bottom center of the image has his hand on a traffic cone.
Chinese text reads: Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times. A stylized illustration of a woman, face uncovered in a plain baseball hat, shielding a young girl from tear gas canisters fired by a line of riot police. She is shielding herself and the girl with a yellow umbrella labelled "Hong Kong" with the bauhinia symbol on it. All around them is a dense cloud of tear gas. In the background are skyscrapers. A modified photograph of a group of frontline protestors, holding makeshift shields, pouring water on a burning tear gas canister. On top is the Chinese slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times". In large English text, the word "protestor" has been partially crossed out so it reads "protector". Chinese text reads: Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.

There aren't many striking posters of the 'woleifei', because, as the myth goes, only the 'braves' do the striking. The closest we got are these, all of which are on the theme of the unity between the frontline and their more peaceful and rational brothers and sisters.

A very stylized yellow, black and white drawing of two faces, one in hard hat and respirator to represent a frontline brave, and one in a surgical mask for the 'woleifei'. The text reads: Together we will win. Digitally altered photo in two halves. On the left is an image of a frontline brave in a hard hat, goggles and respirator. The Chinese character "brave" is behind him. On the right is an image of a protestor in a baseball cap and surgical mask waving a flag, on which is the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times" written in Chinese. Behind this image is the Chinese character "Peace". Down the middle, "WE CONNECT" is written vertically. At the bottom is a caption reading "Six demands, not one less" in Chinese. Left background: "Brave". Right background: "Peaceful". On the flag is "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times." At the bottom, "Six demands, not one less", referring to the additional demand of abolishing the Hong Kong police. An illustration depicting a peaceful woleifei and brave yungmo protestor standing next to each other, holding hands in a human chain. Text across the top reads: We connect. Underneath that, in Chinese: "Not even a nuclear explosion would sever us."
Chinese reads: "Not even a nuclear explosion would sever us." A cartoon of a frontline brave and woleifei protestor combining their powers to go superpowered, advertising a march on August 18. Text in Chinese reads: If you can come, you're a Hong Konger! Text in Chinese reads: Those who can come are all Hong Kongers!

The idea of distinct roles - think RPGs where you've tanks, DPS and healers - makes for a nice, powerful myth and helped when we were first organising. The braves defend us! The woleifeis support us! But they at times also restrict us from seeing the reality.

A grid of illustrations portraying eight "types" of protestor: the Logistics Group is represented by a surgical mask and cardboard box of supplies. The Journalist with press helmet and vest. First Aider with medical vest. Social Worker with ID badge and phone. Legislative Councillor with ID badge and megaphone. Peaceful Protestor with cap and surgical mask. Publicity group with laptop. Bravest Protestor with hard hat, goggles and respirator. In the center is a white bauhinia icon on a yellow background, and text reading: Either the way, we share the same goal. Chinese text: No withdrawing (support), no scattering, no leaving, no abandoning.
Chinese text in center: No withdrawing (support), no scattering, no leaving, no abandoning.

The reality that the 'frontline' of resistance has changed. Students who join human chains. Housewives who shout out slogans at night. 'Gaifong's who protect kids and their neighborhoods form the HKPF. Musicians playing our anthem in a mall. They are all actively fighting.

Four photographs depicting middle/high schoolers, in masks, forming human chains as part of peaceful protests. None of them are holding hands directly, but rather holding onto objects together: boxes of soybean milk, umbrellas, clothes. On the side, written vertically in Chinese, is: "Blossoming everywhere: over 140 secondary schools form a human chain."
On the side, written vertically in Chinese, is: "Blossoming everywhere: over 140 secondary schools form a human chain." An MTR-style poster featuring bold monochromatic illustrations in a red circle. The illustration is of two tower blocks filled with people shouting at each other, with the Chinese slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times" in the middle. Underneath is text in Chinese and English saying: "Roaring at 22:00, HongKonger Let's shout" A black and white photo of a man, arms outstretched, unarmed and dressed in a tank top, shorts and flip flops, standing in front of a riot police officer aiming a revolver in his direction. On top is a caption in Chinese: "When the people do not fear death, what do they fear?" Chinese: "When the people do not fear death, what do they fear?"

The reality that the our 'braves' are not invulnerable superhumans. They get tired. They get depressed. They are not some anonymous 'black bloc' with no personality. They are just ordinary humans, faced with extraordinary circumstances. They can be us. They are us.

An illustration of a protestor with hard hat, goggles and dust mask, with his head bowed amidst a cloud of tear gas. A caption in a handwritten English style says, "You don't need tear gas to make us cry." A square red mark in the bottom right corner reads, "FK THE POPO". A simple illustration of a female protestor wearing a black shirt and hard hat, crying and trying to wipe away her tears with balled-up hands.

'Braves' or 'woleifei's isn't so important anymore - HKPF arrests everyone anyway. Line btw 'protestor' and HK citizen also artificial by now- when singing a song, posting on FB, jogging at night can be considered offensive acts, daily life becomes an act of resistance.

A colourful illustration of an umbrella, green laser pointer, and hard hat. It is captioned in English and Chinese as "daily item". A hashtag in the corner, in Chinese, reads: #Conscience flash cards. The hashtag: #Conscience flash cards.

We have to let go of some of the myths we've built around ourselves and our movement. 'Braves'/'woleifei' distinction makes it easy for others to portray this as a movement driven by a few 'radical protestors', when in fact it's HK citizens resisting.

An MTR style poster, featuring a simple heavily stylized illustration of a human chain inside a red circle. The caption, in Chinese and English, reads, "HongKongers stand as one".

We must let go of seeing those geared up as invincible protectors of our city. Not because we're ungrateful - so many of them have bled and cried for HK during this summer of smoke.

But that's it. The 'black bloc' shouldn't be our solution to this political crisis. This should never have been their burden to bear. Even the strongest umbrella can break. We must understand this, sympathise, see the human under the mask, and not glorify their hell.

One last myth we have to let go of - that we're fighting against some unchangeable entity that has always been there, and will always be there, with meticulous plans stretching to infinity. Our city has existed as a colony longer than the giant has existed as a country.

China as the country we know now has only really come into being in the last 3 decades. Even during the last 10 years, there were rare periods of greater freedom. Even in the last 3 months, those we thought unbendable conceded something. Not enough, obviously, but...

... it means big 時代 changes are not impossible, that our 革命 may not be futile. After all, the Avengers found their 1 in 14mln chance. Luke saved his father. We must have hope, if not for ourselves, then for our stories to inspire all those to come who fight tyranny.

A fantasy-style drawing of a young boy, dressed in dirty brown clothes and holding a broom, looking up at the night sky filled with stars.

Update, Oct 6, 2019

Star Wars protest art: We've actually had a few more. "Darkness rises, and light to meet it" frames the HKPF as the dark side, HKers as the light, ready for a final showdown... or a platonic hand-touching session in a hut in front of a roaring fire 😬 (All from TG/ Insta)

A heavily modified photograph depicting riot police on the left and protestors on the right. The left side has a red overlay and the right side has a blue overlay. On the bottom, left to right, is the English: "Dark rises — Light to meet it". Vertically down the middle in Chinese: "The Final Battle". Vertically down the middle in Chinese: "The Final Battle".

I have NO IDEA what this is. Is that actually Jesus with a lightsaber, protecting the back of one of our HK frontliners? Or is it an Obi-Wan who's let his beard grow out a bit? Either way, the pic is cute, and suggests god/the Force is with us.

A cartoonish chibi-style illustration of a Jedi - caucasian man in a robe holding a red lightsaber with a bushy beard - standing back to back with a Hong Kong protestor wielding a green lightsaber, all on a dark blue background. There is a caption in English reading "BOOMJESUS".

UPDATE - Avengers/superhero protest art: The antimask law's inspired some interesting pieces. This suggests it's akin to the Superhuman Registration Act which forces heroes to unmask. In which case, neither Iron Man nor Spidey shld look so dour but this is cool art, so shush! 🤓

An illustration of five characters standing in a row, all handcuffed. Left to right are: Spider-Man, Iron Man, a Hong Kong frontline protestor, Batman, and The Flash. At the bottom is a line of text in Chinese: "Oct 5 2019 00:00 The Anti-Mask Law is in effect."
Chinese: "Oct 5 2019 00:00 The Anti-Mask Law is in effect."

Things are dire, but we've kept our sense of humor. The left says antimask law means Iron Man now needs to take off his mask if he flies into HK. On the right, Thor is a frontline 'brave', and Cap is one of the peaceful woleifeis (hehe) - they must work together to save HK.

Three edited screenshots of an Iron Man movie. Top: A closeup of Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit, with the caption, "Tony, you have to take off your mask NOW." Middle: Iron Man flying in the sky with the caption, "Are you fxxking kidding me?" Bottom: A closeup of Stark inside the suit with pictures of Xi Jinping and Carrie Lam superimposed on top, with the caption, "Do you know that we have entered the sky of Hong Kong?" A poster advertising a peaceful march on Oct 1, using action figures of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. Thor, in the foreground, has Captain America hoisted over one shoulder while Iron Man is in the background. Captain America is labelled, in Chinese, "Extreme Peaceful Protestor", saying, "Today must be peaceful..." while Thor, labelled "Brave" (as in frontliner), is saying "Peace your mother, be brave with me together!" Captain America is labelled, in Chinese, "Extreme Peaceful Protestor", saying, "Today must be peaceful..." while Thor, labelled "Brave" (as in frontliner), is saying "Peace your mother, be brave with me together!"

Update, Nov 22, 2019

UPDATE: The Avengers, earth's mightiest heroes, will beat Thanos with... the power of the vote?

"Differentiate between good & evil - every vote counts!" - says poster, encouraging everyone to vote in the elections tomorrow.2

PS. Is that Captain Hong Kong?

Source: TG

A redraw of an Avengers: Endgame poster, with the heroes in the bottom left looking upwards towards an ominously looming Carrie Lam, who has taken the place of Thanos from the original poster. Chinese text on it reads: Differentiate between good & evil - every vote counts!

Update, Nov 25, 2019

UPDATE: The district council elections are over, but we ain’t done avenging yet. And now, the frontline knows there are people on their left... and their right, and above... Whatever it takes.

Source: TG

A photo of frontliners running towards the front line with a mass of protestors behind them. Glowing circles, taken from Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame, show "reinforcements" coming in: woleifei peaceful protestors. Text in English reads, "Whatever it takes." Across the bottom in small text: "Some people have moved on but not us".

(Jan 20, 2020)

UPDATE: Are the Avengers in a union? Probably not, but this is the first we've seen the union formation materials reference Endgame.

'When you're tired, look behind you - there are many who support you. Save HK, save yourself. Join a union, fight against power.'

Source: TG

One person standing in front of a glowing circular portal, taken from the Avengers movies. Inside the portal is a tightly packed street filled with protestors. The text, in Chinese, reads: "When you're tired, look behind you - there are many who support you. Save HK, save yourself. Join a union, fight against power."

Update, May 15, 2020

UPDATE: 😍 Ooooh. Star Wars continue to inspire! This is quite a picture - a nod to our lasers/lightsabers, 'Be Water'/ Laamchau and HK's famous neon lights

Source: stayfuckingcool - IG via TG

An edited photograph of a protestor in helmet, ballistic goggles and half-face respirator. They are wearing heavy-duty gloves and wielding a lightsaber. The protestor is standing in the rain against a smoky backdrop. The left side of the image is lit up in blue, while the right-hand side is in red.

Notes


  1. "Woleifei" is a phonetic transliteration of the term in Chinese, 和理非. It is an abbreviation for 和平,理性,非暴力, peaceful, rational, non-violent. ↩︎

  2. The 2019 District Council elections. ↩︎