Unity for Hong Kong ignites in the darkness

A photographic documentary of a vigil commemorating the 2019 Hong Kong university sieges in Washington Square Park.

November 20, 2022

Editor’s note: WSN has chosen to withhold the name of the photographer who wrote this essay in the interest of their safety. The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the photographer.

Four people gather around two columns made of cardboards that have several posters on them. One of the posters reads “FREE HONG KONG. REVOLUTION NOW” in all caps and traditional Chinese. There is another person holding a camera toward the group. Behind them is the Washington Square Arch. The photo is black and white.

It was a freezing Friday in November — even by New York standards — as a small group of people gathered under the Washington Square Arch. In the frosty wind, they began assembling two cardboard columns with posters and sticky notes. Chalk sticks were handed out. Pro-democracy slogans in Mandarin were scratched into the ground. Conversing in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, participants laid out boxes of small candles.

Three people squat close to the ground as they pick up small, candle-shaped lights from two boxes. In the middle are several candle-shaped lights turned-on, and two larger candle-shaped lights. There are chalk writings on the ground. Some of the candle-shaped lights have black labels on them.
Some of the candles have the names of protesters on them.
Four sticky notes on cardboard. The green note reads “Say no to cultural revolution, say yes to reform” in simplified Chinese; the blue note reads “Stand with Hong Kong;” the pink note reads “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” in all caps; the yellow note reads “Hong Kong” written in Chinese.
On the green note reads “Say no to culture revolution, say yes to reform.” The line is from the banner hung by the lone protester at Sitong Bridge in Beijing.

The vigil was one of a series of memorial events held by NYU’s Hong Kong Student Advocacy Group and the nationwide Students For Hong Kong activist group. Together, they commemorated the three-year anniversary of Hong Kong’s university sieges, during which police in Hong Kong clashed violently with the protestors at two prominent institutions. The sieges caused hundreds of injuries. Over a thousand people were arrested, marking one of the darkest stages of the protests for the movement against changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law.

A group of people stand in a circle with a column made with cardboards next to them. On the column are several posters and sticky notes. One of the posters read “STAY STRONG” in all caps. One of the people is wearing a “V for Vendetta” mask. The photo is black and white.
Masks of all kinds were used for safety reasons, and people mostly exchanged pseudo names when greeting each other.

As the vigil proceeded, organizers read the names of protestors captured and sentenced after the protests. The list felt endless. The speaker’s voice faded into the gusts of wind blowing through the arch. Attendees stood in a circle, silently staring at an arrangement of candles arranged into the shape of the letters “HK.”

In the foreground are posters showing the Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989. In the background are candles on the ground in a formation that spells "HK"
A female wearing a puffer coat reads from several sheets of paper in her hand. Surrounding her is a group of people standing in a circle. The photo is black and white.

On her melodica, one of the organizers played “Glory to Hong Kong,” the protest march that was adapted into the unofficial anthem for the university protests, as the rest sang along.

A female plays a melodica while looking at a phone held by another person wearing a hoodie and a black mask. Next to them is a column made of cardboard, with posters hung on it. In front of them are the letters “H.K.” laid out with candle-shaped lights. The photo is black and white.

Some people gathered at the vigil not only to commemorate those harmed in the sieges, but also to pay tribute to the lone protester who hung banners at Sitong Bridge in Beijing last  month. That protester triggered widespread outcry against the Chinese government’s COVID-19 restrictions, as well as calls for international attention toward allegations that the regime has shown a willful disregard for human rights. The name of the bridge has since become a symbol of dissent for the Chinese diaspora.

A person kneeling down on the ground while writing with yellow chalk. Next to him on the ground is chalk writing of “Sitong Bridge” in Chinese.
The name of 四通桥 (Sitong Bridge) has become a symbol used in protests.
Writings on the ground using orange chalk that reads “Say no to compulsory COVID testing, say yes to livelihood. Say no to culture revolution, say yes to reform” in Chinese.
“Say no to compulsory COVID testing, say yes to livelihood. Say no to culture revolution, say yes to reform”

The protesters fought for different causes, but their values and goals transcended differences and converged in this foreign land. In Washington Square Park, a determined group of people countervailed a propaganda machine thousands of miles away.


Contact WSN at [email protected].

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