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Umbrella Movement: History, Agenda and Achievements

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3475 words Published: 12th Nov 2021

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In late 2014, there have been a series of confrontation between protesters and riot police in Hong Kong, resulting in the founding of the Umbrella movement (Chan, 2014). The name of the movement emerged merely from the protesters' used of an umbrella to protect themselves from teargas, which is thrown to them by the riot police, and as a result, they name the movement as the Umbrella Movement (Chan, 2014).

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The main goal that led to the creation of the Umbrella Movement is to promote pro-democracy and progressive civil society within the political landscape of Hong Kong (Contemporary Chinese Political and Strategic Relations: An International Journal, 2016). Even though the movement did not achieve its political ambition for promoting democracy, however, its members can secure seats in council elections of getting into politics (Cheng & Chan, 2016).


  1. Origin of the Umbrella Movement.
    1. Historical Background of the Umbrella Movement.
    2. Aim and Objectives.
    3. Structural Organization of the movement.
    4. Achievements of the movement.
  2. Literature
    1. Role of social media in the overall agenda of the Umbrella Movement
    2. Challenges of the Umbrella Movement.
    3. Stakeholder participation in advancing the agenda of the movement
  3. Conclusion

Origin of the Umbrella Movement

Historical Background of Umbrella Movement

The movement started its activities in late September 2014 in Hong Kong as an emancipatory social movement for democratic reform. The umbrella movement is related to the context of politics, culture, and Hong Kong, it is now a part of China after the British left. According to Holliday & Wong (2003), the constitutional principle, one country two systems, guaranteed that Hong Kong maintained its democratic currency systems, as well as freedom and human rights. Government actions such as concentrating on China's interests by financing their ventures have resulted in some criticism of the elite in Hong Kong. The government's economic policies have created disparities among people in society, leading to the expression of citizens' grievances and frustration (Augustin-Jean & Cheung, 2018).

According to Ortmann (2015), Hong Kong has witnessed demonstrations against state enacted national policies about the voting process, and as well as contention about social disparities. These issues are what led to the formation of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement (Ortmann, 2015).

Chuen Ng (2017), argues that the rationale behind the movement even though it is directed on reasons against the reform process of “The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China (NPCSC).”

In fact, behind the emergence of the Umbrella Movement, there are some significant short-term reasons such as voting plurality for the 2017 chief election and 2016 legislative council election, respectively (Chuen Ng, 2017). Therefore, recommendations on voting rights in the legislative council have been debated since 2007.

In mid-June 2014, the secretariat of “Occupy Central With Love and Peace” organized an online referendum to take the public opinion into account about the voting system (Chuen Ng, 2017).

According to the Public Opinion Program (2014), as part of the call for effective electoral system reform by the citizens, regarding the electoral process to conform to international standards. Approximately more than half a million people advocate for the electoral bill by the legislative council to be vetoed (Public Opinion Program, 2014).

Nonetheless, in late 2014, an agreement was made by the NPCSC to make some changes concerning the electoral system. According to the HKPOLITICS101 (2015), the changes were made on three main areas, such as the way officials are appointed, the election process, and as well as citizens' right to vote. The author argues that the main concern of the citizens is that they see a breach in the sovereignty of Hong Kong having a dual governance system. This situation has led to the public outcry and reactions leading to the uprising, where numerous organizations demanded the NPCSC to withdraw the decision on the electoral system and as well as demanded for universal suffrage (HKPOLITICS, 2015).

In September 2014, a group of organizations in Hong Kong, namely the pro-democracy students’ activists, scholars, and the “Hong Kong Student Federation (HKFS)” jointly called a student strike to oppose the decision of the NPCSC (Chan, 2014). According to Chan (2014), the group also stage some lectures outside the legislative council complex to raise public awareness about the request for universal suffrage. On the other hand, in September of 2014, the umbrella movement also stages occupying streets with numerous demonstrators spearheaded by Joshua Wong (Bai, 2014).

Aim and Objective

The aim and objective of the movement is to represent the widespread public dissatisfaction among Hong Kong people in a quest to demand universal suffrage. The decision advance by the NPCSC in appointing the chief executive of the country, which doesn’t go in line with the universal suffrage is what lead to students and the umbrella movement’s request against the system of nomination rather than the election (Kai Hou et al., 2015).

According to Kai Hou et al., (2015) the core objective of students and the umbrella movements is to promote a democratic space for universal suffrage where the election will represent the verdict of the people, and not through the selection of NPCSC. The contention and demonstrations organized by the various groups were to have a formal meeting with the government and put forward their demands. Finally, upon the surges of protests, the government eventually had a dialogue with students. During the meeting, the students requested the government’s recline in 1) revoke the nomination of executives that NPCSC opted for 2) put in place a system where the society can make the election for the chief executive portfolio 3) revoke the functional constituencies; and 4) present a concise timeline on which the demanded requests will be addressed (Ortmann, 2015). The aim of organizing the uprising in demanding to meet with the government was achieved and the students put forward their concerns.

In an effort to address the situation; the state of Hong Kong urges the students that their request will be communicated to China for further consideration about NPCSC decision, and also put into consideration in increasing the representation quotas and as well as nurture public consultation. The government agreed on upon constituting a constitutional amendment after 2017, however the students declined to the states appeal as something ambiguous and they henceforth decided to occupied area (Ortmann, 2015).

Structural Organization of the Movement

According to Castells (2013), there are two types of social movements, which are notably a networked social movement and the conventional type (the traditional one). The network type of social movement comprised of various types, just like the umbrella movement. In further stating about social movements, Touraine (1985), mentioned that the core principle of movements is to advance social justice and political reforms. However, movements have different structural formation based on their ideals and their modus operandi (Touraine, 1985).

The umbrella movement did not have any formal or organized leadership structure in place. They only made use of the technology by sending messages about their activities and, thus, its more of a self-organized setup with no structure in place. According to Tufekci (2014), the activities of the movement are a problem – based structure, and its leadership is based on the local membership.

Achievements of the Umbrella Movement

The use of non - violent peaceful assembly was not clearly demonstrated by most movements has seen in the cases during the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, and as well the uprising of Iraq was all surrounded by violence, and this is witnessed in the event of many renowned demonstrations organized by citizens (Tsung-Gan, 2017). While discussing the critical successes and shortcomings of the movement, remembering a few relevant aspects is essential (Tsung-gan, 2017).

Since the protests across China in 1989, the Umbrella Movement has been the most significant manifestation of resistance to the rule of the Communist Party. While the demonstrations in 1989 were violently suppressed, the Umbrella Movement struggled for a concession from the Communist Party: however, they did not obtain their fundamental objective of the movement on the grounds that China still wants to continue in upholding undemocratic suffrage (Chan, 2014).

Upon the communist political party’s declaration in 2014, on effectively excluded genuine universal suffrage, it made an irrevocable promise to take a hard line in Hong Kong. It could not reveal the least "weakness" from that point on. The declaration of the communist party’s stance to support the NPCSC decision is what led to the resistance and opposition of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it was more likely to use the military than to make substantial compromises. Demonstrators, of course, wanted genuine suffrage; that was their main constructive objective. (Kai Hou et al., 2015)

However, they also tried to block and succeeded in blocking the worst fake votes. The Umbrella Movement has succeeded in addressing the issue of a fraudulent vote of the Communist Party, which was later rejected on 18 June 2015 (Tsung-Gan, 2017). Overall the Umbrella Movement can be viewed as having been failed in making any meaningful achievement to the core objective of their formation. The movement has thus created a long-standing conflict that is expected to last long for years to com (Tsung-gan, 2017).


The role of social media in the overall agenda of the Umbrella Movement

In analyzing the role of social media in the overall agenda of the Umbrella Movement, social media has been observed to have dual impacts, precisely good and bad. Thus, meaning the use of social media can strengthen the protesters, and it can also promote interaction among the movements. More generally, instead of social media, just serving an activist of being a positive force to the general membership of the movement. The digital world also strengthened the movement's leaders in four key areas: efficient interaction, organization, image building, and public attention (Lee & Chan, 2016).

First, the internet allowed the Umbrella Movement's leaders to effectively communicate by allowing the members of the movement to rapidly respond to different locations instantaneously. The spread of this information is mostly powered using communication mediums available to the demonstrators (Tufekci, 2014).

In this regard, thousands of citizens across Hong Kong use their personal cellphones to picture scenes of protects and riot confrontations and share them online. The use of social media has helped the Umbrella movement to quickly converge on the internet and capture various real-time scenarios on the different streets, and as well as share live coverage scene on various social media platforms. (Tufekci, 2014).

Challenges faced by the Umbrella Movement

The 79-day Umbrella Movement (UM) (from 28 September to 15 December 2014) was the most massive social movement in recent history in Hong Kong. It was initially intended to be an occupation in Central, Hong Kong's key business area, but it grew into a movement for three-site occupation. A curious problem arose due to this sudden change: who represents who? Conventional legitimacy views suggest that the concept applies only where there is a coercive relationship, and since voluntary participation is the key feature of social movements, there is no legitimacy issue. The question of legitimacy in the UM, however, was a central concern for both organizers and participants and affected the movement's growth (Tsui, 2015).

The public frequently portrays the UM as a "leaderless" group due to its original slogans of action and the motto of "you do not represent me;" nevertheless, central leaders existed (Lee & Chan, 2016).

Yao (2014), argues that the combination of connective action characteristics and collective action made the UM's organizational structure far more complicated than anticipated. In stating the challenges of the movement, one of the primary reasons for the deadlock of the movement was the lack of an existing system of deliberation in the occupation sites and ineffective coordination of actions between leaders. The movement also did not have in place an effective decision-making structure to organize the campaigns of the movement (Kai Hou et al., 2015).

Stakeholder participation in advancing the agenda of the Umbrella Movement

Several actors have played a role in the development of the Umbrella Movement; among them, we have the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government interaction with the dominant business sector. I will discuss the role of the Chinese government (Ortmann, 2015).

The government of China has been one of the most influential stakeholders in deciding the political development in Hong Kong. Merely due to the reliant of Hong Kong for water and food supplies from China. This has given China an influence to maintain an active role in the political situation in Hong Kong by having a close watch on the demand of protesters, and as well as siding with the NPCSC decision. Even though China has a post-conflict history of war between its communists and the nationalist, and it still claimed sovereignty of Hong Kong, however, Britain was active in supporting for the independence of Hong Kong (Tsui, 2015). According to Tsui (2015), the independence of Hong Kong has been of interest to Britain while China remains influential in deciding the political dynamics of Hong Kong.

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According to Ortmann (2015), despite the mounting contention for a democratization of Hong Kong electoral system, the government remained fearful that democratization may, in fact, destabilize their power and as well as establish a possible template for political reform that couple also undermines the communist political party’s dominance in China. The involvement of China in the implementation of Hong Kong’s electoral rights for the citizens was rule out by China’s government in 2004 and maintained a staunchly opposed to the democratization process of Hong Kong. Hence since 2007 – 2017, there was no success in for the implementation of the universal suffrage, and the case later was readdressed in 2017 (Ortmann, 2015). The blockage was basically not in favor of the Chinese government, and they have done anything possible to stop the attempts for democratization request spearheaded by the umbrella movement (Ortmann, 2015).

The contention continued from 2007 to date, and sometime in 2014, the government of China presiding over Hong Kong produced a white paper stating that the government has the unilateral power to decide on any political issue. Thus, the issue of umbrella movement versus Hong Kong was at the discretion of the government of China, despite the rising riots and protests, Hong Kong cannot make single-handedly any conscious action to resort the demand for universal suffrage (Ortmann, 2015).


The review of the umbrella movement revealed that the movement is self-organized on the ideals of advancing the democratic process in Hong Kong. In so doing, the movement faces numerous challenges along the way, such as the involvement of the government of China. The government of China and the presiding authorities over Hong Kong both did not support the implementation of universal suffrage.

Even though having a democratic government will avail the people of Hong Kong political and economic opportunities, but China remained concern that it will be hard to control a more democratic Hong Kong. The community country is not in favor of democratic reform that the umbrella movement, students, and scholars are advocating for, such as the universal suffrage. The involvement of China in the problem revealed that the democratic process is something that is not in conformity with the communist political process of China.

A social movement like the umbrella movement has thus remained resilient in demanding for democratic process in Hong Kong’s political arena. The involvement of local activists revealed that no comprised is expected until the goal and aspiration of people are achieved. This aspiration of citizens is expected to give Hong Kong a guaranteed future of the democratic due process. The involvement of social movement has proven to be one major instrument in effecting a change, even though the aspirations and objective of umbrella movement is yet to be achieved


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Castells, M. (2013). Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet age. John Wiley & Sons.

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