Hong Kong has accelerated its civil-disobedience campaign to new heights this past week. The peaceful sit-ins of Hong Kong residents began on September 28th in line with the Occupy Central With Love and Peace Movement, aimed at calling attention to the what they believe are the Communist Party’s undemocratic rulings in regards to Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The causal factors for this involved China overruling the established rule that Hong Kong could independently elect the Chief Executive that ruled over Hong Kong, by establishing that Hong Kong could independently elect the CE, but the pool of candidates for that position would be determined not by Hong Kong locals but by the Chinese government. The legal standing of Hong Kong as politically independent of China is something that is rooted in the Sino-British joint declaration that joined Hong Kong to China again, and is an important moment in history and law that has led to this emerging disenchantment of the part of Hong Kong residents.
The protests, while peaceful, have been met with tear gas and riot police, a scene unfamiliar for a city that has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world. The overwhelming police response to the protests have led to comparisons with the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, with Hong Kong protestors mimicking the memorable ‘hands up don’t shoot’ pose that emerged from Ferguson protestors over the shooting of Mike Brown.
Beyond this symbol of solidarity, however, is the symbol of the umbrella. Protestors used the umbrella for the practical purpose of defending themselves against tear gas and chemicals yielded by the police, but their initial use was as a political symbol rather than a utilitarian object. The interpretation of symbols in political contexts is of great importance to students reading for the HSPS, PPE, archaeology and anthropology courses and for linguistics, and a foundational text would be Saussure’s discussion of langue and parole as the distinction between langue (language) as the atemporal, ahistorical symbol, and parole (speech) as the historically contingent use of a symbol In this case. The langue of the umbrella is its use to shield protestors from tear gas; the parole is what the umbrella symbolises in this specific political climate – what it comes to mean beyond its utilitarian purposes in the current eruption of protest and civil disobedience.