Meet the Spiritual Leader of the Hong Kong Protests – The Atlantic

Wong, 26, also participated in those protests, but over the course of the 79-day occupation grew disillusioned. When the protests ended, he founded Hong Kong Indigenous, a party championing self-defense, more radical means of protest, and our unique identity as Hong Kongers, he told me. It fell into the localist movement, a group of political parties and activist groups holding a spectrum of ideas on Hong Kongs autonomy. The beliefs of some of these groups have at times veered into the xenophobic, with members demeaning mainland visitors as locusts invading Hong Kong.

In the past, Leung has described his idea of localism as rooted in the safeguarding of a Hong Kong identity distinct from that of mainland China, to preserve our own narrative on the past, present, and future of Hong Kong. This idea, of keeping Hong Kong from becoming just another Chinese city, protecting it from Beijings control, has come to drive the current protests. Polling from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in October showed that the number of people identifying as localists has more than doubled since March. Yet it is the most radical of Leungs beliefs, one that still remains fringe, for which he is most notorious: advocating for independence. It might be very unrealistic; it might be nearly impossible, he said, but in terms of politics, in terms of rational calculation, independence is the only way to leave this authoritarian regime, a reference to the Chinese government.

Read: Hong Kongs protesters are outfoxing Beijing worldwide

When Wong met Leung after the Umbrella Movement ended, Leung was again struggling, even contemplating suicide. Then, in July 2015, Leung took the stage at an annual protest and delivered a speech that, Wong recalled, impressed all of our members. Hong Kong Indigenous, which had focused on street-level activism that included haranguing mainland tourists and sometimes violent protests targeting small-scale day traders from China, made the decision to formally enter mainstream politics by contesting elections.

The partys positions, as well as its youthful and at times boisterous members, put it at odds not just with pro-Beijing politicians. It also clashed with the traditional pro-democracy camp, who it felt was overly willing to compromise and did not take sufficient action. The feelings of dislike and distrust went both ways.

I thought he was arrogant, full of himself, the pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said of her first impressions of Leung. Her feelings, she told me, softened over time, and she has visited Leung in prison on multiple occasions, most recently in September. This summer, after protesters stormed the building housing Hong Kongs legislative assembly, lawmakers were given a tour to see the damage. Inside, Mo said, was a spray-painted message calling for Leungs release. I knew then he had become an icon, she said.

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Meet the Spiritual Leader of the Hong Kong Protests - The Atlantic

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