Umbrella Revolution: Occupy HK protests inspire internet memes

Artists and illustrators in Hong Kong and beyond are using internet memes to voice their support for Occupy Central demonstrators

Tania Willis

Artists and illustrators in Hong Kong and beyond are using internet memes to voice their support for the Occupy Central demonstrators

Thousands of people have taken to Hong Kong’s streets this week to protest against the Chinese government’s plans to vet electoral candidates in the 2017 elections.

Images are being posted on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #umbrellarevolution and Kacey Wong, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has also set up an Umbrella Revolution logo design competition on Facebook and is posting submissions on his Facebook page.

Andrew Wong


The term ‘umbrella revolution’ refers to demonstrators’ use of umbrellas to shield themselves from teargas and pepper spray, which was fired by police on Monday. Police have been attempting to seize umbrellas but according to the AP, supporters have donated hundreds of replacements.

The umbrella has now become the symbol of the Occupy movement in HK, and has been spray painted on streets and applied to posters and flyers which are being distributed around the area. Protestors are also using their umbrellas as protest signs:


Image via @kimrjensen on Twitter

Image via @MariekeNOS on Twitter


Many memes and posters use yellow, referencing the yellow ribbons worn by protestors and displayed on supporters’ social media pages as a symbol of democracy and universal suffrage.

The flurry of images is reminiscent of those posted online in support of Occupy movements in Turkey and the Middle East last year . In Istanbul, Twitter was used to great effect to distribute imagery promoting the Occupy Gezi movement, including the widely adopted symbol of the Twitter bird wearing a gas mask (also worn by protestors to shield themselves from tear gas). See our post here

Tania Willis, an illustrator based in Hong Kong (whose meme is pictured top), says she felt compelled to create an image voicing her support after watching events unfold online and on TV.

“We already knew about the memes – linguistically –  from closely following the #occupyhk twitter. Watching the students firstly being kettled into Civic Square in the dreadful heat, they were protecting themselves from the boiling sun with umbrellas, then a few hours later came the very controversial decision by the police to use tear-gas and pepper-spray on the student protestors. We saw the images of them on TV and all over facebook, protecting themselves with the same umbrellas, hence it became #umbrellarevolution,” she explains.

“Hong Kong has been my home for 20 years, so I feel very strongly about this issue … I really felt that aside from taking supplies, I wanted to respond as designer to this but wasn’t sure how. Right now, Hong Kong seems to be fully-immersed in Occupy, and it’s hard to think of anything else. We are all very struck by the bravery and composure of the protestors,” she adds.

Willis’ image is a modified version of an illustration she did for a children’s book “hence the slightly childish quality,” she adds. “Not very activist in style, but given the sensitive subject matter, perhaps [that’s] not an altogether bad idea.”

You can follow the memes using #umbrellarevolution, #HKartists and #occupyhk

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