Hand signals and Post-its: The Hong Kong protester playbook

Hand signals and Post-its: The Hong Kong protester playbook

Hong Kong’s youth are no rookies when it comes to protests.

The city’s young activists have fine-tuned their strategies since Occupy Central in 2014, a months-long pro-democracy demonstration that ended without tangible victories. Using a range of new tactics, they have helped rally hundreds of thousands of fellow Hong Kong residents to take to the streets over the past month.

The protesters have pressed on with an expanding set of demands, even after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the extradition bill that triggered the outcry had been “indefinitely suspended.”

Another large march is planned for Sunday. From hand signals to Post-it notes, the protesters have honed multiple strategies and tools to maximize effectiveness, contend with police and keep up momentum:


The Hong Kong-based web forum LIHKG and Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, have served as crucial organizing platforms for the largely leaderless protests. Protesters have formed Telegram groups to share information and formulate strategies, as well as conduct real-time planning. In the thick of a protest, they will notify each other on Telegram of the whereabouts of police officers and vote on whether to end a demonstration.

They use LIHKG, known as Hong Kong’s Reddit, to discuss next steps. Residents who are ambivalent about participating read the forum for more information, while others seek emotional support.

Attendees hold up their lit mobile phones during a rally by mothers in support of student protesters in Hong Kong, July 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)


If yellow umbrellas were the iconic accessory of the 2014 protests, yellow hardhats may be this year’s. During the most violent clashes, police have used pepper spray, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters. In response, they have donned face masks, goggles and helmets.

Some protesters, outfitted with sanitary pads, gloves, saline solution, scissors, gauze and other supplies, are responsible for administering first aid.

When protesters broke into the legislature building on July 1, they fashioned shields out of cardboard, wood and suitcases. The shields and face masks also conceal their identities, as some fear government repercussions and arrest.

A protestor stands in front of a line of policemen outside the police headquarters in Hong Kong on June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Protesters wearing yellow hardhats hold up mobile phone lights in front of police headquarters in Hong Kong, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)


Protesters use hand signals to communicate which supplies need to be delivered to the front lines. Arms circling the head indicate “helmets,” while a forward cutting motion made by the index and middle fingers signals “scissors.” The items are then passed through a human chain.

The power of the protesters’ nonverbal communication was apparent when a massive, dense crowd parted seamlessly to make way for an oncoming ambulance. Online videos capturing the moment spurred praise on social media for the protesters’ politeness and deft coordination.

Protesters use hand signals to gestures for scissors during their attempt to break into the Legislative building in Hong Kong, July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)


Following the assassination of singer and songwriter John Lennon, a wall in Prague was decorated in tribute to The Beatles. The colorful wall, which became a symbol of peace and love, has since been painted over several times to advocate for different causes.

Hong Kong activists first created their own Lennon Wall during the 2014 protests, covering a wall with a vibrant Post-it notes calling for democratic reform. This time, they have taken to sticking the neon-colored notes everywhere, erecting impromptu Lennon Walls across the city as quickly as others might tear them down. Some protesters have called it “flowers blossoming everywhere.”

The fluid walls fit the movement’s mobile nature, said Antony Dapiran, the author of a book about dissent in Hong Kong. In contrast to the sit-in style of Occupy, he said, the current protesters will quickly evacuate a location once they’ve made an impact and move to another.

A child reaches out to post-it notes on the city's version of the Lennon Wall in Hong Kong, July 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Post-it notes and a caricature of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam are seen on their version Lennon Wall in Hong Kong, July 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)


While police put up barriers to deter demonstrators, protesters built their own barricades to protect themselves, block roads and prevent lawmakers from reaching the legislature. Like their shields, the protesters’ barricades are often repurposed materials, such as fences used to separate traffic lanes.

In the movement’s early weeks, the protesters’ road blocks prevented a Legislative Council meeting that had been scheduled to discuss the extradition bill.

Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Protesters holding umbrellas face off police officers in anti-riot gear in Hong Kong, July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Text from AP News story Hand signals and Post-its: The Hong Kong protester playbook by Yanan Wang and Alice Fung.

Wang reported from Beijing.

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