Fast-forward to today, when the protests appear to be settling into the long-term struggle Chan envisioned. The events that unfolded after those class boycotts have caught everyone by surprise, shocking the city, Communist Party leaders, and the world—as well as the student movement and Occupy organizers themselves.
The initial plan started to fall apart on September 26, when a clash between students and police at the end of their strike triggered a mass protest outside the government’s headquarters, a 10-minute walk from Central. On the morning of September 28, Benny Tai, another Occupy leader, declared that the sit-in at Central would start early.
What happened thereafter was an unscripted pro-democracy movement. But it was anything but an “umbrella revolution,” as the Western media have now dubbed the protests. Most local media outlets, such as the South China Morning Post, have avoided the term, continuing to refer to the protests as “Occupy Central,” the “Occupy Central conflict,” or even the “political reform storm.” When local media have referred to the umbrella—which became the default icon of the Occupy movement internationally after demonstrators used umbrellas as defense against police’s pepper spray—they have referred not to an “umbrella revolution,” but to an “umbrella movement” or “umbrella democracy movement.”
The key leaders and supporters of Occupy have similarly refrained from likening the protests to a revolution. Joshua Wong, leader of Scholarism, a high-school students’ group that has played a key role in the democracy movement, said at an October 4 rally: “We are not seeking revolution. We just want democracy.” Lester Shum, the deputy head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said: “This is not a color revolution”—the term widely applied to movements that led to the overthrow of three governments in the former Soviet Union in the early 2000s. A group of academics has issued a separate statement insisting that the protests are not a revolution.
This attempt to remove the label “revolution” from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests is deliberate, and came after China’s official media gave its early verdict on the demonstrations. In one of a series of editorials carried soon after the Occupy protests began, China’s official People’s Daily warned that “any intention among a small number of people to hold a color revolution on the mainland through Hong Kong would be a daydream,” even while Chen Zuoer, formerly a top official in the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, explicitly called the Occupy Central protests a “Hong Kong version of color revolution.”
Indeed, where the notion of the protests as a revolution has taken hold in Hong Kong itself, it has mostly been in pro-Beijing, pro-establishment circles. For example Cheung Chi-kong, a close advisor to Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive CY Leung, has cited the spread of the protests beyond Central to the busy tourist shopping districts of Mongkok and Causeway as evidence that the movement is verging on revolution. The Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily News said in an editorial: “They demand the downfall of Leung Chun-ying. It is close to an attempt to overthrow the regime. There are already signs of color revolution.”