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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 2:01pm
July 1 march
NewsHong Kong

SCMP study puts July 1 protest number at 140,000, well below organiser estimates

Computerised analysis commissioned by Post estimates just 140,000 people took part in July 1 march, well below organisers' 510,000 figure

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 11:22am


  • Organisers: 510,000: 46%
  • HKU POP: 154,000 - 172,000: 30%
  • SCMP study: 140,000: 18%
  • Police: 92,000: 7%
4 Jul 2014
  • Organisers: 510,000
  • HKU POP: 154,000 - 172,000
  • SCMP study: 140,000
  • Police: 92,000
Total number of votes recorded: 787

A study commissioned by the South China Morning Post estimates 140,000 people took part in the July 1 march.

The result - calculated through computerised area-density analysis - is similar to separate estimates by two University of Hong Kong academics but falls way below the organisers' figure of 510,000. The police did not offer a total but estimated the largest number of marchers at any one time at 98,600.

Watch: How we got our numbers for the July 1 march

The number of people taking part in the annual rally has always been controversial, with police, the organisers and academics releasing widely different figures.

The dispute this year is further complicated by the slower-than-usual pace of the procession. In 2004, it took a protester on average of 90 minutes to march from Victoria Park to Central. On Tuesday it took about three hours.

The Post commissioned chartered land surveyor Thomas Lee Wai-pang to provide an independent and alternative analysis. Lee and his team used "the density and area computation" method that has been used by other media organisations to calculate crowd size.

First, Lee measured the total area of the rally route, by using the Geographic Information System, to be 57,876 square metres.

Next he calculated the average density of the crowd by analysing photos taken by Post photographers at three different locations throughout the event. The photographers took pictures of the crowd at a near vertical angle from 30 metres above ground at locations in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty.

By analysing the photos with the satellite image analysis software, Lee was able to establish the average density of the crowd at the three locations at different times. Multiplying the average density with the total area of the route, he then calculated how many protesters were filling the entire 4km route when the people at the front reached the end.

To do this, three Post reporters were assigned to the task. The first left Victoria Park at the head of the crowd at 3.25pm. He reached the finish point in Chater Road in Central at 6.20pm. The second reporter then left Victoria Park and arrived in Chater Road at 10pm. By then, the third reporter, who was at the tail of the procession, was in Wan Chai. This means between 6.20pm and 10pm, only half of the route was completely occupied.

Based on the density, Lee calculated that 91,213 people had taken part in the rally between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, and 49,195 between 6.30pm and 10pm. The two batches add up to 140,408.

The result was surprisingly lower than the public perception. Most people believed Tuesday's crowd was comparable to that of 2003 or 2004, when half a million people took to street.

This could be partly due to the extremely slow pace of the rally and the crowd's unusually high density. The average density in Lee's past studies was 1 person per square metre, on Tuesday it was 1.4.

Police earlier accused the organisers of deliberately moving slowly, while they said the police caused a bottleneck by not opening more lanes for marchers.

"It was unfortunate the crowd moved too slowly. The slow pace might have discouraged some to stay on and finish the march, which could have lowered the turnout," said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a social statistics expert at the HKU.

The Post acknowledges some limitations in the study. Some marchers who joined or left the procession in the middle of the course may have been excluded for instance.

The stalls set up by different groups along Wan Chai and Causeway Bay also mean the actual route area could be smaller, suggesting the number of people could be even lower.

Yip said he found the Post's study was "sound" as it tried to capture the varying crowd sizes at different locations.

The Public Opinion Programme of the Hong Kong University refused to comment on the analysis.

Edward Tai Chit-fai, senior data analyst of the programme, said computer counting should be separately verified by manual counting.

Programme director Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu earlier put their estimate at between 154,000 and 172,000. Chung said his figures might not align with the public perception because people had been affected by "imprecise figures". He called on the organisers to conduct the estimate "scientifically".

The organiser, Civil Human Rights Front, welcomed other organisations to do their own counting.

"We believe our count is already a conservative estimate," said front convenor Johnson Yeung Ching-yin. "Some people might have left in the middle of the march and it is almost impossible to determine the number of these people."

The police yesterday refused to comment.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung, Fanny Fung and Emily Tsang


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This article is now closed to comments

Its so sad that the pro-democracy people here are so brainwashed by violent and biased leftists and so focused on being anti-China that they've totally forgot the true meaning of being democratic; that is, if they really understand the concept.
I don't see how the agenda of the current democracy movement in HK is any different from the Communism movement in China in the past. They are both focused on lies and biases and manipulating the general public. These pro-democracy people are acting like they are in a cult, blindly believing their leaders without using logic.
I know I've been a pro democracy blow hard the past couple of weeks. The white paper really hit a raw nerve with regard to stuff like how all judges are "administrators" and should be patriotic. But I personally don't trust the Civil Human Rights Front numbers. They have a bias, and they're not using any scientific method of counting.

I trust the HKU results personally. I find the SCMP results acceptable too.
I counted 12 million demonstrators. No one is going to change my mind.
Anyone telling me otherwise is a CCP stooge and bootlicker.
Actually, I very much appreciate what SCMP has done here. Since I have no way at all to make my own estimate of crowd numbers, I have always found the widely varying counts confusing. I think the process, as it was explained in this article and video is clear, repeatable and defensible. So, now, it seems to me, we have a reliable mechanism and in future will be able to have more accurate numbers to use for comparison.
It doesn't diminish in any way for me the significance of the turnout. I was there and I had joined in previous years and I can say for certain that the turnout was massive. There's no question in my mind about the message that should be taken from the July 1st march crowd: there is massive public support for public nomination and very serious anger about the illegitimacy of HK's present government.
We cannot compare the number arrived at by SCMP with numbers quoted for previous marches, which were probably wildly overblown. I'd rather know the truth than be 'satisfied' and impressed with a lie.
According to the Bureau of Stastistics, there were 2.17 million households in Hong Kong in 2003. Whilst I remember the scale of the marches and had many employees and friends who took part in 2003, I doubt that one household member per four households took part ..... especially if you discount family members too young or too old/infirm to march. So the 500,000 number really doesn't stack up.
This month, I know hardly anyone who took part in the march but my 'sample' of people I know from all walks of life hasn't changed, so I can only conclude that the police estimnate is about right.
Think about it, if we are a year closer to 'the big issue' next year then the assumption should be that the demonstration may be bigger next year. So the police need to budget for that. So there is no motive for them to underestimate the number of marchers this year.
Civil Human Right Front is a cunning, dishonest and stubborn organisation. Their tendency to bluff and poor credit record are vividly shown in front of the general public that we have now at least more than three highly respected institutes or organisations presenting scientifically obtained numbers to prove that the Front is bloodily way off the truth. People like Leung Ka-kit who still chose to lay their heads in the sand and kept quoting such wrongfully made up number, 510,000 should be discredited by Hong Kong people. KK Leung, do you think Hong Kong people are stupid?
The calculation is pointless. Hundreds of thousands did participate even if they didn't complete the whole distance. Your reporting is flawed as it was obvious that people joined the march - all along the route - and the numbers swelled to the extent that progress slowed. The tramway was closed this year to provide more room and this space was completely filled. It was sweltering and to imply the marchers walked too slow is an insult to everybody who took part. Its participating by the people which is the point not some arbitrary requirement that everybody must complete the whole distance. HK Stadium's capacity is 40,000. Police clear the area after the 7s or other major events without difficulty and traffic into central isn't cleared as for 1 July. The figures of 92 -140000 simply don't ring true as people were lining up to leave Victoria a Park for 4+ hours on Tuesday.
Dai Muff
"Chinese believe in meritocracy, not elected populist scumbags in government." I missed the election where we voted for you to speak for all Chinese. Some of us don't measure "meritocracy" on Party preference, particularly given that each CE has been worse than the one before..
I propose a march for the support of the White Paper.
How can this make any sense??
Last year the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon had 73000 participants.
You're telling me that the huge mass of people that filled Victoria Park and extended all the way to Central from 3.30pm to 10pm had slightly less than double that number???



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