Being Like Water: After Clashes With Hong Kong Police, Occupy Protesters Go Mobile

November 28, 2014 Updated: November 30, 2014

The Occupy movement literally took off in a new direction on Saturday morning Hong Kong time.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters initially showed up on Sai Yeung Choi Street in Mong Kok Friday evening to carry on what they are calling the “Shopping Revolution.”

Protesters stood on sidewalks and claimed they are taking Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s advice to shop in Mong Kok. Leung claimed at a press conference that businesses suffered during the nearly two-month long occupation, and encouraged shoppers to return and shop after the protest sites were cleared.

The youthful crowd repeatedly chanted “Gau Wu,” or “shopping,” in the Chinese Mandarin dialect and “I want true universal suffrage.” Protesters also gave the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute, and an unruly few threw insults at the police.  

Close to midnight, police organized a baton-charge at the crowd, hitting protesters with riot shields and pepper spray. Police also made 28 arrests, according to RTHK. Protesters retaliated by throwing water bottles and eggs.

“Is there a need to really use so much force to beat us,” said Wong Ching-san, a young protester clad in a black jacket and flip flops, to Reuters. “We’re not trying to cause violence, but when they attack us we fight back.”

Leung Yiu-chung, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told Reuters that police were “deliberately inciting people,” and he was furious at the violence and lack of restraint by the officers on duty.  

Fluid Like Water

Gradually, protesters started to fan out from Sai Yeung Choi Street and moved to Fa Yuen, Nelson, Soy, and Argyle streets, as well as Nathan Road. Police closely followed the protesters. After spending some time in those streets and drawing some police attention, protesters would quickly disperse and regroup in another spot.

Protesters told some independent reporters on the ground that they were heeding famous martial artist and actor Bruce Lee’s words to “be like water.”

At about 2:45 a.m. local time, protesters returned to Argyle Street, a former occupied site. Police put on riot gear, and warned the protesters that they would charge.

At this point, protesters abruptly turned and walked away, telling the police that they were heeding police advice to go to Tsim Sha Tsui “to shop.”

For the next three hours, high-spirited protesters led the police on a merry game of cat-and-mouse between Tsim Sha Tsui, a tourist spot with many luxury goods stalls at the southern tip of Kowloon Peninsula, and Mong Kok.

Countless times throughout the night, protesters deliberately and successfully misdirected both the police and the press. In one instance, protesters pretended that they were heading to Tsim Sha Tsui, see police vehicles drive in that direction, then quickly head back to Mong Kok. After police cars made a U-turn, protesters carried on for a bit, then suddenly turned and walked towards Tsim Sha Tsui again.

Upon arriving in Tsim Sha Tsui at about 4:45 a.m. local time, protesters made their way to the harbor, and briefly cheered in the direction of the Admiralty protest site.  

Some protesters later entered the MTR, Hong Kong’s subway, and police followed. In the subway, a group of protesters carried out the same misdirection tactic, first boarding a train headed for Admiralty, then getting off at the next stop and switching to a Mong Kok bound train. Once in Mong Kok, the protesters did a quick tour of the ground, then left for home.

Saturday morning marks the first time since the Occupy protests began on Sept. 28 that pro-democracy demonstrators have tried a new tactic. Previously, protesters simply stayed at protest sites and held their ground against police charges.

While innovative, the “fluid protests” are also a sign of desperate times for the Mong Kok demonstrators, who very recently lost their protest site. Police, enforcing court injunctions against the protesters by private mini-bus and taxi companies, swept Argyle Street and Nathan Road on Nov. 24 and Nov. 25.

It is unclear if the morning’s action was a planned move, or quick thinking on the part of the protesters.