Fueling the Hong Kong Protests: A World of Pop-Culture Memes

HONG KONG — A Broadway anthem. A Bruce Lee quote. Nods to John Lennon and Quentin Tarantino.

Legions of anti-government protesters have filled Hong Kong’s streets this summer, in the territory’s worst political disaster since Britain returned it to China in 1997. But whilst tensions rise, protesters are being motivated in the streets (and on social media) by exuberant memes, slogans, songs and art work.

Like Hong Kong itself, the motion’s aural and visible iconography channels a variety of Asian and Western influences. Here’s a take a look at some of the inventive expressions and pop-culture inspirations which are propelling demonstrators via a scorching, contentious summer season.

Protesters have launched slick movies that promote their trigger whereas paying homage to the Japanese anime movie custom, which regularly options surreal imagery and biting social commentary.

In one common video, younger demonstrators march of their signature uniform — yellow helmets and face masks — as one carries a yellow umbrella, a logo of the protest motion since 2014, when demonstrators blocked main streets in Hong Kong to demand extra democratic elections.

“No matter how difficult the road ahead is, we will keep walking forward together,” a solemn narrator says.

In one other video, a narrator reads out the protesters’ 5 predominant calls for — together with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation and full withdrawal of a invoice that may permit extradition to mainland China — over a livid drumbeat, towards a backdrop of avenue clashes.

Hollywood references infuse many of the slogans and memes coursing via the protests.

One common slogan — “If we burn, you burn with us” — is a defiant line delivered by Jennifer Lawrence’s character in the “Hunger Games” motion pictures, based mostly on the dystopian young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins.

Another, “Ideas don’t die,” appeared on a poster commemorating a demonstrator who died this summer season, alongside a picture of the rain jacket the man was carrying when he fell from a constructing.

That phrase appears to check with a line in the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta,” through which a masked avenger battling a totalitarian regime utters the line, “Ideas are bulletproof.”

Another protest poster that has circulated on-line reveals Mrs. Lam’s head superimposed over the physique of the actress Uma Thurman, star of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” martial-arts films.

In this case, the “bill” in query just isn’t an individual, however Mrs. Lam’s extradition laws, which was the initial trigger for the protests. Mrs. Lam has suspended the invoice and said it was “dead,” however she has stopped quick of formally withdrawing it, as protesters have demanded.

A recurring visible function of the protests has been the so-called Lennon Walls, the place folks have posted a whole lot and even 1000’s of slogans — totally on Post-it notes — in public spaces across the city.

Their identify comes from a wall in Prague the place tributes to John Lennon appeared after the former Beatle’s murder in 1980. It advanced into a spot the place younger Czechs expressed help for democracy and aired grievances towards the Communist regime ruling Czechoslovakia.

During the 2014 protests in Hong Kong, demonstrators created their very own Lennon Wall, papering a wall close to the legislative constructing with slogans. And this summer season, the partitions appear to have sprouted in all places, galaxies of Post-its denouncing the police, calling for extra democracy and expressing frustration with Mrs. Lam. Some of the shows have been torn down by individuals who oppose the protests, however they preserve springing again up.

“Come together, leave together,” learn one Post-it word in Chinese — evoking a Beatles track, although maybe not intentionally. “No retraction, no retreat.”

During avenue clashes with riot police this summer season, some protesters have inspired one another by shouting the phrase “Be water” (or spreading it on Twitter).

In Chinese Taoism, water represents energy and adaptability in the face of obstacles. “Water can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash,” Mr. Lee mentioned. “Be water, my friend.” Many protesters see the line as a logo of their civil disobedience, permeating Hong Kong society as water flows over a stone.

Some of the demonstrators who swarmed the Hong Kong legislative constructing earlier this summer season sang renditions of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” a 1974 hymn by the American composer Linda Stassen.

The selection partly displays how Hong Kong’s Christians, about one in 9 of the metropolis’s 7.5 million folks, tend to be active in its pro-democracy movement.

It’s additionally a canny strategic selection: Since mass demonstrations in Hong Kong require pre-emptive police approval, some protesters sing hymns as a result of non secular assemblies — which aren’t topic to the identical guidelines — are tougher for the police to justify breaking apart.

Another common chorus this summer season has been the refrain of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the Broadway musical “Les Misérables” (which was tailored from the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo).

In the play, and a 2012 movie starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, “Do you hear the people sing?” is an anti-establishment rallying cry for demonstrators in 19th-century France.

But on a latest night in Hong Kong, Harold Tsai, a protester who was taking part in the track from a speaker towards a close-by police barricade, mentioned that not all officers appeared to view the track as an antagonistic gesture.

“Some of them sing it,” Mr. Tsai, 28, added. “I see their mouths moving.”

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