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In pictures: Behind the frontlines of the Hong Kong protests

BY KATHERINE CHENG

“Hong Kong Protests: Behind the Frontlines” is a photo essay originally published in 2019 on Katherine Cheng’s website.

The Hong Kong protests are a series of ongoing pro-democracy and anti-police demonstrations that have engulfed the city. Initially triggered by the introduction of a now-withdrawn extradition bill in June 2019, the movement is rooted in a greater fear of the erosion of democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory, with protesters rallying behind “Five Demands.” These demands call for an investigation into police brutality and misconduct, the release of arrested protestors, a complete retraction of the official characterization of the protests as “riots” (a charge that can carry a jail term of up to ten years), the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the universal suffrage. The following imagines offer a glimpse into moments from behind the frontlines of the movement that has dominated international headlines now for over half a year.

Central, Hong Kong. Protestors gather for a ‘Lunch with You’ march in Central, the financial district of Hong Kong. This rally was part of one of the most violent days of confrontation between police and protestors, following a protestor being shot at point blank range by police and a man being set on fire for disagreeing with protestors in the morning. (November 11, 2019)

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. A sea of umbrellas can be seen during a rally, which has been a symbolic and strategic tool of both the 2014 Umbrella Movement and 2019 protests as defense against tear gas, water cannons, and surveillance. (October 20, 2019).

Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Six months into the protests in Hong Kong, an estimate of 800,000 people came out to march at a rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front from Causeway Bay to Central. (December 8, 2019)

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. A protestor can be seen holding a light blue umbrella in the sunlight during a rally that marked the six month anniversary of protests in Hong Kong. (December 8, 2019)

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Protestors can be seen from a bridge during the six-month rally of the Hong Kong protests, which saw an estimate of 800,000 participants. (December 8, 2019).

Central, Hong Kong. Bystanders can be seen gathering to look at the protestors below them during a lunchtime march. (November 11, 2019)

Central, Hong Kong. A protestor clad in the black (the unofficial uniform of the movement) prepares to unfold a banner off of a bridge in Central, listing the Five Demands of the protestors. (November 11, 2019)

Central, Hong Kong. Protestors march with a black banner showcasing slogans of the movement in Central, the financial district of Hong Kong, during a lunchtime march. They raise their hands to symbolize the Five Demands of the movement. (December 2, 2019)

Central, Hong Kong. Police march under a bridge and raise their shields defensively in anticipation for objects thrown by protestors from above. (November 11, 2019)

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Police can be seen standing against the silhouette of an umbrella, a symbolic and strategic tool of the movement, outside of the Tsim Sha Tsui police station. (October 20, 2019)

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. Protestors can be seen preparing for confrontation with police, armed with umbrellas, tear gas masks, and rain jackets. Later in the evening, the university campus would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019)

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. A make-shift functioning city forms behind the doors of Polytechnic University, with stations set up for first aid, food, donations, and security checks. Later in the evening, the university campus would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019).

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. Protestors wait for confrontation with police, armed with Molotov cocktails, umbrellas, tear gas masks, and rain jackets. Later in the evening, the university campus would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019)

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. A protestor wears a ‘V for Vendetta’ mask on the back of her head (a popular political symbol of the movement) while wearing a tear gas mask on the front and holding an umbrella. (November 17, 2019)

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. Protestors can be seen tensely preparing for confrontation with police, armed with umbrellas, tear gas masks, and rain jackets. Later in the evening, the university campus would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019)

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. A protestor clad in black holds a bright umbrella in front of him as defense against tear gas and rubber bullets as he charges towards a police station, with tear gas smoke in the background. (October 20, 2019).

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. Tear gas can be seen in the background, as frontline protestors form a human shield with umbrellas to protect the Polytechnic University. Later in the evening, the university campus would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019)

Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. A water cannon, laced with blue dye to mark protestors and pepper spray, is fired on the property of a university campus for the first time in Hong Kong. Later in the evening, the Polytechnic University would go into lockdown for nearly two weeks, with all exits blocked by police and more than 1,100 individuals arrested by police over the course of the siege. (November 17, 2019)

Jordan, Hong Kong. A damaged MTR station with the word ‘Hell’ spray-painted on its steps can be seen in Jordan. The MTR subway system has been a common target by the protestors for its perceived alliance with Hong Kong police and the Chinese government. (November 19, 2019)

Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Following the morning after one of the most dramatic stand-offs between police and protestors, broken Molotov cocktails, abandoned umbrellas, bricks, and tear gas canisters can be seen piled on the streets of Kowloon. (November 19, 2019)

Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Protestors, journalists, and first aid personnel gather tear gas canisters for testing and evidence following confrontation between police and protestors. (October 2019)

Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Furniture is stacked at the entrance of an MTR station during a protest. (October 2019)

Central, Hong Kong. Business people can be seen passing by scattered bricks on the streets of Central, the financial district of Hong Kong, after a lunchtime protest. A common sight by now, the bystanders are unfazed by the scene. (November 11, 2019)

Mong Kok, Hong Kong. A young family looks on in despair at the scene of destruction before them in Mong Kok, a popular shopping district of Hong Kong. Moments later, the police would return to fire tear gas at the remaining few protestors, causing the family to flee in panic with their child. (November 17, 2019)

Central, Hong Kong. A protestor clad in black spray paints the words, “I Resist, Therefore I Am” on the billboard of a tram station in Central. (December 8, 2019)

Jordan, Hong Kong. Protestors try to close in on Polytechnic University after the campus goes into lockdown and an online call to distract the police is shared. The protestors are unsuccessful as police block incoming protestors with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. (November 17, 2019)

Polytechnic University. Protestors with umbrellas can be seen trapped on a bridge near the Polytechnic University as the campus goes into lockdown, with all exits blocked by police. In an attempt to fend off the police, protestors set fire to nearby billboards. (November 17, 2019)

Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong. Protestors can be seen gathering the night before a major rally, shining lights and showcasing a ‘Free HK’ sign. (October 19, 2019)

About the photographer

Portrait of the photographer. Photo Credit: Katherine Cheng.

Katherine is a photographer, researcher, and project manager from Canada and Hong Kong. As a graduate of International Relations and Development Studies, she is passionate about applying a lens of decolonial theory and critical development studies to visual storytelling. Currently the Photography Project Manager for Climate Tracker and a member of the National Press Photographers’ Association, she will be based in Hong Kong for the next year, exploring stories related to geopolitics, social resistance, and the climate crisis within the Asian region while supporting young, local photographers from around the world.