Words always matter—but in Hong Kong, they do so to an unusual degree. The culture celebrates innovation with the Cantonese vernacular. Local slang changes constantly. You show off your smarts with poetic allusions and literary references. Wordplay is venerated.
As tens of thousands of people have filled Hong Kong’s streets, calling for full democracy day after day, the protests have uniquely reflected this aspect of the city’s nature and culture. In Kowloon, crowds have flocked to read an unsigned poem, entitled “One Who Dies for His Country” and written on a barricade, that offers hidden messages directed at the Chinese government. And as the protesters have sorted the trash produced by their gatherings, carefully separating what’s recyclable from what’s not, unrecyclable rubbish has come to be known by the code word “689”—a reference to the winning number of votes cast for Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying when he was chosen by a group of Beijing-approved electors.
The passionate diversity of expression has been especially evident in the signs produced by the protesters. Photographer Helsa Chan and I took to the streets of both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island over the past forty-eight hours to have a look. The photos in the slideshow above offer a look at how the protests, often called the “umbrella revolution,” are playing out. —Helsa Chan and Jeff Chu