• Jenny Xu

Art in Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

For several months, pro-democracy protests have swept Hong Kong. The protests first began in June over a bill that allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China, and they have now evolved into a pro-democracy protest. The extradition bill was so controversial because people believe that Hong Kong would be under tighter Chinese control if it was passed. In 2014, there was a wave of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that were shut down by the police, so it is unsurprising that the protestors are back. 


Hong Kong was leased to Britain for 99 years, and, once the lease ended, Hong Kong became part of China again and was ruled by the principle “one country, two systems.” Under this system, Hong Kong is very autonomous and has its own legal system and borders. Recently, China has tightened its grip on Hong Kong. Its freedoms are not as extensive as they may seem on paper. China has pressured artists and writers to self-censor, and five Hong Kong book sellers and tycoons have disappeared and re-emerged in China’s custody. The chief executive of Hong Kong, their leader, is elected by a committee made up of 1,200 members. This committee is mostly pro-Beijing and elected by just 6% of Hong King’s eligible voters. 


Most citizens of Hong Kong are ethnically Chinese, but most people do not do identify their nationality as Chinese. Only 11% identify themselves as “Chinese,” and 71% of people, especially the young, are not proud of being Chinese citizens. Hong Kong was a British colony for 150 years, so there are many social and cultural differences in Hong Kong. Recently, there has been an anti-mainland sentiment in Hong Kong and negativity towards Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong.

Since the protests began, there has been graphics, illustrations, and paintings related to the protest. These include infographics, memes, and painting adaptations. Many of these adaptations are of the painting ‘Liberty leading the People.”


An adaptation of "Liberty Leading the People"

An adaptation of "The Creation of Adam" inspired by a photo of two high school students in a school strike

Much of the artwork is humorous to offer emotional relief. Instead of waging a public opinion war, some artists choose to respond to ridicule through humor.

Graphic design by Arto encouraging people to join a general strike on Aug. 5. The character 罷 meaning 'strike' is pronounced as "ba". The Chinese on this image reads as "ba la ba ba ba," a reference to a McDonald's jingle. The M is rotated 90 degrees to make a "3," meaning strikes in three sectors: school, business and work. Source: TIME Magazine

A Star Wars inspired poster for a march and rally. Source: Telegram

Much of protest artwork is from online forums, chat rooms, and social media. Many iPhone users share images through mass Airdrops at protests and on public transport.

A poster encouraging people to join a #protesttoo rally

A large amount of this art comes from Telegram, a messaging app. The artwork is created by 200 designers who brainstorm with thousands of people in chat groups.


A design formatted like a Chinese Almanac encouraging students to boycott classes. Source: Telegram

A collection of stickers of popular protest slogans and sayings such as Bruce Lee's "Be Water," and the rallying cry "Hong Kong, Add Oil" Source: Telegram




A poster showing protesters, a first aid volunteer and an elderly person in high-visibility vest. Source: Telegram

An image of a bloodstained black-and-white bauhinia after police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council on June 12.

A collection of "Be Water" graphics, inspired by a saying by the late martial arts star Bruce Lee. It is one of the mantras of the Hong Kong protests, encouraging people to adopt tactical fluidity and come and go from protests as needed. Source: Telegram

An image depicting front-line protesters and press. Source: Telegram



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