Hong Kong Students Entrench Positions, Calling for Dismissal of Chief Executive

October 10, 2014 Updated: October 13, 2014

HONG KONG—A student protest leader on Friday called for Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to extend his anti-corruption campaign into this semi-autonomous city and purge its widely loathed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, for an undisclosed consulting deal he was involved in.

Alex Chow, secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which is driving forward protests, made his remarks at a raucous rally in Admiralty, Hong Kong’s government district which is now occupied by teenagers and young adults. He called on a prolonged protest, too. “If we give up now, we will end in failure and look back at this with regret,” Chow said.

Indeed, students seem intent upon amping up the pressure on Hong Kong leaders, particularly after remarks by Carrie Lam, the chief secretary, on Thursday, who said that protesters seemed to be losing their will to protest. This was taken as a challenge by the students, who now intend to pitch tents and wait out the government, even if it takes weeks.

“Shame on them!” bawled Joshua Wong, in his high-pitched Cantonese as he read a speech from his phone, to a roar and applause from the crowd. “That there are so many people here is a phenomenon that shows our determination.” He added that he would pass his 18th birthday on the site in a few days, and encouraged everyone to bring their tents and settle in.

The entire 2.5 hour rally was more urgent, loud, and raw than on previous occasions, punctuated by yelled chants, and enthusiastic call-and-responses from speakers to the crowd.

“Persist in universal suffrage; peacefully occupy central; continue resisting,” was one of the common chants, which has a pleasing symmetry when uttered in Cantonese. Alan Leong, a member of the legislative council in the Pan-Democratic camp, said “They told us to leave!” with the crowd immediately offering back “But we won’t leave!”

“We need to prove to them that we the people are here and still increasing in numbers,” he said.

The next stage of the campaign, Wong says, is for the students to begin bringing their tents and permanently living on the 12-lane carriageway in Admiralty, near where government offices are located. Activists provided maps for the nearest bathing facilities.

Gretel Chiu, a 28-year-old scriptwriter, had moved onto the site with her partner Marcus Hui, the day previously. “The ground is a little hard. It’s noisy and windy, and the sun comes up at 6 a.m.,” she said adding that they only get a few hours sleep. Hui wakes up at 7 or 8 a.m., goes home, showers, and heads to his job in IT in the city.

They use thin foam mattresses. Chiu picked one up and said “this you can grab and run with.” Asked how long they plan to stick around for, Hui countered: “Ask the government.”

The turnout on Friday—probably tens of thousands—was the first mass presence to be instigated almost entirely by the students themselves, and not mobilized in direct response to government action. On previous occasions it was the firing of tear gas, or perceived police connivance at triads beating students in the shopping district of Mong Kok, that brought a mass turnout.

This time it was after a coalition of groups called for stepping up the civil disobedience campaign until the government opens dialogue. The Federation of Students joined forces with another group, Scholarism, led by the 17-year-old activist Joshua Wong, and Occupy Central With Love and Peace, the original group whose initial prominence was superseded by the students in late September. The initial class boycott and occupation of Tamar Park, a lawn area underneath government headquarters, by the end of the month had grown into the vast occupation now underway.

The call to entrench positions was clearly welcomed by thousands, though some will find other ways to support than sleeping over night.

“I’ve considered it,” said So Man Ngok, a 24-year-old student of testing science. “But I don’t think I’ll stay.”

He added: “To be honest, it’s a bit uncomfortable. Different people can sacrifice to their own extent.”