This summer, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have flowed through the streets of Hong Kong, tearing up government property, clashing with police, and demanding justice as they protest the region’s relationship with China. They don’t appear to be going home any time soon.
The demonstrations began in earnest in early June, in response to an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to send its residents to mainland China for trial, giving Beijing another form of jurisdiction over the territory and thus undermining its already fragile autonomy. On Wednesday, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, withdrew the bill in an effort to quell the uprising. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home,” she said. “We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.”
But it was too late. Over the course of the past three months, the protests have grown into something far more than a disagreement over a piece of legislation. They’ve become about police brutality, which has been rampant since the demonstrations began; they’ve become about the divide between pro-Beijing Hongkongers and a younger class fighting for democratic ideals; and they’ve become about commanding respect from a government that has largely dismissed protesters as naive children.
Instead of a press conference with a dubious claim that the extradition bill is off the table, the leaderless movement is seeking the satisfaction of five demands. The withdrawal of the bill was one. The others are for Lam to resign; for the government to remove the “riot” classification from the protests and release those who have been arrested; for the government to commission an independent inquiry into police brutality; and for universal suffrage. “The five demands are important to the Hongkongers,” says An Rong Xu, who has been photographing the protests for Rolling Stone. “I don’t see an end in sight.”
Xu’s photography paints a vivid picture of the protests, particularly the hotly contentious relationship between the Hong Kong police and the demonstrators, which have found ingenious ways to counter resistance from the government, from spray painting surveillance cameras, to using parking cones to extinguish tear gas bombs, to disassembling road barriers and using them to barricade their front lines. “The protesters are really smart when they do this guerrilla warfare kind of thing,” says Xu. “It makes it really hard to cover. They’ll start at one station, do damage, and then run to another one without us really knowing where they’re going. It’s a large game of whack-a-mole with police.”
But underneath the masks and Molotov cocktails lies a touching solidarity among those protesting for freedom. Some leave extra train fare in stations so demonstrators can ride home without using a metro card that can track their movements. Food is passed out in McDonald’s so those using all their money to buy body armor won’t go hungry. A ride-share service has even been developed so protesters can be ferried out of dangerous situations, often en masse.
“It was sort of like the Long March that Mao did,” says Xu. “There are a lot of parallels between how Mao came to power and how the protest is happening. Protesters are even putting quotes from Mao up on posters to show mainland Chinese visitors how their idol is also on their side.”
“It’s funny,” he adds. “History is repeating itself in a weird way.”
See An Rong Xu’s photos of the protests in the gallery above.