01 December 2014

Mobile Occupy 流動佔領

There is no question that Hong Kong people love to shop; that’s why they call the city a shoppers paradise. This past week, citizens took our national sport to a whole new level. Gouwu (購物) – which means shopping in Mandarin – has become the rallying cry for pro-democracy protesters to call on one another to visit busy shopping streets in large numbers to overrun the area. The goal is to get even with the police for aiding and abetting the clearance operation in Mongkok last week. These shopaholics were hard at work in Kowloon even during Sundays violent clashes outside the Government Headquarters on the other side of the harbor. They have also found unlikely allies in the United States, where citizens have been staging “die-ins” at shopping malls and train stations by playing dead on the floor in protest of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

Let's gou wu!

Mongkok, or MK for short, is a rough neighborhood on a good day, a cross between Harajuku in Tokyo and the Bronx in New York City. It is where shopping malls tower over decades-old tenement buildings, where young buskers belt out Cantopop oldies next to a 55-year-old hula-hooper, and where mafia bosses patrol the streets to check up on seedy bars, nightclubs and massage parlors. Since tough streets beget tough crowds, you don’t expect MK protesters to take kindly to the government’s declaration of war last week. 

And so when C.Y. Leung called on citizens to do more shopping in Mongkok after Nathan Road reopened to "revive" the economy, protesters self-organized into legions of retail warriors and descended on MK by the hundreds. These “shopping sprees” begin after dinner (to maximize turnout) and continue well past midnight. Shoppers walk in slow motion to clog sidewalks, pretend to drop and pick up loose change to stop traffic, and stand still for hours to watch movie trailers in front of a giant LCD screen. Never mind it’s 2:30 in the morning, shoppers holler “I want to buy a gold watch!” or “Sell me an iPhone 6!” in mocking Mandarin while marching down a busy thoroughfare. It gives new meaning to the expression shop till you drop.

Shoppers in Mongkok

But even retail therapy can get a little tense. Once in a while, shoppers raise their right hands and give the famous three-finger salute (from The Hunger Games movies) in defiance. To taunt police, some recite passages from the Bible while others chant unintelligible verses from the Nilakantha Dharani, an ancient Buddhist script. When their path is blocked by police barricades, they fall into a tactical formation like a Roman battalion and use umbrellas and homemade shields to breach police lines. The gouwu operation was most intense last Friday, when shoppers led police on a wild goose chase through the dizzying web of backstreets between Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui in an all-night game of human Pac-Man.

The police find little amusement in the shoppers’ antics. Whether it is stress, guilt, plunging morale, or all of the above, their reactions range from mild annoyance to raging violence. Whereas unreasonable search and seizure is common and probably illegal, it is the indiscriminate assault on both protesters and bystanders that has drawn the most public outrage. Stories of citizens being randomly snatched by police and tackled to the ground are followed by allegations of torture and sexual molestation while they were held in police custody. Officers are also increasingly turning on the media, arresting a television engineer because his step ladder (used by the cameraman to get a better vantage point) accidentally brushed an officer's leg and making up stories about a press photographer trying to seize an officer’s gun.

Katniss Everdeen would have been proud

From rank-and-file officers to the riot police, to the PTU tactical unit and the anti-organized crime bureau, "Hong Kong’s Finest" are slowly coming undone. In a few isolated cases, those who are supposed to “serve with pride and care” appear to have jumped off the deep end, like the PC who ordered a South Asian pedestrian to “go back to India” and the superintendent caught on camera beating innocent passers-by with his baton. It would be unfair, however, to put all the blame on frontline officers. In the epic power struggle between the government and the governed, it is the people – policemen and protesters – who take the heat and get burned. To use a retail analogy, trying to solve a political problem with law enforcement is like dealing with a customer complaint by calling in store security. It’s a no-win proposition for everyone involved.

Police superintendent gone insane

The Umbrella Movement has proved to be enduring and ever-changing. In the past two months, it has evolved from a class boycott to a mass protest, to a street occupation and now to this: an all-out urban guerrilla warfare playing out in Mongkok every nightBased loosely on Bruce Lee’s combat philosophy to “be formless and shapeless like water,” the new approach is fluid, spontaneous and unpredictable. Above all, it can be easily replicated anywhere in the city  Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po  with the help of Facebook and Whatsapp. 

This new phase of “mobile occupation” has not only given police the run around, but because the line between pedestrians and protesters is blurred, it has also made it harder for participants to be prosecuted under the city’s public order ordinance banning unlawful assemblies. This last point is especially relevant given that the High Court has just issued an injunction barring protesters from remaining on Harcourt and Connaught Roads, and that the days of the Admiralty protest site are numbered. That means protesters will need to think up inventive ways to keep the movement alive while circumventing the law and court orders. It is said that to rid a garden of dandelions, stepping on them will only send the seeds into the wind and worsen the blight. Our government has done just that.

How-to guide for shoppers


This article appears on SCMP.com under the title "To soldier on, be like water."

As posted on SCMP.com


  1. These kids humble me. What courage!


  2. Fascinating article (and tactics), Jason! I love the dandelion analogy at the end.


  3. Try a "hug a police" movement!


  4. Brilliant! Still, it's poignant, both with the political state in Hong Kong and in the deep-rooted misunderstanding on all sides.


  5. "Gou Wu" movement is such a great idea...let's exhaust the police force with minimum effort.


  6. I'm afraid I have to disagree with quite a few of the comments here. It really is time to do away with the dichotomy between the "liberal west" and the "conservative east" and look at the underlying cause of the problem. Many people - regardless of where they are from or what religion they practise - simply do not have a healthy attitude towards sex. Getting to talk about sex or sexuality or having more sex is not necessarily the same as having a healthy attitude towards sex, which is the point here. I feel that the double standards in the so-called "liberal west" are at times worse and more blatant than the conservative east. If Chinese/Asians are indeed more conservative, at least their discretion or reluctance to talk about sex is expected. Unfortunately, in the west, women are still labelled as "sluts" for having multiple sex partners. Let's not forget the hypocrisy in calling the leak of nude photos of female celebrities "a sex scandal" (it is immoral for women to pose naked in front of their partner - their partner, not random strangers), rather than "an invasion of privacy". It's so spontaneous, as if a reflex, for the media (both east and west) to say something negative about the women, and not about the people who leaked the photos. This just happened a few months ago, not decades ago, not in the nineteenth century. Women are not supposed to enjoy sex. If they enjoy it, they are not supposed to talk about it. Women should be more careful about their behaviour etc. Such an unhealthy attitude towards sex has its roots in gender inequality. I feel that it's not always a bad thing for Chinese people to think that female sexuality should be contained (as in the case of Elaine) - don't sleep/fish around; find a nice boyfriend and start a family because they apply the same rule to all kinds of sexuality - male, female, gay, straight etc. Yes, westerners may have sex slightly more frequently than Hong Kongers but does it mean they have a healthy attitude towards sex? If the practitioners don't have a healthy attitude towards what they practise, does quantity still matter? Personally, I think it's much worse to say "have more sex" one minute and then slam people for doing so in the next.



    1. To: Yuanna

      I read a lot of expat blogs and try to learn their English from their writings. I always wonder what possesses people like you to write the way you do. What you tried to say here can be said in less than a dozen short sentences.

      Who do you want to impress?

      The way you write tells much about who you are.

      From: Mo Ming See

  7. An all-out guerrilla warfare to what end? Please enlighten us readers how such tactics can result in the betterment of Hong Kong. What you described is pure disruption of life in HK with no purpose what-so-ever to reach any goals. You make it sound fun and exciting by comparing it to Bruce Lee's combat philosophy, which frankly, I think its insulting to Mr. Lee. What Mr. Lee advocates is formless. What you are describing is mindless.



    1. To B.

      For Jason Y. Ng and your information, the quote you mentioned is not from Bruce Lee.

      If you are a HK native, you would have known that it is the the widely known philosophy of the kung fu style, 詠春, which Bruce Lee practiced and he is still famous for.

      This 詠春 's philosophy is well-known among the HK Chinese.

      Obviously, Jason Y. Ng and you didn't know that.

      From: Mo Ming see

  8. The OC gangsters shopping and hollering is broken mandarin only degrade themselves and their cause. They only show how uncivilised they have become and are full of hatred, religious extremism and hopelessness. Unfortunately for HK, the HK police don't behave like the US police, otherwise these OC gangsters would all be tasered or killed.



    1. To: Daniel

      Most HK Chinese natives would consider "As I See It" an expat blog for the Westerners. It's obviously that by the way the posters here write that they are predominately foreign passport holders, albeit, some of them are of Chinese descent.

      As a student of the English language, your vocabulary, idiom, and syntax fascinate me. You called those "Occupy Central protesters" "broken mandarin"; it is a term that I have never seen before. Those protesters are not "mandarins" or "mandarin", broken or not, at least not in today's English usage. However, interestingly, I have read some 19th-century writings that did refer to the Chinese as Mandarins.

      Your syntax is of a native speaker of English and your spelling is British. Furthermore, it's odd that you used the word, "hopelessness", in such context. You are a puzzle to me, but as far as I can tell, like 90% of the posters here, you are definitely a foreign passport holder.

      From: Mo Ming See, a student of the English language