The Spectrum of Frames and Disputes in the Umbrella Movement

Wing Sang LAW

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The Umbrella Movement is undoubtedly a pivotal event of the Hong Kong prodemocracy movement. It is therefore quite natural to explain the protests as a onedimensional prodemocracy movement pitting Hong Kong against Beijing’s denial of universal suffrage. 1 This approach, however, is quite insufficient for understanding the complexity of the event; neither can it explain how the occupation unfolded in the ways it did, nor is it helpful for coming to know the dynamics and tensions within the movement itself. This chapter, therefore, aims at situating the Umbrella Movement in the wider historical context, treating it as an occasion for activists in the diverse factions of the prodemocracy movement to play out their differences in terms of their divergent visions and actions. Contrary to some characterizations of the event as a “spontaneous” and “leaderless” campaign, this chapter stresses the importance of how the key campaign groups (and their key opinion leader(s)) contested each other through their efforts of “framing” the movement in different ways so as to realize their competing visions of social mobilization. Part A will first track the trajectories of the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong, highlighting the internal rifts and fissures emerging in the past two decades and mapping out the current spectrum of ideological positions in the prodemocracy camp. I will borrow from the “frame analysis” of social movement studies the concept of “master frame” to describe the coherent set of ideas and practices of Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement before it started to be challenged after the 1997 handover of sovereignty. 2 I will then describe how the crisis of the “master frame” manifested itself in the rapid pace of radicalization, which led not only to the formation of different “pan-democrat’ factions but also culminated eventually in a call for a total overhaul of the established convention of Hong Kong oppositional politics (see table 4.1). In Part B will look into the various aspects of “frame disputes” among activist factions before and during the occupation. Such disputes carried with them serious implications for the style of organizing the protests; these, in turn, resulted in substantial transformations of the civil disobedience action envisioned initially by Benny Tai. Part C will look particularly into the right-wing localists’ extensive use of “adversarial framing” of the other occupiers. 3 I will discuss how these efforts to “frame” the “enemies within” are an extension of right-wing populist discursive tactics. With the effects of cultivating the “culture of distrust” 4 that split the occupation counterproductively — bordering on becoming a countermovement —these tactics are, however, understandable as part of a desperate attempt to reinvent the existing prodemocracy movement’s master frame.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTake Back Our Future : An Eventful Sociology of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement
EditorsChing Kwan LEE, Ming SING
PublisherCornell University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781501740930
ISBN (Print)9781501740947
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


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