“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” cried Howard Beale, the ranting television anchor in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 flick Network, as he urged viewers to thrust their heads of their windows and repeatedly scream the phrase.

Driven to the edges of sanity, the ill-fated protagonist lets loose against what he saw as the corporate injustices of the world – not by protesting, but by simply belting out his rage.

Hong Kong protesters have perhaps taken cue from the noisy tactics espoused by Lumet’s character in what has been dubbed the “Million Scream” ⁠— a call, that began on August 19, to shout protest slogans from apartments every night at 10pm.

Hong Kong housing flats
File photo: inmediahk.net

When the clock strikes the hour, a chorus of cries can be heard reverberating across districts, with slogans popularised by pro-democracy protesters ⁠— including “five demands, not one fewer” and “Hongkongers, add oil” ⁠— echoing between high-rises.

The grassroots practice represents one of the more playful tactics adopted by protesters in the recent wave of unrest, sparked by the government’s controversial extradition bill, now-pending withdrawal. Meanwhile, netizens have touted the practice as a way to spread the message of the movement while expressing frustration and showing solidarity among supporters.

As communities across the city mobilise, the slogans that were once largely confined to rallies in central Hong Kong have since crept into the lives of those on the fringes.

In a clip shared by Stand News on Sunday, students from two secondary schools in Kwai Tsing were filmed shouting the protest slogan “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” across to one another.

YouTube video

Hours after Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday conceded to axing the reviled legal amendment, residents across the city took to their windowsills to voice their unhappiness with the embattled leader, who many accused of failing to answer to the other four core demands of demonstrators.

‘Boost morale’

“We shout at night not because we are crazy. We shout to prevent us and our city from going crazy,” 35-year-old teacher Ms Lee told HKFP.

Lee said she began the practice from her Southern District apartment a fortnight ago after reading about it on the Reddit-like forum LIHKG. In order to avoid detection, she limits shouting sessions to around four to five times a week on random days and does not do it in the streets.

“I think shouting can boost morale among protesters… [They] can feel trust and support within their community,” she said. “I felt very touched and supported when I first shouted and my neighbours responded to me, though I couldn’t locate them. So I continue to do it.”

Lee added that although her area is middle-class and home to many civil servants and police, residents continue to come out in force, howling for minutes on end despite occasional complaints from neighbours who have shouted foul language in return.

But this unorthodox form of protest is not unique to the city.

Cacerolazo is a practice where demonstrators omit words altogether by banging kitchen utensils together to draw attention to grievances. Popular across South America, it has its roots in the 1971 Chilean protests against food shortages under President Salvador Allende. During the 2012 Argentine protests against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, disgruntled residents also took to the streets in a clamorous display of discontent against government corruption. And in 2013, cacerolazo was used in the Gezi Park protests against Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan, who remains in power today.

A similar tradition, known as Elvavrålet or the “eleven roar,” was played out in Lund in the 1970s when Swedish students would scream at 10 or 11pm to relieve stress. More recently, protesting crowds screamed “helplessly at the sky” against current US President Donald Trump on the one-year anniversary of his 2016 election in a collective show of angst against the polarising political figure.

YouTube video

As for Lee, she says she was inspired to take part in the “Million Scream” by Chinese writer Lu Xun’s “iron house theory,” which stipulates a group of people in a house made of iron with no windows and limited air supply. Those who are awake must decide whether to disturb the others so they can find a way out of the house and prevent everyone from suffocating to death.

“What we are doing now is waking up everyone in Hong Kong, the iron house, to fight and strive for survival,” she added. “For those who are awake, [they] should shout and wake up those who are sleeping. As long as people are shouting, there is hope.”

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.