TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Protesters Feel Betrayed by Their Own Government

Students Continue To Protest In Hong Kong Following Negotiation Talks
A pro-democracy protester displays his T-shirt on a street in Mongkok district on October 22, 2014 in Hong Kong. Kong Ng—Getty Images

The only solution to the monthlong protest, they insist, is for the local government to fight for Hong Kong's rights instead of always capitulating to China

Hong Kong and China are “one country” with “two systems.” Yet these days, pro-democracy protesters say, the emphasis is patently on “one country.”

Just shy of one month into the protests paralyzing key traffic arteries in Hong Kong, democracy supporters here are outraged over what they say is the local government’s failure to meet even low expectations for interceding on their behalf to Beijing.

“Under normal circumstances, the government should argue the people’s case in Beijing and help Hong Kong to secure universal suffrage,” says Emily Lau, chair of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.

“But it has done the reverse,” she says, “by urging Hong Kong people to accept the unacceptable.”

Indeed, supporters of the protests point to concrete steps Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, could take — but hasn’t — to get Beijing to end the deadlock. That Leung hasn’t approached Beijing for reforms, but has instead encouraged protesters to back down, illustrates to demonstrators one of the chief reasons for their ongoing sit-ins: if Beijing gets to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s top leader, as it plans to do in 2017, this city is bound to get another local government unwilling to defend “two systems.”

“We are supposed to have autonomy,” said 30-year-old civil servant Cheong Kung on Thursday night, as he leaned back on his hands in the main protest area of Harcourt Road (recently dubbed Umbrella Square by protesters after the movement’s symbol). “Supposed to have it,” he added with wry emphasis. “Supposed.”

“This is why we are here,” said his friend Yai Pon, 30, a travel writer. “If we don’t get universal suffrage, we will never really have autonomy.”

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, promises the territory “a high degree of autonomy” from China, to which it was returned in 1997 after 156 years of British rule. But protesters say the Hong Kong government has let Beijing chisel at that autonomy for years — most recently by not challenging the Aug. 31 decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, on electoral reforms in Hong Kong.

The NPC’s decision says Beijing will sieve candidates for Hong Kong’s top leader through a 1,200-member committee widely seen as stacked with Beijing loyalists. To get on the ballot, candidates must win at least half the committee’s votes. Protesters see this process as a violation of the Basic Law’s promise that Hong Kong people can elect the chief executive by “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” They say it is undemocratic to put someone in Hong Kong’s top seat who, by virtue of the manner in which they were elected, has already let the whittling of local autonomy to continue.

“The concept of autonomy assumes that is in in the interest of the autonomous government is to defend its autonomy,” says Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“But there is a feeling that what we have in Hong Kong is a government that represents Beijing’s interests and is delinquent in representing Hong Kong’s interests to Beijing,” says Davis. “I think that’s at the heart of all this.”

Since Sept. 28, protesters, who on at least one night numbered 10,000, have stood, sat and slept in the streets to lobby Beijing to revisit the Aug. 31 decision. In recent days, Umbrella Square has acquired a sense of semi-permanence, turning into a village of tents arranged in tidy rows under the perennial neon twinkle of the city’s skyscrapers.

Not everyone in Hong Kong agrees with the protests. Many residents are anguished over the disruption the protests are presenting to local commerce, especially retailers in the protest areas, and to taxi and truck drivers affected by the traffic diversions and gridlocks the sit-ins have wrought. A sizable portion of the population — mostly working class and elderly — is also pro-Beijing and view the democracy movement as a threat to their livelihoods.

Yet the most recent public-opinion poll from the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that support for the protests for the first time exceeds opposition to them. The results of the poll, conducted between Oct. 8 and 15, indicate that 37.8% of respondents support what’s been dubbed the Umbrella Movement, while 35.5% oppose it.

In September, before the protests kicked off, 46.3% of public opposed activists’ plans to occupy the streets, and 31.3% said they favored such plans.

Protesters say that demonstrable support here for electoral reform obligates the Hong Kong government to communicate such support to Beijing and ask that the demands be addressed. They point in particular to a line in the Basic Law that says the election method “shall be specified in the light of the actual situation” in Hong Kong.

“The actual situation right now is very different than it was on Aug. 31,” says Surya Deva, a professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong. “The chief executive should submit a report to the NPC on the new situation. He should convey that there should be a pathway for a democratic candidate to stand for election.”

“There is no legal issue here,” says Deva. “The chief executive is legally allowed to ask the NPC to reconsider, and the NPC is constitutionally allowed to change, or even void, its decision.”

In a televised meeting between students and government officials this week, students urged the officials to “have courage” and bring protesters’ demands to Beijing.

The Hong Kong government “has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong,” said Yvonne Leung, a delegate for the Hong Kong Student Federation.

Yet Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, said the government was prepared to send a new report just to the relatively lowly Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, not to the NPC. Students pressed Lam for an explanation of what could come of sending a report to the office, which was uninvolved in the Aug. 31 decision, but received no answer.

Neither the students nor the government has announced plans for a second round of talks. On Friday activists said they will poll protesters on the government’s offer to write to the council, while on Thursday the government said it would stage an exhibition on the Basic Law, so that “members of the public may also gain a better understanding” of it. The government has repeatedly insisted that the NPC decision is consistent with Hong Kong’s laws.

Hilary Lee, 20, a manager at a local school who was staffing a supplies station near the outskirts of the protests in Admiralty district on Thursday night, said she would be willing “to go step by step” toward a more democratic government, but did not see the government taking any steps.

“I’m waiting here until C.Y. Leung apologizes and until he does something that would make me feel like, O.K., change is coming,” she says, referring to Leung by his initials, as he is commonly known. “But the government is not doing anything.”

Mark Cheung, 28, a videographer who has lived in Umbrella Square for almost a month, said he is not optimistic that the government’s do-nothing zeitgeist will change: “The Hong Kong government has not fought for the right of Hong Kong people to have fair elections. And I’m pretty sure they’re not going to do anything different now.”

“They could,” he says, “but they won’t.”

TIME politics

Russell Brand Explains How You Start a Revolution

"This is a revolution to make life more exciting."

Russell Brand’s new book, Revolution, begins in a bathroom stall before his now infamous interview with English journalist Jeremy Paxman. In the last moments of silence before the sit-down, he throws up a few prayers (not to mention a couple of Eminem lyrics) and plans for the best.

In the next hour, that interview (or more appropriately worded, that clash) with Paxman — wherein Brand expounded on his views about errant voting paradigms, the stifling power of oligarchies, and the exploitation of the underclass — would throw him into a political sphere no one was really expecting.

A year later, Brand is calling for a revolution.

TIME Hong Kong

Watch Hong Kong’s Poor Demand Their Say in the Way the City Is Run

Lower-income groups have a huge stake in democracy protests currently rocking the city

After more than three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have paralyzed parts of Hong Kong, anger at the city’s leader has reached an all time high.

They were exacerbated even further when Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying told reporters Monday that if he gave in to protesters demands and held an open election, it would result in the city’s lower-income groups dominating politics.

Leung’s comments affect half of the population of Hong Kong who earn HK$14,000 ($1,800) a month.

In response, a group of protesters made up of civil society and political organizations marched to Government House Wednesday demanding an apology.

Amy Tse Tsz-ying, a social worker, told TIME that if half of the people in society are not represented in government then Hong Kong’s social problems will never improve.

“Democracy is highly related to the living conditions of grassroots people,” she said.

The chances of getting an apology out of Leung are slim but the march showed that the pro-democracy movement is not just about lofty ideals but rooted in real social problems

TIME Hong Kong

Kenny G Assures China That He Has No Opinion on the Hong Kong Protests

Kenny G
Saxophonist Kenny G performs during a media event in Taipei on May 14, 2010 Chiang Ying-ying—AP

"I love China,” he clarifies

Kenny G is not happy that China is not happy with him.

The American titan of soft jazz, whose elevator-friendly tunes are wildly popular in China, on Thursday clarified that he “loves China” and that his recent visit to the protests in Hong Kong was in no way a gesture of support for the demonstrators.

Kenny G’s much photographed walkabout at the main pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday led the Chinese Foreign Ministry to reiterate its line that foreigners — saxophonists included — should tread “cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.”

The superstar saxophonist was only too happy to clarify his stance.

“I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong,” he wrote in a Facebook post and on Twitter, clarifying that he had dropped by the protests “as a tourist” en route to a concert at a golf resort near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“I love Hong Kong and always come here to perform when I’m asked to. I love China and love coming here to perform for over 25 years,” he emphasized. “I only wanted to share my wish for Peace for Hong Kong and for all of China as I feel close to and care about China very much.”

Hong Kong’s demonstrators are waging the greatest challenge to the Chinese government in decades, refusing to quit the financial hub’s streets until Beijing grants the city true democracy.

Kenny G appeared on Thursday to have deleted a photo from his Twitter account in which he posed in front of a banner at the main protest encampment in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district. It had been captioned: “In Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

“I was not trying to defy government orders with my last post,” he said later, of the tweet. His most recent nonprotest related tweet is about dim sum.

Kenny G, whose real name is Kenny Gorelick, is extraordinarily popular in China. One of his songs, “Going Home,” floods Chinese malls and events at closing time to gently suggest that guests should head for the exits. Conspiracy theorists had wondered if the appearance of the “Going Home” artist himself at the occupied streets might be a not-so-subtle message to the protesters from Beijing.

Big celebrities who rely on the Chinese government’s goodwill to reach China’s colossal entertainment market have toed an uneasy line in calibrating their public opinion on the Hong Kong protesters. Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong action-film darling and pious Chinese government supporter, has publicly chastised the demonstrators for wounding Hong Kong’s financial prospects with the continued sit-ins in major traffic arteries (he also appears to make a cameo in a recent Kenny G tweet).

Yet in seeking to placate the Chinese government’s unhappiness, Kenny G conjured up a lot more unhappiness, as Facebook commentators were not too pleased to hear that the top-selling artist “loves China” and doesn’t “really know anything about the situation.”

“I would suggest before you start declaring your love for China you get yourself informed,” wrote one netizen, under the Facebook apology. “It’s not a hard situation to figure out!”

“Who wants to stand up for democracy in Hong Kong when there’s so much money to be made under the state-managed authoritarian capitalist system in mainland China?” continued someone else.

“Sounds like someone’s scared of the Chinese govt.,” wrote one commentator.

“Thanks for nothing,” concluded another.

Others, though, encouraged the musician to “not allow the negativity to bring you down!” and said they still loved his music.

Beijing has been accusing foreign governments of covertly inciting the demonstrations and has sternly told foreign leaders expressing support for the protesters to mind their own business.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has repeated Beijing’s line and alleged that “foreign influence” is involved in the demonstrations, but has declined to name such influence until the “appropriate time.” He has never mentioned smooth jazz as a possible culprit.

TIME Hong Kong

Kenny G Went to the Hong Kong Protests and Beijing Is Not Happy

American Musician Kenny G Performs In Hong Kong
American musician Kenny G performs on stage during his concert at Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Centre on May 17, 2011 in Hong Kong. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The famous saxophonist's visit prompted officials to reiterate their calls for foreigners to keep out of China's affairs

Kenny G is striking all the wrong notes in Hong Kong, the Chinese government says.

The Chinese foreign ministry has hinted that Kenny G, the American juggernaut of smooth jazz, might well be among the so-called “foreign influences” meddling in China’s affairs, after the top-selling saxophonist turned up at the main democracy protest site in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district, Reuters reports.

The city has been beset by protests for three weeks, with demonstrators furious over the tight restrictions China has put on local elections.

In photos making the rounds on social media, the curly-haired saxophonist is also seen making the peace sign at the barricades with patently delighted protesters.

But the tweet was apparently seen by Chinese officials not as a simple update on the musician’s whereabouts, but as an expression of support for Hong Kong’s protesters, who Beijing has resoundingly condemned.

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

“We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form,” she said.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, has alleged that “foreign influence” is involved in the massive challenge to his government that the protests pose, but has declined to name such influence until the “appropriate time.” He has never mentioned saxophonists as possible meddlers.

Interestingly, one of the artist’s songs, “Going Home,” is universally used in China at malls and events to gently let people know that it’s closing time and that they have to leave. Conspiracy theorists might see a hidden message for the protesters here.

TIME Hong Kong

TV Face-Off Dramatizes Gulf Between Hong Kong Protesters and Officials

In perhaps the first TV debate of its kind on Chinese soil, young trumps old

Huge numbers of Hong Kong people were transfixed by their televisions and devices Tuesday night local time, as they followed the live broadcast of a historic, two-hour meeting between black-clad rebel students and suited officials.

More than any other event in the three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have rocked China’s most international city, the dialog—the government hesitated to call it a negotiation—dramatized the gulf between the generations. It was also a microcosm of the political tension at work within all of China, between a rising, educated generation groping after its political rights, and an older one insistent on withholding them.

On screens and live audio streams, five representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) represented the sort of young people any nation would be proud to call its own: intelligent, informed and impassioned.

In talks with them were five senior government officials. Two officials remained mute throughout the 120 minutes and were widely mocked on social media for their silence. The others—headed by the government’s number two Carrie Lam—spoke mostly to utter legal sophistries and to tell the students what they have been saying for months: give up your fight and do as Beijing asks, because the decisions that have been made about Hong Kong’s political future cannot be changed.

To the thousands that had gathered at protest sites across the city to watch the talks on big screens, the government looked hopelessly out of touch. While the students addressed the officials formally, the officials called the students by their first names—in a move that Lam defended as friendliness, but which the Twitterverse found highly condescending.

It also didn’t help that the officials were speaking the day after Hong Kong’s patrician leader, Leung Chun-ying, made an appalling gaffe in front of foreign media, when he said that free elections in Hong Kong would allow those from lower-income groups to dominate the polls. (He later released a statement attempting to qualify his comments as springing from concern for social minorities, which probably made things worse.)

The central government says that it will allow Hong Kong’s 3.5 million voters to elect Leung’s successor in 2017 but insists that voters choose from a field of no more than three candidates, all screened by a pro-establishment committee. To the students, this is a nonstarter and it is the reason that thousands of them and their supporters have been occupying key areas of downtown Hong Kong for the past 24 days. Their protest has seen dozens injured, perhaps hundreds, in clashes with police and shady groups of thugs, and has become the most politically consequential movement on Chinese soil since the 1989 occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“What do we want?” asked HKFS deputy Lester Shum during the talks. “The right to vote; the right to be voted and voter, equally. Now the government is only telling us to pack up and go home.”

The officials, visibly uncomfortable at being brought to the table by a group of articulate twenty-somethings fresh from the barricades, offered modest concessions—more time to work out nomination procedures, more time to take soundings on Hong Kong’s long term constitutional development. Perhaps the submission of another report to Beijing.

“The 2017 [election] is not the destination,” said Chief Secretary Lam in conciliatory fashion. “We can still improve the system for [the next election in] 2022. If all the public opinion being expressed can be recorded and reflected to the central government, it will be good for democratic development.”

But it sounded like the administration was buying time and they were called on it at several points. “It is the Hong Kong government who is giving up its responsibility,” said HKFS delegate Yvonne Leung. “It has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong.”

Large numbers of police officers were deployed on the streets in case trouble flared following the debate. But while the rest of the night appeared to pass peacefully, there is a fear that greater unrest in the coming weeks is all but a certainty, now that the chasm between the protesters’ position and the government’s is so woefully apparent. Lam’s concluding remarks bore the faint augury of difficulties ahead.

“I hope you have the courage and wisdom to think of a way out of the current situation,” she said, sounding unintentionally ominous. “I hope you share the responsibility with us.”

Out on the street, Ivan Tsang, 23, an office assistant, spoke for many when he urged protesters to ramp up their campaign. “Overall [the students] represented me and I respect that,” he said. “But I believe we need to make our actions more aggressive so the government will listen.”

Nick Lee, 24, a cook living in the blue-collar district of Mong Kok, where some of the worst clashes have taken place, said: “[Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying] thinks he cannot give more power to the people, but I should have the power, not him.”

Michael Davis, professor of law at Hong Kong University, said that the government had given the protesters no reason to leave the streets. “The government doesn’t seem committed to do anything,” he said. “They only hinted they might file this supplementary report.”

What is certain is that the students came out best from the talks, shoring up their popularity before a large television audience that doubtless, until tonight, contained many undecided viewers.

“I don’t know what the next plan is” said Dora Ngan, 19, who watched the debate on a large screen at the teeming Causeway Bay shopping district. “But I will follow the student leaders.”

—With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Charlie Campbell, Rishi Iyengar, Per Liljas and David Stout. Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Protests Are Creating a More Ethnically Unified City

Members from Hong Kong's South Asian community take part in a protest for democracy on October 9, 2014 in the Central district of Hong Kong. Holing Yip

Many members of Hong Kong's non-Chinese community have been swept up in the Umbrella Revolution

Jeffrey Andrews, a 29-year-old social worker of Indian origin, got a call from a Pakistani friend on the night of Sept. 28, when thousands of Hong Kong people, many of them students, had begun to occupy the streets to demand greater democracy. “What are we doing?” his friend said. “We should be out there with the students, this is our city.”

Andrews agreed, and the next day they mobilized a group of about 35 of their peers, printed banners that read “Hong Kong is our home, we ethnic minorities strive for democracy” and headed to Admiralty, the main protest site. Andrews admits that he was unsure what kind of reception and acceptance they would get from the ethnically Chinese crowd.

“As soon as we got out with our banners people just applauded, and we were so encouraged,” he said. And they’ve been going back there every night since then.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have flooded the streets since the end of September, defying Beijing in a protest that is widely seen as the most politically significant movement in China in more than two decades. Among the crowds are many non-Chinese, who insist that they too belong to the Umbrella Revolution, as the protests are being called, and that it belongs to them.

“Of course it is our movement,” says 19-year-old Kenny Omar, born and brought up in Hong Kong but Somali by origin. “We’re born here, we’re citizens, we support them.”

“This is just as much my city as it is anyone else’s,” says Nick, 23, a filmmaker of Indian origin who did not wish to give his last name. “I think the movement is way past race and ethnicity, it’s deep down in the core of humanity.”

His friend Kamal Mirwani, a travel writer who proudly sports the iconic Hong Kong skyline as a tattoo down his right leg, says the drive for full political rights has real urgency. “This is our chance — this is the only chance we get,” he says.

According to the 2011 census, Hong Kong is home to over 450,000 people of non-Chinese ethnicity, making up 6.4% of its total population. Some, like the Indians and Parsis, trace their roots back to the founding of modern Hong Kong as a British colony in 1841, when they were drawn by the fledgling settlement’s possibilities for trade. Others, like the Pakistanis and the Nepalese, came to provide the policing and military muscle of what was then an outpost of the Raj. Still later communities — like the Indonesians, Thais and Filipinos — came in large numbers to do domestic work as Hong Kong prospered into a global financial hub.

A few non-Chinese, particularly from the South Asian community, have become fabulously wealthy. But in general, Hong Kong’s minorities often face various problems, particularly in the fields of education and employment. According to government statistics, nearly two-thirds of the ethnic minority population earns less than $500 a month, in a city where the median income is more than three times that.

For several of them, supporting Hong Kong’s democracy campaign takes precedence over their pocketbook woes. “I think with this movement right now, it’s so important that we’re focused on the development of democracy, that we’re not really talking explicitly about other issues,” said Holing Yip, research officer for ethnic minority advocacy group Hong Kong Unison. “People are noticing ethnic minorities being a part of Hong Kong, being participants.”

Yip points out that ethnic minorities have always been involved in protest movements in Hong Kong, but says that she has seen an overwhelming sense of solidarity that sets the Umbrella Revolution apart.

“They really see this as a movement that they need to be a part of,” Yip said.

Or at least most do. Others prefer to adopt a neutral stance. “It’s not my job to keep track of what’s happening,” said Mohammad Noor, a 63-year-old Bangladeshi who has lived in Hong Kong for nine years and sells snacks, dates and prayer caps outside the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre. “I think it is injustice to spoil this country,” he said. “It’s giving us a place to stay and work.”

Andrews says his group has faced some opposition of this nature, especially from older members of the community. “All of them say they’ve worked so hard to establish their businesses, and ask why we’re going against the flow of things,” he says. “Many of the Pakistanis even say their country has a great diplomatic relationship with China, that we’re going out and ruining it.” But he also says that negative comments make up only a sliver of the reaction they have encountered.

Unison’s Yip also detects a degree of fatalism. “One of the retorts would be ‘Even if the majority Chinese come out and they can’t do anything, what makes us feel like we can?’” she says. “But the others will say, ‘We are a part of this, if they are helpless, we are helpless too.’”

Nick, for his part, admits that he may not entirely subscribe to the ideology of the movement. But he says that’s irrelevant. “It’s less about whether I believe exactly in what’s going on, but I would be out there because I feel like it would affect the people of my city in the right way,” he says. “That’s why I’d be out there, to support them asking for what they believe is the right thing.”

“I think we’re finally being accepted as locals, we’re finally just like one of them,” says Andrews. “No matter what the result is going to be, at the end of the day I think we’re a much more unified Hong Kong than ever before.”

As the movement enters its fourth week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that — regardless of ethnicity — anyone who wants to get beneath the umbrella is welcome.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Accuses ‘External Forces’ of Aiding Protests

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY-LEUNG
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying answers questions during a press conference in Hong Kong on October 16, 2014. PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

The remarks, made to a local television channel in an interview on Sunday, have been rubbished by the pro-democracy protesters

Hong Kong’s embattled leader Leung Chun-ying has accused the city’s pro-democracy movement of being aided by foreign elements, echoing the Chinese government’s attitude toward the demonstrations that are now entering their fourth week.

Leung told a local TV channel in an interview Sunday that the protests are “not entirely a domestic movement, as external forces are involved,” according to the BBC. The chief executive (CE), as Hong Kong’s leader is officially known, did not elaborate on which foreign elements he suspected of interfering.

Hundreds of thousands have thronged Hong Kong’s streets since late September to demand a revision of Beijing’s insistence on pre-approving candidates for the city’s next CE election in 2017.

Student leaders have also been vocal in their demands for Leung, universally known by his initials C.Y., to resign, accusing the 60-year-old of putting fealty to Beijing above the city’s needs.

The Hong Kong government had earlier announced talks with the protest movement’s leadership, a week after negotiations had been canceled at the last moment. The meeting is due to be held on Tuesday.

“To make a statement that there are foreign powers infiltrating this movement right before the discussions is evidence that C.Y. [Leung] is hoping to crack down on the entire movement,” said Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of several groups spearheading the protests. He condemned Leung’s statement as “irresponsible” and urged him to provide evidence.

Lam Cheuk-ting, the head of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, called Leung’s latest comments “ridiculous,” as “we can see that the participants are all volunteers, they are not mobilized by any organization or any political party.”

“If C.Y. [Leung] has any concrete evidence, I hope he can provide it to the public and to the media,” Lam told TIME.

Lam said Leung’s statement seemed deliberate and tactical, since the CE may be seeking to foster Beijing’s support for a stronger crackdown on protesters. “I don’t think he is under pressure by Beijing, but this is his tactic to mislead the Beijing government,” Lam said.

TIME Hong Kong

The Main Hong Kong Protest Site Is a Perfect Anarchist Collective

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Members of the Occupied movement rest in their tents on a highway blocked by protestor barricades in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on October 16, 2014. ANTHONY WALLACE—AFP/Getty Images

There are no leaders, but everything, from the supply tents to the recycling stations, runs just beautifully

Billy Fong is out of a job.

Until recently, this high school student had found a purpose helping Hong Kong’s demonstrators over the high median dividers cutting through their encampment in the city’s Admiralty district.

Yet, as the occupation of Harcourt Road enters its fourth week, getting over the concrete walls has become easy: protesters handy with tools have made several sets of wooden stairs for them, complete with handrails.

“I have somehow become useless,” says Fong, 17, standing idly at one such set of steps on a recent evening. “But it’s okay,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Now I have more leisure time.”

Call Fong’s job a casualty of this protest’s maturation from an uncertain settlement to a bona fide village—a transformation that smacks of pure anarchism. Not anarchy, meaning chaos, but classical political anarchism: a self-organizing community that has no leader.

Protesters in Hong Kong share a common goal of getting Beijing to agree to free elections for the Hong Kong government’s top job in 2017 (at the moment, Beijing is insisting on screening candidates). But no one is fully in charge of these demonstrations, and protesters are split over how to get their demand answered. A lack of leadership is widely cited as one reason why the conflict has not come to a resolution.

Yet leaderlessness has not stopped Hong Kong demonstrators from achieving social consensus at their biggest protest site in skyscraper-hemmed Harcourt Road (or Umbrella Square, as the protesters now call it). These days, the six-lane thoroughfare turned tent community is a microcosm of the city that hosts it except for one detail: it does not have a chief executive, as Hong Kong’s leader is called.

“We don’t have a central command to do anything,” says Daris Wong, 30, a paralegal manning a Cantonese-English interpretation booth, the latest in his string of self-appointed protest gigs.

“It’s maybe the not so good thing about these protests,” he says, “but it’s also the most beautiful thing.”

Over the past few days, Harcourt Road has acquired suburbs of camping tents. Most tents have numbers. Some are recognized addresses. A letter was recently delivered by the Hong Kong Post Office to tent 22, according to the Democratic Party’s Facebook page.

Protesters need not bring their own accommodation. Last Friday, Pat, a freelance graphic designer who declined to give her last name, opened registration at 8:30 p.m. for 67 tents donated to the supplies station she helps run. The assembled tents are called the Freedom Quarter, she said, handing a young couple waiting in line a list of rules: cleanliness is a must; checkout time is noon on Saturday.

Protesters bedding-in will find their stay clean, if not necessarily comfortable. Do-gooders ensure that public restrooms around the site are stocked with a mind-boggling assortment of toiletries, from face moisturizer to conditioning shampoo, many of them designer brands. Student volunteers mop out the facilities too, because the municipal cleaners can’t keep pace with the high numbers of people passing through the washrooms every day.

Roving trash collectors meanwhile bring waste to designated recycling areas, where the items are sorted and carted out to the city’s trash-collection stations.

“I saw that it wasn’t being done, and someone has to do it,” says Henry Ip, 23, a college student making one of his twice-daily rounds through the site with a plastic trash bag.

Meanwhile, supply tents — there are several around Harcourt Road — have become bursting emporiums of water, towels, face masks, Oreo cookies and McDonalds takeout.

“It’s messy because I just got here,” says Isaac Hung, 24, a law student who works an informal day shift at one such station, gesturing to a sprawl of snacks and medical supplies. “Every shift, I fix it, and then I come back, and it’s all messy again.”

Hung’s supplies tent has two couches, mats that suffice as carpeting, and lighting fashioned from flashlights and saline solution bottles. A walkie-talkie on the floor crackles insistently. Supply stations use them to call on each other if one runs out of something

Conservation and consideration rule this camp. Wong, the paralegal, says he often tries to pass out lunchboxes to protesters, only to be turned down: “They say, ‘Save it for someone who needs it more,’” Wong says.

“So then I say, ‘O.K., but if you don’t take it, I will give it to the police,’” he adds. “Then, they take it.” As he speaks, students sitting in a sprawling study zone that the protesters have outfitted with desks, lamps, and power outlets, politely decline a volunteer stooping to offer them tiny cakes.

Like any village, this one also has its resident oddballs. One taciturn protester, wearing a skull-print ski mask pulled up to his eyes, passes plastic cups of soup to passerby. Glass bottles of beer bob inside in his big blue cooler. His area, furnished with a vase of sunflowers, is just one photographic opportunity for visitors wandering the protest village.

Art abounds, much of it inspired by the umbrellas that became the symbol of the movement after protesters used them to shield themselves from police pepper spray. There’s a tall statue of a figure holding out an umbrella that’s become the subject of countless Instagrams. A short distance away are exhibitions of photography and ink drawings. Tourists love to gather for photos in front of a long staircase leading up to the Central Government Offices that has become plastered with thousands of brightly colored Post-It notes, each bearing a message of support for the protesters. It’s been christened the Lennon Wall.

Not that life is always colorful here. Prominent pro-democracy figures — in fact anyone with something to say — give frequent lectures to considerable crowds, but “sometimes people get tired of public speeches,” says Ivy Chan, 40, a staffer for a Labor Party legislator and the organizer of nightly documentary screenings. She briefly interrupted a Friday night showing to let the sleepy-looking, supine crowd know she had found someone’s heart disease pills.

Meanwhile, a group of law students manning a tent for legal discussions were finding the hoped-for debates stymied by general agreement among those who stopped in. As Tilly Chow, 19, put it, “the people who are really against us aren’t here, and they don’t want to know what we have to say.” By midnight, the collective had drawn its tent door closed to discuss boiling a 60-something page legal analysis of the situation into something more concise.

Elsewhere, tents were faintly lit with the glow of Facebook’s smartphone app. A young man took a photo on his iPad of a young woman popping her head out of their newly erected tent and waited as she approved the pictures. Many people were already asleep, or at least trying.

Protesters, weathering criticism from conservative Hong Kongers and business owners tired of protests clogging major traffic arteries, have emphasized that this demonstration is not a jubilant sleepover. A sign posted in the main encampment reads: “Not a Party, is a Protest.”

Indeed, as midnight neared, three young women paused at a quiet, unclaimed plot of pavement and began unspooling tarp from a bag, looking anything but party-ready.

“This is not fun,” says Tracy Leung, 28, who works for a retail chain, holding a corner of the rumpled canvas, which she hoped would eventually be a tent, but did not yet look like one.

“No one likes to sleep on the street,” added her colleague, Carol Lee, 26.

But they had a critical role to play in this village, the three friends said.

“I’m here as one more body,” said Leung. “Because for every one less body here, it gets more dangerous for everyone else.”

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