Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
A pro-democracy demonstrator gestures after police fired tear gas towards protesters near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Riot police use tear gas against protesters after thousands of people blocked a main road at the financial central district in Hong Kong, Sept. 28, 2014.
Policemen rest following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 29, 2014.
A protester raises his arms as police officers try to disperse the crowd near the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2014.
Protesters gather in the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 29, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 29, 2014.
A protester sleeps on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex at sunrise on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Protesters take part in a rally on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct.1, 2014.
Protesters react as Joshua Wong (not pictured), leader of the student movement, speaks to the crowd outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong, Oct.1, 2014.
A protester holding an umbrella stands on the street close to the Hong Kong Government Complex on Oct.1, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A local resident breaks through police lines and attempts to reach the pro-democracy tent on Oct. 3, 2014 in Mong Kok, Hong Kong.
Policemen try to get a man to let go of a fence guarded by pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong on Oct. 3, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester sleeps on a concrete road divider on a street outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
The statue "Umbrella Man" by the Hong Kong artist known as Milk, is set up at a pro-democracy protest site next to the central government offices in Hong Kong on Oct. 5, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester uses bamboo to strengthen a barricade blocking a major road in Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2014.
Demonstrators walk past notes hanging on a wall outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty business district in Hong Kong on Oct. 17, 2014.
Tents set up by pro-democracy protesters are seen in an occupied area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Nov. 12, 2014.
A young Hong Kong couple who did not give their names wear gas masks as they pose for a wedding photographer prior to their marriage next to the tents used by pro-deocracy demonstrators at the Admiralty protest site on Nov. 14, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police face pro-democracy protesters on Nov. 19, 2014 outside the central government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police officers disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Legislative Council building after clashes with pro-democracy activists on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy protesters climb up a wall as police officers disperse them outside the Legislative Council building after clashes with pro-democracy activists on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists sleep outside the Legislative Council building after protesters clashed with police on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police arrest a pro-democracy protester on Lung Wo Road outside Hong Kong's Government complex on Nov. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A young student studies in a makeshift classroom set up on a main road at a major pro-democracy protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec. 1, 2014.
A demonstrator is taken away by policemen, at an area previously blocked by pro-democracy supporters, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters remove signs placed up during the past two months of protests from the area around the protest camp but leave intact the notice "We are dreamers" in the Admiralty in Hong Kong on Dec. 11, 2014.
Hong Kong police dismantle the remains of the pro-democracy protest camp in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec. 11, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Ho
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Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images
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79 Days That Shook Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities on Monday began tearing down the last of the city’s pro-democracy camps, bringing a quiet end to two and a half months of street occupations that constituted the most significant political protest in China since 1989's Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing.

By Tuesday, all three protest sites — in the Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay districts — will be gone. The streets will be tidied up and returned to traffic, office workers and shoppers.

The protesters are leaving the streets with few tangible results. Beijing has rejected their insistence that Hong Kongers should have the right to freely elect the head of the city's government without a pro-establishment committee first handpicking the candidates.

The Hong Kong government has also made it clear that it sees itself as a local representative of the central government, and is unwilling to convey the democratic aspirations of many of its people to Beijing.

Yet what has appeared out of the political hothouse of the tent cities is something with much more potential to undermine the Communist Party's control over this wayward southern city, already culturally estranged from the mainland — and that is a generation of Hong Kongers who have defied Beijing, who have vowed to defy it again, and whose actions have generated a collection of resonant images that will inspire Hong Kongers for a long time to come.

After police used tear gas against protesters on Sept. 28, tens of thousands rallied to the streets. Right by the walls of the People's Liberation Army barracks and the Hong Kong government’s headquarters, demonstrators unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves against police pepper spray. The poignant image of ordinary Hong Kongers standing up to a foe like China with nothing but these everyday items gave birth to the movement's name: the Umbrella Revolution.

By November, the protests had contracted. The weather turned petulant, the protest leadership sparred and splintered, and demonstrators camped in the streets began to wonder how long the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing were content to let them wait. Public opinion, too, turned against the protests, with commuters complaining of epic traffic snarls caused by barricaded thoroughfares — among them Hong Kong's major arteries — and business owners in the occupied areas feeling the pressure of reduced takings.

In one of the last rites of defiance, more than 200 protesters, including leading democratic legislators, refused to leave the largest protest site as police and demolition crews approached it last week — except, those demonstrators said, under duress and in a police van. In a process that took hours and made for a dramatic scene, police escorted — and sometimes carried — protesters off the pavement, one by one, toward a waiting police bus.

Left behind in the streets, as the final demonstrators were shown out, were countless signs, chalked on the roads, posted on walls, hung as banners and even floated into the sky on balloons. They all promised the same thing: “We will be back.”

Here, in 30 photographs, is a record of Hong Kong's political awakening, and proof that the threat to return to the streets is not an idle one.

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