An “epilogue” to Mediating the Undercurrents: Using Social Media to Sustain a Social Movement

Paper writing is largely thoughts seeking an audience. In the process, some thoughts are translated into words and languages, while others are reviewed, and rejected or revised. We are deeply honored to receive a Honorary Mention for the above paper, that discusses “undercurrents—the backstage practices consisting of meaning-making processes, narratives, and situated work” within the Umbrella Movement that took place in Hong Kong. But in the process of massaging the paper into a form relatable to the HCI audience, some of the original texts on the background of the movement were lost. I would like to use this opportunity to include this information–of possible interest to those conducting similar studies in and around Hong Kong.

Before 1997, Hong Kong had been a British colony for more than 150 years, until its reversion to the People’s Republic of China. While the Umbrella Movement had appeared short-lived in the media, the event was best seen as one symptom of social contradictions embedded in this post-colonial society.

In many ways, Hong Kong has exhibited features of a postcolonial society, due to daily life being deeply shaped by British rule, and its status as a global city. As Erni (2001) remarked, “writing about Hong Kong involves a triangular articulation of Chinese nationalism, British colonialism, and globalism, which also evokes the impossibility of serving three masters.” It was under this pretext of renationalization that Hong Kong was given a unique status as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In many ways, this current protest in Hong Kong is its people’s ongoing search for ways of coming to terms with and identifying the administration that they want for the future of Hong Kong under its legitimate parent—China.

And further exemplifying the resourcefulness of the students organizing on-the-ground activities was how the scale of the Umbrella Movement was accidental and unexpected.

The gathering would have been another peaceful but uneventful congregation, if not for an incident that raised public sympathy for the protesters to unanticipated heights. Suddenly and without many protesters’ knowing, smoke canisters were thrown into the crowd. One landed a meter from Waikuen, as a participant shouted: “tear gas!” The canister exploded, causing a frenzy in the crowd trying to flee the scene. As protesters choked and gasped, they ran over cameras and hurried over barriers . Waikuen and many others retreated to a nearby parking lot. At the parking lot, protesters were recovering from the shock; many were crying—visibly shaken but also enraged by the heavy-handed response from the police force.

Waikuen and many others began to check Facebook and WhatsApp for messages regarding what happened. While Facebook was inaccessible, perhaps due to high network traffic, student participants had circulated information on WhatsApp urging others to leave the scene—citing more police officers arriving through subway trains, and circulating rumors of harsher imminent measures to disperse the crowd.

In the above text, we attempted to provide some ethnographic details on emotions of participants on that fateful night.

In sum, these texts ought to be cut for a design-centric audience; but by including them in this post, I hope to inform those seeking more details about social movements in Hong Kong.

References

Erni, John Nguyet. Like a Postcolonial Culture: Hong Kong Re-imagined. Cultural Studies, 15, 3/4 (2001).