Who is who in Occupy Central

The Guardian

Hong Kong’s protesters come from a huge swath of society and have no single leader, but there is a group of figureheads

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Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution has no singular leader - the protesters come from a huge swath of society, and have a range of demands - but it does have a handful of de facto spiritual guides. They can be divided into two camps. Leaders of the influential protest movement Occupy Central with Love and Peace - Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-Man and Chu Yiu-Ming - are generally middle-aged, politically experienced, and self-restrained. This older group may have been eclipsed by student leaders Joshua Wong and Alex Chao. They tend to be more idealistic, headstrong, and social media-savvy than their elder counterparts.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung

Wong, 17, the razor-thin leader of the student group Scholarism, has been one of the city’s most outspoken pro-democracy activists for three years. Wong founded the group in 2011 to protest a Beijing-backed proposal to implement a "patriotic education" curriculum in the public schools; the following autumn, he mobilised 120,000 people to occupy the city government headquarters, leading officials to shelve the plan.

As a testament to his influence, mainland media has attempted to discredit him by portraying him as an "extremist" with shadowy ties to the US (he firmly denies the charge). Police arrested him on Friday night after a group of students climbed a fence to invade the government complex. By the time they released him on Sunday afternoon, his detention had already caused further demonstrations.

Despite his age, Wong is known as a political firebrand: "You have to see every battle as possibly the final battle," he told CNN recently. "Only then will you have the determination to fight".

Alex Chow Yong-kang

Photo: SCMP

Chow, 24, is general secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students - Scholarism’s closest ally - and a student of sociology and comparative literature at Hong Kong University. He has also worked as a journalist at Ming Pao, a pro-democratic newspaper, according to his Facebook page.

In July, Chao organised an unofficial "occupy" protest on a public thoroughfare hours after the conclusion of an annual rally; the sit-in caused more than 500 arrests. "It’s not enough to repeat the march and the assembly every year," he said at the time. "We have to upgrade it to a civil disobedience movement."

Although Occupy Central has called for the Umbrella Revolution protesters to disperse by tomorrow, Chow told the New York Times that "residents may occupy various government departments" by then if the government refuses to budge.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Tai, the 50-year-old public face of the 18-month-old Occupy Central protest movement, has been a law professor at the University of Hong Kong since the early 1990s. Although his critics paint him as a radical, Tai has mastered a calm, scholarly affect; last April, the South China Morning Post described him as "one of those cuddly professors found on every campus who would talk to anyone interested in their research". He has reportedly received death threats for his activism.

"I used to be just a university academic living in my comfort zone, spending my spare time sending my children to school and going home for dinner," he told SCMP in May. "Now my daughter and two sons volunteer for the movement. My wife is Occupy's campaign manager."

Chan Kin-man

Chan, a 55-year-old former sociology professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, has repeatedly expressed willingness to be fired, even arrested, for his activism. Before he founded Occupy Central with Tai, he spent years studying China’s civil society; through much of the 1990s, he studied Hong Kong’s democratic development at Yale.

Chan joined Tai in seeking universal suffrage for Hong Kong a decade ago. Yet Chan got progressively frustrated as Beijing continued to reject the possibility of democrats running in chief executive elections.

"I have advocated dialogue with the central government for many years, but now I will take part in the civil disobedience movement," he said last spring. "If [Benny and I] face a trial in court, we won’t dispute that we broke the law and we will make a political statement in the courtroom to spell out our vision."

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming

Chu Yiu-ming, a silver-haired, 70-year-old Baptist minister, spent decades spearheading pro-democratic initiatives in Hong Kong before he became an Occupy Central leader last year.

After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, he led a covert operation to rescue Chinese activists from persecution by helping them find safe houses in Hong Kong and apply for asylum abroad. Chu recalled the moment he heard the news of the bloodshed in an interview with Bloomberg in May. "The tears came down," he said. "I made a prayer: God, what can we do?"

Stay tuned on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to get live updates on Occupy Central. And take a look at our photo galleries "Humans of Occupy Central" to see just who are some of the people on the streets.