Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Legislative Council Complex on the evening of July 1, marking a turning point for political protest in Hong Kong. Without a traditional figurehead to speak on behalf of protesters, many found their own ways of expressing their demands and beliefs. HKFP surveys the messages and symbols left at the scene.
Protesters partially defaced the city’s official emblem in what became one of the night’s most symbolic scenes.
Shielding themselves with an array of umbrellas, they spray-painted over the white bauhinia flower. The Chinese characters for “People’s Republic of China” were blackened out, but those for “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” were spared.
The National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, passed in 1997, states that anyone who “who desecrates the national flag or national emblem by publicly and wilfully burning, mutilating, scrawling on, defiling or trampling on it” could be fined up to HK$50,000 and face three years in jail.
Five core demands
Among the most common slogans spray-painted onto the walls were the five core demands, which protesters have insisted on since the anti-extradition law protests escalated in June.
They include: complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, stop classifying the June protests as “riots,” unconditional release of those arrested in relation to protests, investigate abuses of power by police, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam stepping down and electing her successor democratically.
Later in the night, protesters also erected placards that show the demands printed onto pictures of the faces of Hong Kong’s top officials.
Police were also not spared from criticism, with protesters calling them “black cops” or “police dogs.”
British Hong Kong flag
Around 9:40pm, a protester draped the flag of colonial-era Hong Kong at the podium of the legislative chamber. The flag was later removed.
There was debate on the Reddit-like forum LIHKG over whether displaying the colonial flag would cause more harm than good.
One user wrote, “Britain won’t come and save us, Britain was also responsible for selling out Hong Kong.” Another wrote: “This will give an excuse for others to attack us, take it back please.”
Criticism of Hong Kong’s political system
While the main target of the protesters’ ire was Carrie Lam and her administration, some also took issue with the Legislative Council.
The portrait of LegCo president Andrew Leung was taken down and defaced.
The framed photos of presidents Jasper Tsang and Rita Fan were also targetted.
The portraits of pre-1997 legislature presidents were untouched.
Protesters also spray-painted the slogan, “abolish functional constituencies” in multiple locations. Functional constituencies refer to the 30 seats in the 70-person legislature that are not openly contested, but are elected by members of specific professions or interest groups.
In another symbolically significant moment, a protester ripped up a copy of the Basic Law while standing at the podium of the legislative chamber.
References to so-called ‘martyrs’
Some protesters told media that the escalation was necessary because people had “given their lives for the movement.” This was in reference to the three people who took their own lives, in incidents linked to the recent political crisis.
On the walls of the legislature, there were slogans such as “blood for blood” and “Have you repaid the debt of blood?”
This was sometimes accompanied by calls for the release of the “martyrs,” meaning those who had been arrested or charged in relation to the protests.
Hong Kong identity
A bench was spray-painted with “Hong Kong is not China, not yet” while in the background the wooden walls were covered with profanity.
Another wall on the ground floor was densely covered with slogans, some referring to jailed activist Edward Leung and the slogan he used during his unsuccessful 2016 election bid, “the revolution of our time.”
Slogans elsewhere also called for Leung’s release.
Rationale for escalation
The image of graffiti on a column outside the legislative chamber quickly went viral. It read: “It was you who taught me that peaceful marches are useless.”
Another iconic slogan, which was both spray-painted onto walls and shown on a banner at the front of the legislative chamber, read: “There are no rioters, only tyrannical rule.”
Another read “the government forced us to revolt.”
Protesters ‘not thieves’
Inside the cafeteria on the ground floor, protesters left a note on the fridge saying “We are not thieves, we won’t take things without asking.”
Another widely circulated photo showed a small tray in the fridge which was filled with cash – payment for the drinks taken.
The vast majority of messages left by protesters referred to local issues, but one made reference to China’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
“China will pay for its crimes against Uighur Muslims,” the graffiti read. Up to one million members of mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minority groups are held in internment camps, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.
The photo of the graffiti has been shared by Uyghur activists on social media.
Black bauhinia flag
Outside the legislature, protesters raised the “black bauhinia” flag in the early hours of July 1. A riff on the official flag of Hong Kong, the design features a half-wilted bauhinia flower stained with blood, presented on a black background.
The original HKSAR flag hung next to the black bauhinia flag outside the legislature, but protesters lowered it to half staff.
Pop culture references
Participants of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement often cite the song “Do you hear the people sing?” from the musical Les Misérables.
In 2019, many have cited a popular line from Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, which is part of the science fiction Hunger Games series.
In the book, protagonist Katniss Everdeen addresses the tyrannical President Snow: “Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”
See also: ‘Taking back the legislature’: What happened during the 3-hour occupation that shook Hong Kong