The Hong Kong Way was a peaceful political campaign held in Hong Kong on 23 August 2019, the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. The goal was to draw people's attention to the 2019 anti-extradition bill movement and the protesters' five demands for government accountability and democratic reform. Organisers estimated that 210,000 people participated. In the early night time hours, Hongkongers joined hands to create a human chain of 50 kilometres long on both sides of Victoria Harbour, along the three main MTR lines and over the top of Lion Rock, without any disruptions to traffic.
The action was inspired by the Baltic Way demonstration of 1989, which involved two million people, and contributed to the collapse of Soviet control of the region.
The action was inspired by a similar event that occurred 30 years before, on 23 August 1989. The Baltic Way involved two million people in a human chain across 675 kilometres that linked the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, serving as a call for restoration of independence from the Soviet Union. On 11 March 1990, within seven months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognised by most western countries by the end of 1991.
The Hong Kong Way idea was posted to the LIHKG forum on 19 August 2019 with the objectives of calling attention to police violence, attracting "the focus of international media, to show ... our determination and unity to fight for democracy" and "in the hopes of more international support." The event was also a peaceful show of unity and solidarity among Hong Kong people, a visual display of community strength in the face of challenges. Many participants wore masks, fearing that attending a peaceful rally could lead to reprisals by authorities or loss of employment as a result of pressures from Beijing. Despite the fears people still turned up. As protesters held hands to form the human chain, many chanted "add oil!" and "Democracy now!"
Logistics and organisation
On the streets
The Hong Kong Way event was organised from the LIHKG forum, along with real-time Telegram chat groups to assist with the creation of the human-chain. The event took place in the absence of a "letter of no objection" from the Hong Kong Police Force. Organisers created videos and posters, mapped out the route of the proposed human chain, and they used different Telegram channels for different sections around the city. Organisers billed the event for Friday, 23 August between 7 p.m. and 8 pm. They called on participants to assemble at 7 pm on pavements along the three main MTR lines in Hong Kong – the Tsuen Wan line, Kwun Tong line and Island line — and to hold hands, creating three human chains across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories as a form of peaceful protest. Volunteers were on hand at every MTR station to direct demonstrators along the route to ensure the chain was continuous.
Participants stood in single file along pavements. At road junctions, the chain constantly reformed obeying traffic lights, so that vehicular traffic could flow normally. At 9 pm, demonstrators collectively covered up their right eye with one hand, to symbolise the first-aid worker who had lost an eye due to having been hit by a police bean bag round earlier in August. People were in positive mood, and the demonstration was entirely peaceful, with police keeping a low profile. Participants promptly departed from their positions shortly thereafter.
The campaign avoided North Point, which is known to be where many local Fujianese people reside. Democracy activists were previously assaulted by stick-wielding Fujianese residents who had attacked citizens during the previous phase of protests on 5 August.
More than 1,000 hikers gathered on top of Lion Rock
A team of hikers also scaled Lion Rock, a landmark that symbolises to many the spirit of Hong Kong, lighting their trail with torches. The group, initiated on Tuesday, organised separately from the MTR campaign so as not to detract from it. Organisers hoped to send a distinct and separate message of solidarity with the "Hong Kong Way". It attracted trail runners, hikers, and nature lovers. After getting to the top, they lit up the hilltop so that its outline was visible in many parts of Hong Kong; they sang "Glorious Years" by Beyond – written about Nelson Mandela's struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, and "Below the Lion Rock" – the theme song to an iconic television series of the same name. The group also organised a team to check the area the next day and clean up if necessary.
Some 100 supporters joined hands in Lithuania on the same day to show their solidarity with Hong Kong's protests. Lithuanian lawmaker Mantas Adomėnas, who co-organised the rally with Emanuelis Zingeris, said he was 16 years old when he joined the Baltic Way. He said he was impressed with Hong Kong's struggle for liberty and democracy, having visited the city during the protests in 2014 and also during the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The Chinese central government in Beijing which had been claiming that the wave of protests over the previous 11 weeks was instigated by "foreign forces", had up to that point stopped short of calling the protests a colour revolution, but mainland scholars agreed that the symbolic reference to the collapse of the Soviet Union was "provocative" and would add to the government's concerns.
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Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said Beijing and mainland Chinese were likely to find the Friday protest 'provocative'. 'Beijing is wise enough to know that not everyone who came out understands what the Baltic Way was about, or supports Hong Kong independence ... But the Baltic Way triggered the dissolution of the Soviet Union; Beijing would see this symbolic protest in Hong Kong as a way to attract attention and a sympathetic response from Western countries and media.'
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For Friday's 'Hong Kong Way' demonstration, organisers had called for people to gather in single file along routes that roughly matched subway lines, snaking nearly 30 miles (50km) through Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
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The Hong Kong Way comes just five days after as many as 1.7 million demonstrators took to the streets in a peaceful rally on Aug. 18) — and before city gears up for another weekend of protests. The Chinese territory has seen a rare period of calm, with last weekend the first in more than two months with no tear gas fired by police.
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'I joined the Hong Kong Way because it's peaceful,' said protester Peter Cheung, 27. 'This is the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. I hope there will be a bigger chance to make an international noise.'
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'The Baltic states showed the world they were united. Hong Kong residents are united now as well. All of our five demands must be fulfilled, especially our main demand: universal suffrage,' said the user 'Spring Worm,' who started the thread. 'We urge the central and Hong Kong governments to listen to the strong public opinion of Hong Kong people fighting for democracy and freedom, and implement universal suffrage immediately.'
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The demonstration was a display 'of the solidarity and unity of Hong Kong people,' said Joshua Wong, a prominent activist. 'The turnout today was really a surprise,' he said. 'We just had less than five days to prepare the whole Hong Kong Way action. And people peacefully gathered. Just proves: No police, we have peace' … 'The great majority of participants in protests are not advocates of Hong Kong independence,' said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 'They have chosen this Baltic human chain as a symbol of unity' … One widely read post on a bulletin board used by protesters said that while more militant protesters might find such an activity 'silly,' it was important that they still participate. 'We are all Hong Kongers,' it said. 'We shouldn't divide into 'militant' and 'peaceful.' To win we must be more unified than our opponent.'
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'All of these events, they are all related to the same thing, which is China taking away our freedoms,' said Noelle, a 53-year-old wedged in the line, who only wanted to be identified by her first name for fear of repercussions over her participation. 'This is exactly what we don't want in Hong Kong, and that is why we are here today.' Noelle, along with a majority of participants, had their faces obscured with masks – an indication of the fear that has gripped this city. Protesters interviewed believe that even participating in peaceful protests can get one fired from their jobs or otherwise put them at risk.
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