Clouds Of Tear Gas & Pepper Spray: The Reality Of Facing Riot Police In The Hong Kong Protests

There are fears that things are about to get increasingly violent in Hong Kong. We spoke to two UK women who are over there at the moment to find out what's really going on.


by Stevie Martin |
Published on

Over the weekend, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong rose up against the Chinese Government, which has refused to allow the general public to select their own candidates for the 2017's elections – and are instead saying only Bejing-backed politicians can run. Donning umbrellas and goggles to protect themselves against the riot police, the mostly-student crowd held placards ('Fight for Democracy!') and yelled chants ('Redeem the promise of a free election!') in the first major unrest the country has seen since China took control of the city's sovereignty from the UK in 1997.

Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on September 29, 2014
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on September 29, 2014

'The crowd roared in waves, like a football crowd, but I couldn't see any physical violence,' Amy, a 28 year-old from Reading who is in Hong Kong visiting friends told The Debrief. 'There were flags, and banners; one read 'fight for democracy!' in English. We managed to find the edge of the mob, squeezed our way out and went around it. When we got to the other end there were lines of police and many many police vans.'

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Alicia, who is spending a year in China teaching abroad, hasn't been to the main protests, but confirms that it isn't just the centre of the city getting involved. 'They've been going in Mong Kok all day today; I went to look this evening and there are loads and loads of people around the main shopping area,' she told The Debrief. 'The banks and shops are shut, and there's huge water and food banks around.'

Hong Kong has a history of peaceful protesting, so while this is admittedly on a much bigger scale than the city is used to dealing with, protesters are reportedly cleaning up after themselves and leaving apologetic notes for others' vandalism. One reading 'Sorry, I don't know who did this but we are not anarchists – we want democracy' was found by resident James Legge. 'The crowd was solid and it was difficult to move, but they had chains of people set up passing bottles of water and supplies along the lines, and others just handing out water from boxes,' Amy says. 'They were predominantly peaceful here from what I could see'.

Protesters look at their mobile phones as they lay on the ground at a pro-democracy demonstration occupying Nathan Road, a major route through the heart of the Kowloon district of Hong Kong

Until, of course, the police brought out the tear gas. 'We started to see clouds of tear gas, and that's when we decided it would be a good idea to stop gawping and leave,' she adds. 'We returned to that area later that night to look for a cab and, as we got closer, we could feel the sting of the tear gas there was so much of it in the air.'

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Images and scenes of protestors having water poured over their faces to soothe the burning has caused an understandable amount of anxiety – if the tear gas isn't deterring them, what will happen as the occupation continues? Riot police have been taken off the streets, and protesters are urging citizens to keep pushing, but what will be the next strategy for dissipating the crowds? While it hasn't quite erupted into all-out violence yet, there's certainly been tension: at the main occupation at the Government's headquarters, students sorted plastic bottles for recycling while wearing goggles and plastic sheets to protect against pepper spray.

The hashtag #HandsUpDontShoot (reminiscent of the Ferguson, Missouri protests after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by the police) is trending, with social media playing a huge part in maintaining the peaceful attitude at the heart of the protests. But the Chinese government are already getting antsy – they've blocked Instagram in an attempt to stop the spread of information about the occupation. That's not slowed the protestors down, though.

Two young pro-democracy protesters hand out food and masks to other demonstrators at a rally in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong

'It's so weird because, at my school, we have to raise the Chinese flag while listening to their national anthem. I've made flags with the kids, but then all this stuff is going on at the same time! Crazy,' says Alicia.

Let's hope that it doesn't all end in tragedy. 'It's so important, these people are protesting about something that we've taken for granted for years,' says Alicia. 'They're the only people in China that can actually do anything about it! We're going central after work tomorrow, so will see what happens.'

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Pictures: Getty

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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